April sees the start of mushroom season, and expert forager Carl Mintern says you definitely have hairy bittercress in your garden right now.
As we tick into April, the changeable weather can often remind us of winter one moment and tease us with tastes of summer the next. This year, after such a mild winter, I am expecting a bountiful wild harvest to begin earlier than usual; indeed we can already see magnolia trees in full flower. Elsewhere, those of us with a gardening bent will likely see the increased determination of our garden weeds to populate our beds and pots, and that is where we will begin this month’s Foraging guide.
Like so many of our most common garden weeds, hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) is a diminutive, unassuming plant that you probably don’t notice despite its eager determination to pitch up on every small patch of ground it’s given a chance to find. A Pioneer plant (hardy species which are the first to colonize
barren environments, or previously biodiverse steady-state ecosystems that have been disrupted, such
as by fire), it can take root in ground deemed unworthy of many other weeds and as a result it can be found in well-trodden paths and, well, just about anywhere from pavement cracks to plant pots.
Its name is somewhat misleading however – its not that hairy without a very close inspection indeed, and it’s definitely not bitter. In fact, it serves very well as a replacement for any commercially-produced cress, and feels very at home in an egg sandwich! It truly is a delight to eat, and every forager owes it to themselves
to familiarise themselves with this abundant plant – if you have a garden, then right now you
have this plant growing in it somewhere I’m willing to wager.
Next up, lets talk about an often-overlooked tree, the Birch; specifically the Silver Birch (betula pendula) and Downy Birch (Betula pubescens). The young leaves of the birch tree are often one of the first to greet the Spring, and can be infused with hot water to make a peppery, slightly minty tea. A refreshing drink after a
morning’s forage, and rich in vitamin C.
Silver Birch leaves are simple, with serrated edges and round corners, whereas the downy birch has rounder leaves than those of silver birch, but both grow all over the Blackmore Vale. If you cared to be a little more adventurous, you could also attempt to tap these trees for sap, although the season for doing so is ending as we leave the winter months behind (note to self; let’s talk tree tapping next February!)
St George’s Mushroom
Finally, let’s talk about the St George’s mushroom (calocybe gambosa). The first eagerly- awaited prize of a new wild mushroom season. Traditionally late April and May is peak St Georges Mushroom time – hence the name, since it would tend to appear around St George’s Day. I would expect to see these any time this month or next, if you are lucky, and committed enough to go looking for them. They have a pale complexion, and an unevenly shaped cap with gills that match the pale colour of the cap. A stout stem attaches this mushroom to the grassland habitat they grow in. They will grow in rings, and these rings can often be spotted long before he mushroom actually appears as they exhibit circles of lush grass, a deeper colour than that of the grass around them.
It has what is often described as a ‘mealy’ smell – to me it smells like bread flour – and this smell is one of its key identification characteristics which makes it a quite safe mushroom to identify. And the cherry of the
mushroomy cake is if you find yourself a patch, they will likely come back every year!
It is also worth mentioning that wild garlic, and all the other plants I mentioned in March’s issue of the BV magazine are still available to harvest, so you might want to click that link and revisit before you leave the
See details and availability of Carl’s local foraging courses on his website: Self Sufficient Hub
by Carl Mintern