By Sophie Wren
Spring is a highlight on the forager’s calendar – a time when nature provides a bounty of nourishing wild food that is full of vitality and nutrients. It’s also a time when our ancestors would have been welcoming back the sun and gathering the new green shoots, young tender leaves, flowers and even fungi offered up by the woodland and hedgerows. After the long dark nights of winter, finding these things for the first time would surely have been cause for joy and celebration. As we pass Imbolc, the midpoint between winter solstice and spring equinox, it’s time to get out foraging in West Yorkshire! In this series of blog posts myself and the rest of the Live Wild foraging team will introduce you to some of our favourite wild foods of the season.
Please note, correct ID is essential, and the following is an introduction rather than a guide. We advise acquiring some decent foraging books, doing lots of research, and ideally going out gathering with someone who already knows their stuff. Myself and the rest of the foraging team- Leonie Morris and Miranda Cowan- will be introducing local wild foods and recipes on our upcoming spring foraging courses.
Ramsons (wild garlic)
Pictured: Ramsons in flower, new ramson shoots, ramsons with pine nuts and needles prepared on a Live Wild foraging course, a jar of Leonie’s pickled ramson buds, and Miranda’s ramson pesto
Growing abundantly in the Calder Valley, it’s the smell that gives ramsons away and a rub of the leaves between your fingers will reveal a delicious garlic scent that is crying out to be made into pesto (to me, at least!). A member of the allium family, this plant is also reminiscent of spring onions and can be used as a substitute in salads, sauces and anywhere else you want to add a flavoursome oniony kick. You can eat this raw and I usually end up nibbling on a good amount whilst collecting, which leads to a fiery mouth and wonderful garlic breath. The dagger-like leaves have a subtle waxy sheen and the flowers, which come later in spring, are white and star-like. You can eat the leaves, flower buds, flowers, stems and seeds and I have experimented with pickling and fermenting as well as sauces like pesto. Because the flavour is in the oils, cooking can render ramsons tasteless. Throw them into your soups and stews right at the end and sprinkle some raw chopped leaves on top for extra taste.
Note that there are poisonous plants that could be confused with ramsons, especially the first new leaves of early spring: lords and ladies, daffodils, lilly of the valley and foxgloves. Get to know these and be sure to avoid!
Scarlet Elf Cups
Pictured: scarlet elf cups with collected water, scarlet elf cup and ramson pizza made by Leonie, and scarlet elf cups in the moss
What an absolute joy it is to encounter these vibrant mushrooms amongst the mosses in later winter and early spring, sometimes with little drinks of water still pooled inside them (or is it the magical mead of the elves?). They grow directly from fallen wood, and there are a few spots I know of around Hebden Bridge where they are very abundant. Just looking at them provides me with a lot of joy and entertainment, but eating them is a wonderful treat too. I tend to pick a few respectfully and leave plenty of cups remaining to continue their magic of decomposition, spore spreading and looking delightful. For me, a good way to approach foraging is to ask permission (in this case, I may address the elves), take what feels respectful and always leave some behind. These mushrooms can be roasted or fried, or even added to pizza, as Leonie has done in the picture above.
Note: correct ID is absolutely essential with mushrooms- please don’t take any chances! Also, once you’re 100% sure of what you’ve found, try a small amount first to ensure it doesn’t disagree with you.
Most of us have been familiar with stinging nettles since we were kids due to the stinging. They’re incredibly abundant in our valley and the newly sprung plants are absolutely delicious. These vibrant plants seem to be full of life force, and are one of my absolute favourite wild foods due to their high protein and iron content, amazing spinach-like flavour and versatility. Nettle tea, soup, stew, curry, bahjis…the list goes on and on and is making me hungry. Nettles are full of vitamins, calcium, potassium and magnesium- a pretty incredible plant and ally for from a health perspective.
Note: harvest young nettle leaves from the tops of plants before they go to seed. Pick with gloves if you want to avoid stinging, although the ‘grasp the nettle’ technique can also work well. Submerging the nettles in boiling water for a minute takes away the sting.
About the author:
Sophie Wren is one of Live Wild’s foraging tutors, and joined the existing team to work alongside Leonie Morris and Miranda Cowan in 2018. Her initial fascination with the magical kingdom of fungi began around ten years ago when she found a chicken of the woods mushroom on her birthday and discovered it was edible. Mushroom foraging quickly became a general passion for wild food when it became apparent how much of the landscape was edible. She particularly enjoys experimenting with new wild food recipes as well as re-learning the art of traditional preparations.