Spring Foraging in West Yorkshire- A Feast of Flowers, Fungi & Foliage Part I

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.

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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)

Allium ursinum

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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

Sarcoscypha austriaca

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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.


Stinging Nettles

urtica dioca

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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:


foraging courses west yorkshireSophie 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. 

Live Wild’s First Fire Forage and Family Day! April 14th

A fantastic day of nature connection games and bushcraft skills including fire making and foraging. Fun for the whole family, friends and loved ones in a beautiful woodland setting. Go Wild with your kids! Our specially trained and experienced forest school leaders are excited to inspire and delight adults and children with Bushcraft, Fire Making, Hunting Games, Den Building and lots of adventure and fun all in a beautiful outdoor setting in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. An opportunity for adventure in a supported context and lots of other interesting ways of building confidence, nature connection and a love for the outdoors. Suitable for children 5 and older.

Eventbrite - Fire and Forage Family Day


Coming Up! Wildlings Holiday Club! Dates for 2017

Wildlings Holiday Club Draft Flyer
Highly recommend this club. Our kid’s been twice and LOVES it! This morning he was super exited about it. Thank you to all you hardworking people who run this. It’s no mean feat engaging children for so long! 
Hena Chowdbury
Just wanted to let you know that the boys had brilliant day in the woods on Wednesday. Despite looking utterly miserable when I dropped them off they were returned to me muddy, full of stories and very happy. Since then, they’ve regaled everyone with tales of making jaffa cakes with jelly ear mushrooms, making ink and quills, playing games and hanging out in the hammock. Brilliant stuff, thank you so much’ – Parent

Day Two Windings Holiday Club March 2016

Another beautiful Spring Day in the Woods. This time we were looking at bones and making clay animals along with the all important den building and other exciting nature connection and bushcraft activities.
Highly recommend this club. Our kid’s been twice and LOVES it! This morning he was super exited about it. Thank you to all you hardworking people who run this. It’s no mean feat engaging children for so long!
– Hena Chowdbury

Wildings Holiday Club March 2016

This is what we got up to in Paupers Wood with the young adventurers this weekend: thankfully the rain held off despite the ominous weather forecast. It’s been a while since we’ve done any felting and there is something magic about the way felt transforms. We made beautiful little eggs and nests for them to keep warm in.
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 A little Robin came and stole a bit of wool. He watched us for ages as we set it out and then came and sneaked a piece the minute our backs were turned. I think there will be a colourful nest in Paupers Wood now! In fact it was so windy lots of wool got blown away so maybe there will be several coloured nests!

Wildlings Holiday Club February 2016

Another brilliant day in Knott Wood, we made feather quills to write with explored in the woods and caves and learnt how to whittle roasting sticks to  cook our foraged snacks over the fire!