Easy guide to foraging plants and their uses by Mike Poulton

Goosegrass or Cleavers in flower. Too coarse to eat at this stage. With many of the edible leaves: eat in the seedling or younger emerging stage!

Today I would like to introduce you to a document received from fellow botanist Mike Poulton,  who used to do training sessions on foraging for  wild plants. The edible parts of the native plants are  listed with their common names and categorized in 5 sections: leaves and shoots, herbs, edible flowers, fruits and seeds and roots.

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Note: You’ll need a good flora to identify the plants below for example the Wild Flower Key by F. Rose although  The Vegetative Key to the British Flora by J. Poland & E. Clement is more useful for the edible leaves below.

Leaves and shoots:

Goosegrass /cleaversyoung shoots in spring – boil like spinach

Dandelionleaves used in salads – use young leaves, trim off stalk and wash roughly chop add olive oil, garlic and lemon juice

Nipplewortleaves like dandelion

Cat’s-earleaves like dandelion

Yarrow leaves as above but in small quantity as it is cool and bitter

Fat-hentreat like spinach

Ground-eldertreat like spinach (tangy flavour)

Comfreytreat like spinach – older leaves have more flavour than young

Redshank – as above

Common Sorrelcook like spinach – taste of rhubarb – sorrel soup

Chickweed one of the most deliciously tender wild vegetables – strip bunches with the stems, wash and put into saucepan without water – add butter, seasoning and chopped spring onion. Simmer gently for approximately 10 minutes stirring all the time – add dash of lemon juice or a sprinkling of grated nutmeg

Shepherd’s-purseas chickweed but not as good

Bladder campionas above

Rosebay Willowherbas above

Hogweed as above – young shoots

Hopas above

Yellow Archangel – as above

Red, white and henbit Dead-nettle

Common Mallowsoup – chose young leaves and wash well

Stinging Nettlecollect young leaves before June – boil gently, drain, add butter and seasoning. Fluffy in texture – insipid to taste.  Best used to make into soup

Alexanders stems near base where blanched by surrounding vegetation – 6” of pinkish stem discarding greenish bits. Smell disappears on cooking – boiling water for 10 minutes – eat like asparagus with melted butter – wonderfully delicate texture and pleasant aromatic taste

Burdock young leaf stems in May – cut into 2” lengths – strip off hard outer peel leaving moist core about the thickness of a pipe cleaner – chopped and used raw in salads, boiled and served with butter like asparagus or added to meat soups – crisp, nutty flavour with hint of fennel and of the skin of cucumber


Meadowsweet leaves used for flavouring – smell of new mown hay – dried leaves used to be used for giving aromatic bouquet to port, claret and mead (hence the name)

Cow Parsleyyoung leaves as soon as identifiable (beware hemlock and fool’s-parsley) – very versatile makes a lively addition to salads – good flavouring for herb omelettes. Goes well with jacket potatoes

Fennel all parts edible – thinner stalks, leaf sprays and seeds most useful – cut early in summer and hang to dry. Smells stronger as it dries – gather seeds in October

Angelica cut thickest stems and leaves together – chopped leaves good with stewed fruit

Water Mintleaves various uses as for other mints

Marjoram pleasantly pungent additions to salads, stews and casseroles

Woodruff odourless but smell of new mown hay on drying (coumarin) – used in beds – readily transfers to liquids – ideal to add to summer wine cups – add a sprig to pure apple juice for a week

Sweet Cicelyfeathery leaves ideal for flavouring stewed fruit – pleasantly aniseed flavour

Ground-ivymakes herbal tea

Lady’s Bedstrawanti-coagulant – used in bedding for its pleasant hay-like smell

Tansy  – off-putting smell and can be (dangerous) stomach irritant – served with fried eggs and used to flavour puddings – used as a vermifuge

Wormwoodbitter oil extracted from flower heads is key ingredient for absinthe – potent alcoholic drink in excess damaging to heart – contains an anthelmintic (worm dispeller) – hallucinogen if taken in overdose. All Artemisia contain small quantities of this substance

Ramsonsstrong garlic smell but much of this pungency disappears on cooking – gives mild garlic flavour to a dish



Lime Tea – lay flowers on tray in well ventilated room – ready after 2-3 weeks

Broompickled or added to salads

Rose petals – neat in salads – rose petal jam

Hawthornmakes fine liqueur

Hoplook for recipes in books

Heatherdried flower heads make a good tea

Elderflowers eat straight from the tree – cool and frothy like ice-cream soda – collect with 2” of stem attached – never wash – pickled or added to salads – makes best sparkling wine next to champagne

Sweet Violetfragrance and decorative quality in cooking

Cowslip and Primrosewines

Hardheadflowers in salads


Fruit and seeds:

Goosegrass /cleaversseeds ground and used like coffee

Blackberry, Raspberry, Blackthorn, Cherry Plum, Wild Cherry, Hawthorn (jelly), Rowan (jelly), Crab Apple, Gooseberry, Redcurrant, Bilberry, Elder (various uses), Oregon-grape eaten raw or made into jelly, Medlar, Snowberry ??, Guelder-rosesick if eaten raw but edible if cooked



Dandelionroots dried and ground to make coffee substitute- almost indistinguishable from real coffee but without the caffeine


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