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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the Blackberry

Some healthy blackberries on my allotment!

Blackberry or Rubus aggr.

The genus Rubus is part of the Rose family which is family number 44 in Stace.

The Brambles, which is the common name of Rubus has several native species but the one we know best is called the Blackberry (the useful, edible one) or Bramble (the nasty, spiny one).

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The Horsetails

The green infertile stems of the horsetail (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Equisetum arvense or Field Horsetail, Shavegrass, Bottlebrush and Pewterwort

Other species of Equisetum with a traditional medicinal use in Britain are              E. sylvaticum or  Wood Horsetail and E. hyemale or Rough Horsetail.

These are found in the Equisetaceae family which is family number 5 in the Calomophyte group of the Pteridophytes (Ferns & Fern allies) (St.  Page 11) and are one the most primitive of vascular plants.

A man on one of my allotments reminded me to write this week’s blog about the humble horsetail. On his particular side of the allotment the plant grows everywhere, whilst it does not seem to grow much at all on the rest of the allotment.  As I get a bit sad hearing criticism about any wild plants, I tried to convince him about its virtues, in that it combats mildew and that it was used in the past to clean pewter and even silver.

So I decided I must research the horsetail and then write this blog. I read a nice chapter in one of my older books and start off with this before listing all its virtues.

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 Scientific Classification of our Native plants

In my blogs, you may have noticed that I write about native plants and mostly refer to their latin names as well as the family in which they fit. The reason is that I do not wish to make it just another piece concerning the uses of native plants, but one where I would like to place them into a Binomial nomenclature, a system which is essential for the idea of order in my ‘virtual ethnobotanical garden’!

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Three common weeds/wild-flowers I have found in Walsall gardens.

C. lutetiana showing burrs and flowers (picture from Wikipedia)

I do feel a bit guilty doing my day-job at people’s gardens, tidying up their patch!


I feel this especially when I need to remove weeds out of their borders. It is not so bad when I have to put other plants in their place or if I have to take out really damaging weeds such as Goosegrass (Galium aparine) or Bindweed (Calystegia spp.) totally swamping ornamental plants.

I always have to apologize to the weed in question, taking it away as it could possibly be a food source of insects and other creatures.

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Grasses or Poaceae

Dactylis glomerata or Cocksfoot grass

The family of Poaceae (number 170, or  the last family in Stace’s  and most other modern Floras) has 5 Sub-families and 16 tribes. It is by far the largest family in the temperate world as grasses flourish in nearly every habitat!

Although Stace does mention many obvious non-natives which have naturalized in several places as well as crop plants which have been grown for many centuries.

Many people find grasses hard to identify and this is mostly due because of their small parts, which often need  be looked at through magnifying glasses and of course they are mainly all green.

However with a bit of practise and knowledge into which diagnostics to look for, they are not too difficult.

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Some members of the Brassicaceae

Alliaria petiolata or Jack-by-the-Hedge!

Family 81 Brassicaceae has approx 52 native genera according to Stace

This family has a good representation on the British Isles mainly with annuals and perennials. It is easy to recognise as the apt former family name was Cruciferae which means the flowers always have 4 petals and 4 sepals forming a cross or crucifix. If not in flower the fruits are also a distinctive feature useful for identification.  Many have both the flowers as well as the fruit at the same time, making identification even easier!

Several improved members of this family have been in cultivation for hundreds of years for their food value especially in winter-time such as all the different cabbages and kales, but throughout the year there are vegetables of this family from salad leaves such as Rocket, Mustard, Cress and their peppery tasting roots such as in the Turnip and Radish!

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The Common Elder

General description:

The Elder is a member of the Caprifoliaceae or the Honeysuckle family (number 131 in Stace) and has 7 genera which are all woody shrubs, small trees or climbers.

Sambucus nigra can be a large, deciduous Shrub growing rapidly to 6 m (19ft) by 6 m (19ft) and often even taller in a sheltered or shady position. It can be grown anywhere but will flower and fruit best in sun; in shade, flowering will be limited. Naturally it spreads rapidly and in awkward places when the juicy fruits are eaten by birds.

The common Elder is an attractive shrub in all seasons for the wildlife garden and in farm hedges. The inflorescence is a broad, flat umbel-like corymb up to 25 cms. (10”) across. The creamy, white flowers, usually from June onwards, are sweetly fragrant, hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and followed by round to ovoid, purplish black, fruit after pollination by flies.

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The Dandelion

Bumblebee feeding happily on a dandelion!

To start off, a plant who most of us know very well: The Dandelion.

This is in the family of Asteraceae which is number 128 in Stace’s Flora of the B.I.  This large family has no less than 104 genera described, sub-divided in 3 sub-families and 16 tribes.  The dandelion is in Sub-family 2 or Cichorioideae, tribe 2 or Cichorieae and Genus number 33 just to dazzle you with the scientific classification! All interesting stuff though hope you agree?

Many more plants of this family will be written about in future blogs!

The true Dandelion or Taraxacum officinale no longer exists. The dandelion is so varied now that  “234 microspecies are currently recognised in the British Isles” (from Stace p. 712).

The name Dandelion comes from the French ‘dent-de-lion’ or ‘tooth of lion’.

Most of us love and/or hate the dandelion. Their en mass-flowering period is relatively short although it will carry on sending new flowers throughout the year.

image of dandelions in flower and fruit

Dandelions in various stages of its life-cycle

They are very successful and can grow virtually everywhere, but the best grow in good fertile soil where they become prolific and tend to be the most difficult to get out again!

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Introduction to My Wonderful Weed Weekly Blog

To talk kindly about the weeds in my weekly blog, we first need to identify those weeds of which many people despise…!

I found the RHS website very useful please see here.

and how to tackle them:

This website mentions over 20 most troublesome weeds, upon which I will hope to do a write up in the coming weeks. As my partner is going through 1000’s of pictures taken by him in the last 10 years, I will occasionally stray to another weed/native plant which I think is worth you knowing about!

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