IT’S hard not to introduce foraging notes for April without waxing lyrical about the heady aroma of wild garlic. For if there’s one star of the show this month, it is the delightful allium ursinum.
It’s not all about our beloved ramsons, though. As the shoots of spring begin to stretch their tender leaves, April heralds the start of an abundant season…
Wild garlic/ramsons (allium ursinum)
One of the best – and most useful – foraging notes about wild garlic is that you’re likely to smell it long before you set eyes upon it.
Widespread throughout the UK, it can be abundant in deciduous woodland – particularly favouring chalky soils and damp ground.
The leaves are at their best before the flowers appear, and can be used in a variety of ways from flavouring bread and soups to creating robust wild garlic pesto. Adding a chopped leaf to a salt mill makes an excellent and subtle garlic salt.
The flowers are also edible and make striking additions to many dishes, but their arrival means the leaves can become more pungent and intense in flavour, so reduce the amount a little or it can overpower every other ingredient.
A few chopped leaves in a bannock can transform your campfire bread into a taste sensation – here’s our recipe for bannock… Easy campfire bread – bannock – Ever Wild Outdoors.
April is the perfect time of year to use the young bramble leaves – a surprisingly tasty and versatile green.
Bramble – the thorny bush that provides an abundance of blackberries later in the year – is high in vitamin C as well a raft of antioxidants.
As well as being nutritious, the tender green leaves were used many centuries ago as a treatment for various mouth ailments such as sore throats and ulcers. Their astringent nature is known for providing some form of relief.
The leaves can be chopped and added to stews and stir fries, or they make an excellent tea.
Jack-by-the-hedge (alliaria petiolata)
Also known as ‘garlic mustard’ or ‘hedge garlic’, this distant relative of the cabbage provides an excellent and milder alternative to wild garlic.
Crush a leaf in your palms, cup over your nose to inhale, and you will get the unmistakable aroma confirming your discovery of Jack-by-the-hedge.
First season leaves are rounded, as opposed to the serrated tear-drop shapes in following years, but the taste is no different – a peppery and gentle garlic that adds a subtle flavour to dishes rather than the punch of wild garlic.
Young leaves at this time of year also deliver a wonderful accompaniment to cheese, but the pepper will become more dominant towards the end of summer when the taste turns a little bitter.
The birch is synonymous with bushcraft and the outdoors – it has many properties and uses, from its delicious sap to its multipurpose bark.
However, our modern diets have long overlooked its young leaves as an abundant and nutritious edible.
While they make an excellent, vitamin C-rich tea, the leaves can be cooked or eaten raw, and make a filling on-the-go snack when travelling across the land.
Hairy bittercress (cardamine hirsuta)
More often than not, this delicious and tangy annual herb is pulled up and lobbed into the compost by many gardeners as it springs from the cracks in walls and paving.
While it cannot serve as a meal in itself, all parts of the younger plant are edible and make a flavoursome addition to salads.
Recognisable for its rosette shape as it sprouts from the ground, it enjoys quite gritty soil and has a taste similar to common cress.
Cow parsley (anthriscus sylvestris)
Although an excellent addition to campfire stews, cow parsley – often called ‘wild chervil’ – comes with a warning.
It is within the same apiaceae family as hemlock – a potentially fatal doppelganger.
You should only pick and use cow parsley if you are absolutely 100% certain with your identification.
Cow parsley (also referred to as ‘mother-die’ in many parts of the UK due to its similarities to hemlock and connections with ancient witchcraft) has ridged stems with tiny hairs. Hemlock will have a shiny and smooth stem.
There are several other differences to lead to positive identification – all of which are very important. So, again, only use cow parsley if you are beyond certain that is what you have.
Once you have a positive identification, the leaves are a great addition to stews, or even sautéed as a side dish. You can use the stems, but they take a while to break down, so make sure they’re in the campfire pot early to have time to soften up.