A Taste Like None Other
Of all the plants I eat, people are most suspicious of Common Hogweed Heracleum sphondylium. It’s got an undeserved reputation because of a sinister relative that shares the same name – the dreaded, skin-irritating, phototoxic Giant Hogweed Heracleum mantegazzianum. Unlike its enormous relative, hogweed is not poisonous, although people who are allergic to celery may also be allergic to it, as they are both in the Apiaceae family.
Hogweed is best gathered in the Spring before flowering. However, it is such a favourite of mine that I admit to ‘farming’ it in a wild spot on my land. I cut it back occasionally which stimulates new basal growth so I that have the pleasure of eating it most of the year. The parts you are looking for are the tiny, still folded leaves arising from the base of the plant (around 5 to 10 cm long), the leaf buds (open the pouches on the stems and remove the embryonic leaf) and the flower buds (open the bud case and remove the folded flower). They do not taste of anything much when eaten raw but cooking transforms them.
Hogweed has a taste like nothing else. Unlike other Apiaceae like Ground Elder it does not have the common mild celery flavour. It really is hard to describe it. You can steam it and serve it with butter, salt and pepper, just like spinach or pak choi. However, my absolute favourite is stir fried in butter until it is slightly crisping at the edges, then seasoned with lots of salt and pepper, or powdered dulse or other seaweed.
Hogweed seeds can also be dried and ground. Their flavour is easier to describe as it is very reminiscent of coriander seed. It makes a great addition to chutneys and sauces especially when cooking wild berry sauces for use with game or venison.
The hogweed is starts to appear in February but really gets going in March onwards.