Category: Wild Food Recipes

Shaggy Inkcap Mushrooms

Shaggy Inkcaps Coprinus comatus– also known as Lawyer’s Wig – are edible but there are a few things to note. You need to eat them soon after picking as they deteriorate very quickly into an inky sodden mess if not. I recommend within an hour or two, but some will last 4-6 hours depending on their state if maturity.

One excellent way to cook them is to poach them in milk, simmering for 5 minutes, with a clove or two of crushed garlic.

They produce a lot of liquid. To make a risotto poach as above, then keep the mushrooms aside, add the liquid to a risotto rice instead of stock, then add the mushrooms back in at the end for a final warm through.

The other important thing is that you must not confuse these with the smooth Common Inkcaps Coprinus atramentaria which live on decaying wood and are generally smaller. You must not eat Common Inkcaps within 24 hours (either side) of drinking alcohol when you eat them. If you do, you are likely to feel very ill for a while. The chemical coprine responsible for this has not been isolated in the Shaggy Inkcap though.





Orange peel fungus

Orange Peel Fungus Aleuria aurantia is a choice edible fungi with a fondness for following the edges of paths ad tracks especially where there are also decaying stumps and debris. Rotting bark chippings are a favourite. Fried in butter until it starts popping, it has a delicious deep smoky taste and a meaty texture. Only complaint is that it is difficult to find in any quantity!



Field mushrooms by the pailful

When our local farmer told me there were field mushrooms “by the pail’fer in the files next to the sheep” he wasn’t joking! This was a lucky meeting a the following day I was doing a wild food demonstration at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and expecting a few hundred people to want a taste. We didn’t have a pail but we did have an ancient shopping basket.


These were exceptional sautéed over a medium heat in butter with freshly ground sea salt and black pepper. And I did add a splash of red wine towards the end. Eaten with olive bread to mop up the juices. Absolutely delicious!


Wild Dog Rose Petal Syrup

Wild Dog Rose Petal Syrup

1 kg Dog Rose petals
500g sugar
1 litre water

Heat the water and pour over the rose petals. Leave overnight to infuse.

In the morning, add the sugar and bring to the boil, keep it on the boil for 7 minutes, then switch the hob off. Strain the syrup through a muslin bag. This may take a few hours to drain. Hang it up and have a cup of tea!

Once all the syrup has stopped flowing, put the syrup back in the saucepan, discarding the flowers.

Return to the boil, and boil rapidly for a further 3 minutes. 

Pour through a stainless steel funnel (it’s hot!) into a sterilised, dry bottle and cap immediately.

Edible Flower Variations

This recipe will work with any edible flower petals where the aroma is very faint and where the petals have a low volatile oil content. For example, any roses, mallow, hibiscus, violets.

For those with a higher volatile oil content follow the method for Lavender Flower Syrup.

For those with a distinctive aroma, but low in volatiles, follow the method for Gorse Flower Syrup.

There is also more discussion about the levels of sugar to use in your syrup on the Gorse Flower Syrup page.


Calamus aka Sweet Flag ~ the Singer’s root and Forager’s spice

Calamus (Acorus calamus) is also known as Sweet Flag, Sweet Rush or Sweet Cinnnamon although the roots taste like ginger.

Acorus calamusCalamus (known as sweet flag) has a spicy fragrance to it with the leaves having lemony overtones. In medieavel times the dried stalks were laid on floors to act as a scented mat to walk on. It’s a forager’s treat, as you can eat the raw, partially grown flower stems of calamus. In Spring, the young stalks, with half-grown leaves packed inside them, are sweet and tasty raw in a salad. The roots are edible, with a sort of gingery, spicy, bitter, sweetness to them.

Candied sweet flag root has the aromatic spiciness of ginger, and like ginger, helps to settle the stomach. To make Calamus Candy slice the tender bases at the bottom of the stems into very thin slices. Parboil them, changing the water a few times if you want to reduce the fieriness of the taste. Then simmer them, just covered in syrup (2 parts of sugar to 1 part of water) until most of the syrup is absorbed. Drain them and dry them on waxed paper. When dry roll them in sugar and store them in a sealed jar.

Calamus is used by foragers as a spice, to replace cinnamon, ginger or nutmeg, but a little goes a long way. Chewing on a little piece is a great breath freshener.

The powdered root can be used as a natural insecticide. Put a little on window sills to keep ants out.

Food as medicine

Calamus earned its nickname ‘Singer’s Root’ for its ability to numb the vocal chords so that tired voices can carry on (although you should be carefully not to strain and damage your voice). If your voice is strained, or you get laryngitis, try gently chewing just 1 cm of root and leaving it between your cheek and gum throughout the day. It helps to increase the range of the voice and centre your energy. The latter because of it’s unusual properties of being both a relaxant and a stimulant.

Acorus calamusCalamus is calming but not a sedative. It makes you feel chilled out and relaxed rather than drugged up. At the same time, it simultaneously boosts vitality and vigour – leaving you feeling very centred, clear, perceptive, focussed and alert. It is grounding while also increasing a sense of greater awareness. Native American Indians use it for stamina on long journeys in the same way that the South American Indians use coca leaves. So helpful for running marathons, studying for exams or driving through the night. This dual action also makes a nibble of root helpful if you are trying to give up smoking!

Traditional western herbal medicine uses Sweet Flag as a digestive bitter – yet another common name is bitterroot. It perks up the appetite. It is used for treating stomach cramps, heartburn, dyspepsia and flatulent colic, as it stimulates peristalsis in the gut and removes gas in people who have developed a very sluggish metabolism but can be overstimulating to many people. Taking too much is liable to make you vomit as it can overstimulate the stomach.

You can chew the root fresh or dried. You can also make an infusion by leaving the root in a jar of cold water overnight or adding hot water to half a teaspoon of powdered calamus. It is also used to settle nausea, especially in travel or motion sickness. However, as large doses can cause vomiting, always try just a little bit at a time.

Modern herbalists have used it to treat PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), people who experience flashbacks. Some have also used it as an adjunct in the treatment of anorexia, autism and epilepsy.

In Ayuvedic medicine it was used to keep the voice going when reciting the Upanishads. It is called vacha meaning literally ‘to speak” but also referring to the way it connects the heart to the voice, helping anxious people feel able to speak up about things on their mind.

More recently clinical studies suggest that it can cure and reverse diabetes – something the American Indians tribes have known for a very long time!

Amount you can eat

The dose varies from person to person. Some Native Americans’s would set the limit as – a root as long as your little finger. Bearing that it can be overstimulating start with just a nibble. A tiny bit may suit you just fine.

There are unsubstantiated reports that large pieces (my little finger is about 3 cm) are hallucinogenic. However, there is no real evidence of it being psychedelic any more than it is psychotropic. TMA (trimethoxyamphetamine) which is similar to Ecstasy can be synthesised from calamus although, in its natural state, it cannot convert into TMA in your body. But it is pleasantly psychoactive and it is probably the heightened sense of awareness felt, while feeling very calm and relaxed at the same time, that is being reported.

In herbal medicine, the maximum dose that is generally recommended is 4g of the dried root (about 3/4 of a teaspoon), 30ml of a decoction and 4ml of 1:5 tincture up to three times a day.

An essential oil is also distilled from the root and used in medicine and perfumery.

Sweet safety

Please note that British calamus is not the same as American calamus (Acorus calamus var. americanus) which is banned by the FDA in the US. The American variant is a fertile diploid strain, the British one a sterile triploid. This can be confusing for people when trying to check sweet flag’s safety on the internet. There has been contention over whether or not β-asarone in calamus could cause cancer. This is because baby rats in a lab test were given extremely high doses of β-asarone extracted from the concentrated essential oil of Asian calamus (the tetraploid strain). More recent studies show that β-asarone actually inhibits colorectal cancer and colon cancer. Its cultural history has always associated it with life and vitality not death!

Importantly, calamus has been shown to be neuroprotective against cancer-causing acrylamides. These are found in foods that are processed at high temperatures. The worst culprits are chips, crisps, bread, biscuits, coffee (in some studies over 54% of acrylamide intake) and cigarettes (which triple blood acrylamide levels). Although we hear little about this in the news, in 2005 Heinz, Frito-Lay, Lance and were sued for endangering public lives by providing foods with high acrylamide content and they settled for $3 million out of court. McDonalds and Burger King settled in 2008, and in 2010 an action was filed against Starbucks requiring them also to warn the public about the dangers of acrylamides.

Calamus is not, as stated on some websites, a member of the Araceae family (like Jack-in-the-pulpit and Lords and Ladies). It is a member of the Acoraceae family.

Wild iris Iris versicolor (poisonous – with blue petalled flower), sweet flag (edible – with tiny yellow flowers on a spike (spadix)) and the acrid yellow water iris Iris pseudacorus (False acorus) quite often grow side by side. Once the flowers are out it is easier to identify them but make sure you separate them as otherwise you may poison yourself.


And finally – don’t be greedy. A little goes a long, long way and in this case, if your eyes are bigger than your stomach, it may be your stomach that lets you know!


Wild Vegetable Rennet

“Blessed be the cheese makers, for they shall inherit the earth!”
Life of Brian.

Want to make your own cottage cheese or cream cheese?

Although you can’t forage milk, without upsetting your local farmer, you can stick to your foraging principles by making wild rennet. What is rennet? Rennet is the liquid you add to milk to ‘ret’ it – simply put it triggers the process of separating the curds (lumps) from the whey (liquid).

You can make rennet from quite a few wild plants. It is slower acting that shop-bought rennet and usually needs to be left overnight to curdle the milk. The best plants are nettle, sorrel and thistle. In Cornwall, they make a cheese called yarg, which traditionally was set with nettle rennet and wrapped in nettle leaves to mature. All thistles in the Compositae family will work, e.g. purple thistles (especially the giant ones), globe artichoke and cardoons. Other plants to try for wild rennet include fumitory, unripe fig sap, or yellow (Lady’s) bedstraw.

Sorrel rennet

Sorrel is what I usually use as I can always find a lot of it at most times of the year and you can use any of the varieties. I run the sorrel leaves through my hand juicer and add 5 teaspoons of sorrel juice per litre of milk. Leave it overnight in a warm place for it to curdle. Then strain it through a muslin cloth or nylon bag until it stops dripping. Keep the whey for cooking. Take the curds and season with salt and pepper to taste. Then pot, and put in the fridge. Add chopped chives, or finely chopped wild garlic leaves, for a seasonal twist.

You can also make a simple sour cream by adding a teaspoon of finely chopped sorrel leaves to a cup of milk.


Be careful not to add too much sorrel rennet. Too much can make the cheese too acidic or cause indigestion. Experiment in small batches until you find the strength you like.

Cardoon rennet

Cardoons contain an enzyme called cynarase which will set fresh sheep’s milk in about an hour. The stamens – bright purple threads – are gathered in Spring and dried. A warm tea (never too hot for the enzymes) is made by adding a small amount of warm water to the thistle stamens and pulverising in a food processor. As it mushes up add a little more warm water to keep it moving. Strain off the resulting brown liquid to use as the rennet. Cardoon sheep’s cheeses have an exquisite flavour and creaminess.

No food processor?

Pulverise your dried cardoon or thistle stamens in a pestle and mortar. Keep in an airtight tin. To make rennet, put 6 heaped spoons of powdered thistle back into the pestle and mortar, and add just enough warm water to cover it. Then repeat the following two steps, 5 times over: Soak for 5 minutes, pound for 5 minutes more adding a little more warm water after each pounding. At the end of this, you will get a dark brown liquid – the rennet. Strain it off and add it to the milk. This amount should turn about 5 litres of milk.

Artichoke seed rennet

The above method works with the stamens and/or the seeds of artichokes, especially if you can get the seeds when they are still white and immature. However I have also had success with old seed. Remove the seeds and pound them with a little water until you have a brown liquid. Use a teaspoonful to a litre of warmed goat or sheep milk. Keep in a warm place or use an insulated flask for a couple of hours until the curds have split.

Quick thistle rennet

Pick a bunch of thistle flowers when they’ve finished blooming and gone brown but before they produce thistledown. Tie the stalks together and hang them, head down, in a warm place to dry. Don’t cut the stems off! When dry, hang the bunch into your milk and leave it until the milk separates.

This thistle has run to down. Pick them before the down appears.

Nettle rennet

Salted nettle rennet will make a semi-hard cheese like feta or gouda.
Brandnetel GroteMethod: Nettles are always best used young before they go to seed. Fill a large saucepan 3/4 full of nettles (Urtica dioica) and just cover with water. The volumes should be about 1:1 (So for 1 kilo of nettles you need about 1 litre of water.) Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 30 minutes, then add 1 heaped tablespoon of salt and stir to dissolve. Strain off the nettles and keep the liquid – your nettle rennet – in a jam jar until you are ready to use it.
Use around 60-100 ml for 1 litre of warm milk, 130-150 ml for 2 litres, 190-200 ml for 3 litres and 250ml for 4 litres. However, remember that the strength of your rennet can vary and the efficacy will also depend on the thickness and fat content of the milk. You will have to experiment!
You can also put a large handful of chopped fresh or a small handful of dried nettle into a muslin bag and infuse it in warm milk. Keep the milk just below body temperature 35 C (95 F) until the milk rets. This is a slower process.
In Cornwall, they make a cheese called yarg, which is wrapped in nettle leaves to mature. If you want to try wrapping your cheese, freeze the nettle leaves first to avoid the stings!

2017 update: I recently read an Open Access paper using nettle leaves to make the cheese. Their method is as follows:

2 litres of whole cow’s milk in a sterilized plastic container with 20 grams of Urtica dioica leaves covered with plastic film, stored in controlled temperature conditions (37C for 24 hours).
After this period of time, the nettle leaves were removed leaving the curd in a strainer lined with a cheese cloth. The curd was strained for 24 hours at 4C.
The cheese was placed in 6 molds of 100 g each. It was lined with a cheese cloth, and a weight of 300 g. was placed on top of the cheese molds as the whey drained out.
The cheeses rested for 24 hours at 4C in a gastronorm grid on top of another gastronorm pan. Every 4 hours, the cheeses were turned over in the same mold and this helped to make the cheese uniform in both texture and shape.
Brine: 2.5 litres whey, 10% (250 g) salt and 0.2% (5 g) of calcium chloride, boiled and chilled at 10C. Cheeses were soaked in the brine for 1 hour and stored at 4C with 75–80% relative humidity.
The brine enhances the flavor of the cheese and acts as a preservative by suppressing the growth of undesirable bacteria and fungus.
Blanched nettle leaves were used to cover the cheeses to enhance their flavor and improve the esthetics.

Fiol, C., Prado, D., Mora, M. & Alava, J.I. (2016). Nettle cheese: Using nettle leaves (Urtica dioica) to coagulate milk in the fresh cheese making process. International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science, 4, 19-24. Open access. The full paper is published here.

Lady’s Bedstraw (Curdwort) rennet

Cheese made with Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium verum) rennet has a lovely yellow colour and is the texture of marscapone.
This was once the yellow of Cheshire cheese although nowadays they dye it with annatto. For Cheshire cheese it was mixed with calf rennet for a harder texture. It is a slow setting rennet and can take 12 hours. It varies!
Galium verumMethod 1: Chop and lightly bruise your Lady’s Bedstraw stalks and leaves with a rolling pin, then infuse in warm milk (just below body temperature 35 C (95 F) until the milk curdles. A handful should curdle a litre. It is easiest to put the plant parts in a mesh bag and stir it around occassionally rather than trying to strain off the plant with the whey.
Method 2: Chop and bruise your Lady’s Bedstraw stalks. Put in a saucepan and just cover with water. Simmer for 30 minutes. Strain. Try using around 125 ml for 1 litre of warm milk.

Fig sap rennet

Fig sap is a milky white latex. It will set warmed goat or sheep milk. Take a small twig off the end of a fig tree. When you strip the leaves off the sap will start to drip out. Drip in the sap (even just 5 or 6 drops into a litre of warm milk is usually enough) and use the twig to stir it in. Leave aside, covered, for a hour in a warm place until the curds have separated from the whey. Don’t put too much fig sap in as it can make the cheese a little bitter.

(Cheat’s tip: If you have a disaster with vegetable rennet and a batch doesn’t curdle, you can always add a little apple cider vinegar or lemon juice to rescue it!)
If you want a particular cheese recipe just DM me on Twitter @monicawilde

PS According to the ancient Greeks, mint prevents milk from curdling even if you’ve put rennet into it!

Sorrel Hollandaise Sauce

This is a lovely lemony sauce with a distinctive sorrel tang that goes extremely well with baked white fish such as sole, or the local river trout I am lucky to be given. It is best served and eaten as soon as it is made – don’t keep it for more than an hour after making it.


Sorrel leaves


240 ml warm clarified butter
4 egg yolks
2 tbsp lemon juice (1 small lemon)
1 tbsp cold water
Rock salt, to taste
Cayenne pepper, a pinch (or a dash of hot sauce)
A handful of finely chopped sorrel leaves


Heat around 5 cm of water in a double boiler saucepan over a medium heat, keeping back the bowl

Whisk the egg yolks and the cold water in the bowl (glass or stainless steel) for two minutes, until light and foamy. Then whisk in a couple of drops of lemon juice.
The water in the saucepan should have started simmering. Put the bowl back onto the saucepan, sitting above but not touching the simmering water. Whisk the eggs for a minute or two, until they start to thicken. Remove the bowl from the heat and start adding the melted butter slowly, a little at a time, while whisking constantly. If you add it too quickly, the mixture will curdle. Carry on whisking in the melted butter. As the sauce thickens, you can increase the speed at which you add the butter.

After all the butter is added, whisk in the rest of the lemon juice, add some ground rock salt and cayenne pepper or hot sauce. Then add the finely chopped sorrel. The sauce should now have a smooth, firm consistency. If it’s too thick, you can thin it a little by whisking in a few drops of warm water.

Spoon over the baked fish and serve immediately.

Serve with:

A nice side dish to go with this is creamed, mashed potato with chopped ground elder (goutweed) added which give it a mild celery flavour. Also some finely sliced – the size of skinny french fries – burdock root, stir-fried until just tender in a very light soy sauce.


Ground elder (Goutweed)

Edible Seeds & Wild Spice Conversion Chart

One thing that often gets overlooked when foraging is the area of edible seeds which can be used to replace spices or even, in some cases, add a whole new taste sensation. I am working my way through them – it has been Winter! – but will update this over the year. If any one has any interesting contributions to add, please email me through the Contact me page. Thanks

Wild Spice Conversion Chart

All species are found here in Britain unless specifically labelled elsewhere.

Allspice > N. America: Spicebush berry (Lindera benzoin)
Aniseed > Sweet cicely seed (doesn’t keep well use x 4)
Caraway > Whorled caraway (Carum verticillatum)
Capers > Pickled; Lesser celandine buds (Ranunculus ficaria), nasturtium seed, N. America: redbush flower buds (Cercis canadensis)
Cardamon > Dried (or toasted) hogweed seed / Wild carrot seed
Celery seed > Dried alexanders seed / Wild lovage seed
Chilli pepper > Water pepper, raw (Persicaria hydropiper) or Toothwort root (Lathraea squamariaClove > Wood avens root (Clove root)
Coffee bean, roasted > Roasted dandelion root, toasted cleavers seed
Coriander, seed > Dried hogweed seed (like coriander with an orange citrus aroma) / Wild coriander / Spignel seed
Coriander, fresh gut; Sea arrowgrass / Spignel / Wild coriander leaf
Fennel seed > Wild fennel seed
Garlic > Wild garlic leaves & bulbs (use x 4-5) / Few flowered &Three cornered leeks (pungent ‘berries’) / Crow garlic / Rosy garlic
Ginger > Sweet flag rhizome
Hempseed > Nettle seed
Horseradish > Wild horseradish
Lemon, flakes > Cultivated Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina)
Mustard > Wild mustard seed / Nasturtium seed / Bittercress seed
Parsley > Cow parsley (wild chervil)
Pepper > Pepper dulse, Water pepper, Toothwort (herb, dried/powdered) Rosemary > Yarrow leaf
Salt > Any powdered seaweed like wrack or kelp
Thyme > Wild thyme / Flowering currant blossom
Turmeric > Dried ground elecampane root
Walnut > Invasive Himalayan balsam seed


Wild fennel seed

Possible spices that I haven’t tried yet

Bishops’ flower (Queen Anne’s Lace) seed (Amni majus)

Did you know?

Wild carrot seed Daucus carota was used as a contraceptive in ancient times. One method is to chew 1 teaspoon of dried carrot seed daily, for three days before and 3 days after having unprotected sex. (No guarantees offered but a herbalist in the USA did run a pilot study and says it works! Robin Bennett on wild carrot seed contraception)

List of edible seeds (work in progress)

Get your species right. This is particularly meant for anything in the wild carrots family! I have not included common kitchen herb seeds.

Alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum
Charlock (wild mustard) Sinapis arvensis
Cuckoo flower Cardamine pratensis Dry the immature seed pods
Curly dock Rumex crispus Ground to replace buckwheat
Hairy bittercress Cardamine hirsuta Like mustard seed but fiddly
Hogweed Heracleum sphondylium
Fennel Foeniculum vulgare
Field pennycress Foeniculum vulgare
Lovage Levisticum officinale
Milk thistle Silybum marianum Like hemp/flax seeds
Nasturtium Tropaeolum majus
Nettle seed Urtica dioica Energy pick-me-up!
Plaintain (Ribwort) Plantago lanceolata Fibogel like psyllium husks.
Poppy Papaver somniferum and P. rhoeas Not before a drugs test!
Sweet cicely Myrrhis odorata Seed loses aromatic oils quickly
Thistle Cirsium spp. All thistles are edible, some more so than others!

Gooseberries and Gorse Flower Syrup

gooseberries-greenThis is a lovely dessert. The almost tropical, honey-sweetness of the gorse flowers contrasts well with the gooseberries. Although most gooseberries are green there are some red variants. I find them growing wild in Clackmannanshire and although they aren’t large, they have brilliant flavour. Here in Scotland the red ones are called grozets.

Using sweet cicely in any recipe with rhubarb or gooseberries means that you can halve the amount of sugar normally used. As the gooseberries will be served with gorse flower syrup I have used no sugar with the goosegogs at all!

As a general rule of thumb, two tablespoons (5g) of finely chopped sweet cicely leaves (and very young stems) will replace 100g (4 oz) sugar in a recipe. But experiment yourself – I have never had much of a sweet tooth in the first place.

500g (just over 1lb) Gooseberries, washed, topped and tailed.
5g (2 tbsps) Sweet Cicely leaves (about 2 tops with young stems), very finely chopped.
30 ml (2 tbsps) water Gorse Flower Syrup

Put the gooseberries in a saucepan, add the sweet cicely and the water. Gently heat until the mixture starts to bubble. Stew until the gooseberries are slightly tender. Serve with Gorse Flower Syrup.


You can also stew rhubarb with sweet cicely in the same way. With rhubarb it is nice to use chopped sweet cicely stems as the texture complements the rhubarb stalks. Serve with green custard.

Lavender Flower Syrup

Lavender Flower Syrup

500g Lavender flowers
500g sugar
1 litre water

Heat the water and pour over the lavender flowers. Leave overnight to infuse.

In the morning, add the sugar and bring to the boil, keep it on the boil for 10 minutes, then switch the hob off. Strain the syrup through a muslin bag.

If it has cooled, bring it quickly back to boiling point. Switch off.

Pour through a stainless steel funnel (it’s hot!) into a sterilised, dry bottle and cap immediately.

Edible Flower Variations

This recipe will work with any edible flower petals with a higher volatile oil content.

For flowers where the aroma is faint and the petals have a low volatile oil content (e.g. any roses, mallow, hibiscus, violets) follow the method for Wild Dog Rose Syrup.

For those with a distinctive aroma, but low in volatiles, follow the method for Gorse Flower Syrup.

There is also more discussion about the levels of sugar to use in your syrup on the Gorse Flower Syrup page.


Pickling and Preserving Green Walnuts Recipes

A selection of recipes for green walnuts.

Green walnuts

Pick your walnuts while they are still green

Pickled Walnuts

Pick only young green walnuts – usually around June. Remember that walnuts stain. Great for making homemade hair dye and self-tan, but will make your fingers look disgusting if you don’t wear gloves!

Prick your nuts. If you can feel a shell inside them, discard them. They must have an unformed shell.

Soak them in brine. (Brine is just salty water. To make brine add 100g of salt to every 1 litre of water).

Leave them in the brine for 10-12 days. After 3-5 days drain and refresh with fresh brine for the rest of the period.

Then drain them and dry them on a rack for 24 hours. They will go black.

Put your black walnuts in a jar, and cover with spiced pickling vinegar.

Marinate for a month or two – depending on the vinegar solution you used and the taste that you like. Presto! Pickled walnuts!

Flickr - cyclonebill - Valnøddesnaps

Walnuts soaking in brine

Pickled Walnut Ketchup

Now, if you want to really stretch this crop. Once you have pickled your walnuts and are ready to eat them, don’t throw away the vinegar. I have put a suggested foraged edible wild spice mix and also a kitchen equivalent.

Strain the vinegar off (eat the pickled nuts) and to each 1 litre of vinegar add:
1 tsp ground toasted hogweed seed (1 tsp. ground cardamon)
1 tsp wild dried fennel seed (1 tsp. ground fennel)
1 tsp dried alexanders seed (1 tsp. ground celery seed)
100g wild garlic or 15 bulbs of wild garlic (40g / 6 garlic cloves)
7 to 10 cm of horseradish root (hot)

Boil for 15-20 minutes to reduce the mixture. Strain. Bottle (in sterilised jars or bottles) and use instead of ketchup!

Spicy Green Walnut Pickle Pesto

Keep back some of your green walnut ketchup. Put handfuls of any of the following into a blender (adding to suit your taste):

Hairy bittercress (leaves and flowers)
Wild garlic leaves (leaves and flowers)
Three cornered leek (leaves and flowers)
Ground elder leaves
Pine nuts (gathered from pine or monkey puzzle trees of course)

Add green walnut ketchup a little at a time. Blend until you reach pesto consistency.

Green Walnut Grappa

Click and try this recipe for a great tasting liqueur.

Common Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium)

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.

Common Hogweed


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.

Common Hogweed in Summer

The hogweed is starts to appear in February but really gets going in March onwards.

Common Hogweed in February

Other articles include: 

Is common hogweed poisonous?

Hogweed pakora recipe

Hogweed tempura recipe

Hogweed seeds

Edible Gorse Flower Syrups, Cordials & Cocktails

Gorse Flower Syrup

Gorse Flower Syrup


  • 500g gorse flowers
  • 500g sugar
  • 1 litre water
  • 2 limes
  • 1 orange


  1. Pick your gorse flowers in the morning on a warm, sunny day before it gets hot. This ensure the essential oils and, therefore taste, are at their best.
  2. Check through your gorse flowers to remove any twigs, leaves and bugs.
  3. Grate the rind of the orange and the limes with the fine side of a grater to make the citrus zest. Try to avoid the bitter white pith.
  4. Boil the water and sugar together.
  5. When it has started to boil, keep it on the boil for at least 10 minutes, then switch the hob off.
  6. Add the citrus zest, the juice of the orange and limes, and the gorse flowers and make sure they are all submerged.
  7. Cover and leave to infuse for 6 hours until cool (or overnight if easier).
  8. Then follow either of the final steps below:
  9. Quick-use method
  10. If you are using this up quickly or are happy to refrigerate:
  11. Once infused, heat very gently until the mixture liquifies a little again. Then strain the syrup through a muslin bag into a clean, dry bottle and seal.
  12. Long-storage method
  13. If you want to store this for a while: 
  14. Once infused, heat very gently until the mixture liquifies a little again. Then strain the syrup through a muslin bag into another saucepan. Bring the strained syrup quickly to the boil and boil rapidly for three minutes exactly. Pour through a stainless steel funnel (it's hot!) into a sterilised, dry bottle and cap immediately.
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Gorse at Rumbling Bridge

How much sugar?

This syrup will keep well in the fridge. I have experimented with syrups to try and get the least amount of sugar in them. Often a syrup recipe can have equal amounts of sugar to water, 50% more sugar than water, a third sugar to water. Sugar acts as a preservative and if you do not want to refrigerate your syrup you will need to use a higher amount of sugar.

This recipe uses 50% sugar to water and should keep fairly well in a cool store room.

The lowest I have used is 25% sugar. (For example in the recipe above I would use 250g sugar to 1 litre water). This will certainly keep in the fridge. However, if you want it to keep you must use method B – after the syrup has been strained you return it to the boil, and boil vigorously for exactly three minutes and then bottle (must be sterilised bottle AND cap), and seal immediately, then it may well keep for up to a year. Occasionally, I get a ‘corked’ one but not often. But I am blessed with acres of gorse near me so make this in bulk and don’t mind to much if I lose the odd one.

If one is ‘corked’, basically a mold has got in. You can tell before you open the bottle as it is very liquid (like water not syrup) when you shake it and there is often a white, solid disc of mold matter sitting at the top of the bottle that has been eating all the sugar! There is nothing you can do but compost the remains!

Gorse Flower Cordial

Well a cordial and a syrup are two names for the same thing really. A cordial being a diluting syrup. So to make a delicious fizzy summer drink, put around 3-4 cm of Gorse Flower Syrup into a glass and fill with sparkling water.

And now for the cocktails!

Gorse Kir

1 part gorse flower syrup
4 parts dry white wine

Gorse Kir Royal

1 part gorse flower syrup
4 parts champagne

And of course once the summer is over and you’re fed up with Gorse Kir, you can always move on to my Crème de Sureau (Elderberry Cassis!)

Stump puffballs – Lycoperdon pyriforme

Stump puffballs are edible and best when gathered young as they have a firm texture, exquisite smell but mild taste, and not as good as field puffballs. But they are very prolific and make a good meal if cooked carefully.

Stump puffballs

Before you pick them, cut one open to check its maturity. When young, they have a firm white flesh but if they are old, the area near the top will have turned yellowish and they will become spongey. This is from the formation of powdery spores which are eventually puffed out through an opening in the top. Once a puffball has reached this stage it loses all taste and texture. Best sautéed and added to a dish. See below.

Stump puffballs

Cut each puffball in half and discard any old ones. Sauté gently in good quality olive oil. Once they start to soften, turn the heat right down and add a good slosh of sherry, lots of salt and pepper and a splash of soy sauce. Leave to sweat on a very low heat. Beat three eggs together with a splash of milk. More salt and pepper and pour them over the puffballs. Quickly grate Parmesan cheese over the pan and then stir in as the eggs start to set. Delicious!

Stump puffballs

Chanterelles – Cantharellus cibarius

Exquisite flavour, slightly fruity and slightly peppery, this is one of the most popular of the edible mushrooms. Most foragers have a secret patch that they visit and the secret is well-guarded! This one is the most common in fusion restaurants who add fungi to the menu.


Mushroom breakfast

Gently fried in butter with some chopped chives, salt and pepper and garnished with chive flowers. This is mixture of chanterelles and hedgehog fungi. Before… and After!

Wild mushrooms

Wild mushrooms

Chanterelles, and their cousin the Hedgehog Fungi, with chive flowers

Rowan berries – Sorbus aucuparia

I picked these to make Rowan Berry Jelly. They are not poisonous but they are quite bitter (an acquired taste!). Rowan Berry Jelly is particularly delicious served with venison, hare or strong tasting fowl. You can use the berries to make Rowanberry Wine. There is also an interesting recipe for Rowan Berry Marmalade on another website here.

Rowan berries

Hedgehog fungus – Hydnum repandum

Luckily for foragers, hedgehog fungus is far less well-known that it’s cousin the chanterelle. It is easily identified by its spines or teeth under the cap which look vary different to gills or sponge. It has a great texture and nutty, slightly peppery taste and the young ones are exceptional! I have a favourite spot where there is a huge patch spreading over about twenty metres but I’m not telling! They make an amazing wild fungus risotto.

Hedgehog fungus

Fungi Risotto Recipie
Sauté the mushrooms in butter with salt and pepper and put to one side. In a saucepan, fry two large shallots in olive oil and then add half a pack of arborio risotto rice. Lightly fry the rice for a few minutes then add a little water. As the water is absorbed, keep adding a little more.

Finely grate the zest off two lemons into the pan. Juice the lemons and add the juice. Chop the stems of asparagus and broccoli sprouts, add but keep the flower tips until later. Keep stirring and adding a little more water each time.

Once the rice is just turning al dente, add the asparagus tips, broccoli florets and some diced baby courgettes. Cook for another three minutes. Add a glass of white wine, more salt and pepper (to taste) and then stir in the mushrooms including the liquid from the mushrooms. Warm thought until the rice has fully absorbed the extra liquid. Then serve up and watch it get polished off!

Wild Chorizo Salad

Sadly I forgot to photograph this before we ate it all as it looked very pretty!

Go for a walk and see what you can find! Today I found chickweed tops, dandelion leaves (young ones only!), sorrel, lambs lettuce and some wild strawberries. In the vegetable garden I found some lollo rosso, flat and curled parsley, marjoram, chervil, fennel, nasturtium leaves and chives. I also picked nasturtium flowers an chive flowers as edible decoration. Tear or chop whatever you find into pieces and put it into a bowl.

In a dry frying pan, lightly toast some pine nuts. You could also use sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds or split almonds. Put them aside as soon as they start to brown.

Take a chunk of cheap chorizo, cube it and gently fry it. Once the fat is released add a good slug of sherry and simmer on low for a further five minutes.

Drain off the cooking liquid into a jug. Add olive oil and vinegar to the jug – in this case it was homemade blackcurrant balsamic vinegar – and mix well together with an optional clove of crushed garlic.

Toss the chorizo cubes, pine nuts and cubed feta cheese into the salad leaves and drizzle over the warm dressing.

Common Wood Sorrel – Oxalis acetellosa

These pretty leaves have a distinctive sharp sorrel flavour and make a lovely addition to a wild salad, or as a garnish to a soup or dish. They are best picked early in the spring but these were still delicious in August (best not eaten in large quantities as they do contain small amounts of oxalic acid but it has been safely eaten by humans for hundreds of years). They can be found in woodlands, especially in mossy banks near beech trees, and are often in the company of wood anemones.

Oxalis acetosa



There’s a lot of plump blackcurrants (Ribes nigra) this year and luckily 101 things to do with them. Full of vitaminC and flavonoids, they bestow many health benefits as well as great taste! This year I used them to make cordial (far tastier than shop-bought brands) and Blackcurrant Vinegar. The cordial, diluted with prosecco or cava, makes a lovely Kir Royale.

Meadowsweet Cordial

Meadowsweet flowers

If you like Elderflower Cordial you’ll love this! It has a sweet, honeyed flavour that is perfect diluted with fizzy water. “Children’s Champagne” I told a young man who tried it at the wild food demonstration we at SWHA did, at the Big Tent Festival on Sunday. It’s very easy to make.

Take a large sauce pan and bring two litres of water to the boil. Dissolve about 250 grams of sugar in it and the juice of two lemons (optional). Then add four large handfuls of meadowsweet flowers (about 50) to the pan, submerge in the boiling water for three minutes and remove from the heat to infuse. Overnight is ideal but even an hour or two makes a tasty cordial.

Then filter off the flowers and return to the boil with a further 250 grams of sugar. Boil for five minutes and then pour into sterilised bottles and seal while hot.

The leaves and stems of meadowsweet contain salicylates which gives them a medicinal ‘Savlon’ taste so its best to strip the flowers from the stems first. This is why I don’t boil it, just infuse it as you then get the taste of the flowers and not the stems that get left behind.

This could also be used as a sauce over vanilla ice cream or mixed into a sorbet.

Crispy Dulse Seaweed Snack

I was given some dried dulse Palmaria palmata last night by Fi Houston, a fellow forager and a seaweed aficionado who sells wonderful sea spices at Below is the dried dulse I was given before I cooked it. It looks like a beautiful lacy purple scarf. Dulse is a seaweed that grows off the coast of Scotland here.


This is Crispy Dulse after I fried it. It was delicious, nutritious and so easy. I heated olive oil in a wok until hot then separated the fronds roughly and put them into the wok. They fried to crisp in literally 2 to 3 minutes. I then fished them out and ate it all up while hot.


I’ve always loved crispy seaweed from Chinese restaurants and they always seem to add a little sugar. So I sprinkled some with a little caster sugar. It still tasted nice but wasn’t necessary as it didn’t enhance the flavour in any way. It’s quite salty so definitely just a snack not a main dish done this way and would be fantastic with some dry toasted sunflower seeds sprinkled with soy sauce while still hot.

Pink Purslane


Pink purslane (Claytonia sibirica) is an edible plant in the Portulacaceae family related to Spring Beauty (Claytonia perfoliata) and Common Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) which is high in Omega 3 oils – normally found in fish oils and algae. It has a host of vitamins and minerals and the leaves are excellent in salads.

Eat your greens. They really are good for you!

There’s a lot more to eating greens than making sure you have enough dietary fibre and vitamin A. I think the majority of people think of their daily vegetables as fairly inert. You find them still and lifeless on the shelves of a supermarket, or cryogenically preserved in the freezer section. And pretty much the same selection with little seasonal variation except the obligatory “offer” on strawberries and raspberries when summer finally arrives.

We know green things are good for us. Spinach is high in vitamin A. But did you know that it is nothing like as high as dandelion leaf? Obviously the phytochemical (plant components) in vegetables vary – the climate, the soil, the season, plant health, length of storage, are all factors that will influence that – but on average fresh spinach contains around 7000-8000 I.U./100g of vitamin A while fresh dandelion leaf contains 10000-14000 I.U./100g. Time and time again, wild greens outperform supermarket greens hands-down. Why is there such a prevalence if iceberg lettuce – nutritional value nearly nil – when there is such a wide choice of excellent alternatives? In mediaeval Britain we ate more ground elder than spinach. Nowadays it is only known as a weed, a pervasive gardeners’ nightmare. But just nibble a leaf. A hint of celery! Cook it exactly like spinach and eat free for six months of the year. I have yet to come across a supermarket that sells ground elder.

However, one wild vegetable has made it onto our tables via the supermarkets and that is rocket or arugula in Italian, even still carrying the title Wild Rocket although it is unlikely that any one went foraging for it! So what’s in rocket?

Vitamin and Mineral Profile (all values per 100g)
Modest, compared to spinach, rocket contains vitamin A 2373 I.U. (mainly lutein & zeaxanthin – 3555 mcg and beta carotene 1424 mcg), so very good for your eye health. Also vitamin K 109 mcg and folate 97 mcg which both help to keep red blood cells growing healthily. Potassium 369 mg, calcium 160 mg, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, Omega-3 fatty acids 170 mg and Omega-6 at 130 mg There are few carbohydrates 3.7 g (fibre 1.6 g and sugar 2.1 g), protein 2.6 g, no cholesterol and just 25 calories.

Health Evidence
You’ll have heard that plants contain groups of phytochemicals like antioxidants, which are good for us. The brassica family (brussells sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli) contain another large group called glucosides where you find sulfur-containing glucosinolates. Rocket also contains these glucosinolates (with less of the sulfurous side effects!). When a plant is chewed by predators such as ourselves, a plant enzyme called myrosinase triggers a change in the glucosinolates, releasing a protective dietary isothiocyanate called erucin. Isothiocyanates like erucin have been found to inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells, such as lung cancer (Melchini et al., 2009).

This is one case though where swallowing a supplement instead, just doesn’t do the trick (Clarke et al., 2011). Supplements don’t contain myrosinase, nor are they chewed, so there is no enzyme nor action available to convert the glucosinolates in these vegetables, into bioactive isothiocyanates like erucin. Unsurprisingly, for the full benefit you have to eat as much of it just as Stone Age man did – raw and without cooking it. Cooking destroys both myrosinase and glucosinolates, which means that you don’t then get the erucin with its protective anti-cancer benefit (Rungapamestry et al., 2007). If you really must cook your veg then steam them, as steaming lead to the lowest loss of total glucosinolates out of all methods of cooking (Yuan et al., 2009).  Chewing also makes a difference, as the longer the rocket or broccoli is chewed the more the plant enzyme myrosinase acts on the glucose, and the higher the conversion to erucin (Shapiro et al., 2001). It has also been found that the younger the plant, the higher the concentration of protective plant chemicals it contains, in order to protect the young plant.

So the moral of the story is… Eat lots of young, fresh, raw wild leaves, wild rocket and broccoli and chew well!


Clarke JD, Riedl K, Bella D, Schwartz SJ, Stevens JF and Ho E. (2011) Comparison of isothiocyanate metabolite levels and histone deacetylase activity in human subjects consuming broccoli sprouts or broccoli supplement. J Agric Food Chem. 59(20):10955-63

Melchini A, Costa C, Traka M, Miceli N, Mithen R, De Pasquale R and Trovato A. (2009) Erucin, a new promising cancer chemopreventive agent from rocket salads, shows anti-proliferative activity on human lung carcinoma A549 cells. Food Chem Toxicol. 47(7):1430-6.

Rungapamestry V, Duncan AJ, Fuller Z and Ratcliffe B. (2007) Effect of cooking brassica vegetables on the subsequent hydrolysis and metabolic fate of glucosinolates. Proc Nutr Soc. 66(1):69-81.

Shapiro TA, Fahey JW, Wade KL, Stephenson KK and Talalay P. (2001) Chemoprotective glucosinolates and isothiocyanates of broccoli sprouts: metabolism and excretion in humans.
Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 10(5):501-8.

Yuan G, Sun B, Yuan J and Wang Q. (2009) Effects of different cooking methods on health-promoting compounds of broccoli. J Zhejiang Univ Sci B. 10(8): 580–588.

Search PubMed database for abstracts and articles.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelion Taraxacum officinale is high in vitamins A, B complex, C, and D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc. For comparison, spinach contains around 9,000 – 9,500 IU of vitamin A per 100g.

Spinach: Average vitamin content per 100g

However, dandelion contains 10,000-14,000 IU per 100g.

Dandelion: Average vitamin content per 100g














Dandelion: Average mineral content per 100g

Dandelion can be quite bitter but the young leaves, added in moderation to a salad provide a delicious piquancy. Fantastic in a juice mixed with carrot and ginger, it also makes a cleansing, diuretic tea mixed – try a combination of dandelion leaf Taraxacum officinale, nettle urtica dioica and cleavers Galium aparine.

For people trying to lose weight, a diuretic is useful. And where it is complicated by low thyroid function or oedema, where potassium is key, dandelion comes into its own. It is very high in natural potassium. This certainly gives it an advantage over many pharmaceutical diuretics which can cause potassium depletion as a side-effect. (Dangerous where they are being used in combination with heart medications such as digitalis and other cardiac glucosides.) Potassium is a key mineral in preventing oedema – when water is retained in your body’s cells. While a certain amount of water retention is normal, and fluctuates in women at certain times of the month, permanent oedema is not healthy. If you get indentations from your socks, for example, that are still there after your socks have been off for a while, you may have oedema. Potassium also needs zinc to work and handily, dandelion also contains a good amount of zinc too.

Dandelion also protects the liver – especially against the hepatotoxic effect of drugs like paracetamol (Colle et al, 2012) and liver damage from alcoholism (You et al, 2010). So if you like a bottle of wine in the evening, start the day with dandleion tea!

Colle D, Arantes LP, Gubert P, da Luz SC, Athayde ML, Teixeira Rocha JB and Soares FA. (2012) Antioxidant Properties of Taraxacum officinale Leaf Extract Are Involved in the Protective Effect Against Hepatoxicity Induced by Acetaminophen in Mice. J Med Food. 2012 Mar 16. [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 22424457

You Y, Yoo S, Yoon HG, Park J, Lee YH, Kim S, Oh KT, Lee J, Cho HY and Jun W. (2010) In vitro and in vivo hepatoprotective effects of the aqueous extract from Taraxacum officinale (dandelion) root against alcohol-induced oxidative stress. Food Chem Toxicol. 2010 Jun;48(6):1632-7. PMID: 20347918


Easter Banquet featuring Venison in Elderberry and Hawthorn

To those of you who imagine that a forager’s fare is stark or unexciting, then think again. A fortuitous gift of venison (I love living in the country) turned Easter Sunday into a culinary delight! In this case, rustling up lunch at short notice, I also ‘foraged’ in the garden to combine some veg with plants found in the ditches and woodland.

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A Foragers Traditional Sunday Lunch Menu

Venison Medallions in Elderberry and Hawthorn Gin Sauce

Sorrel and Wild Garlic Mash

Steamed Ground Elder

Wild Spring Salad with Elderberry Vinegar

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1 loin of Roe deer contributed by your neighbour’s brother now that the shooting season is open
A pan of potatoes dug up from last year’s potato patch that survived the blight
A handful of early tangy Sorrel leaves
A handful of Wild Garlic from any river bank
A pan full of Ground Elder (it shrinks when steamed)
1/4 litre of last year’s pasteurised Elderberry juice
A good glug of my Vintage Hawthorn Berry Gin

Dried seaweed, salt and pepper, ground hogweed seed and possibly some other mysterious things foraged from the dark and wild recesses of the kitchen cupboard

For the salad:
Lambs lettuce, Chickweed, Dandelion leaf, Watercress (taken from the bank not the stream bed), Wild Garlic, Wild Mint, Hairy Bittercress

For the dressing:
Olive oil, Elderberry ‘balsamic’ vinegar

Set your potatoes to boil when you start preparing the meat.

Slice the venison loin into 1 cm thick medallions and slowly pan-fry them in olive until just done. Venison is best cooked through and not left too pink or bloody. Toward the end of the cooking add the elderberry juice and a generous amount of the spice mix. When the venison are cooked remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon and keep them gently warm in the oven in a flat baking dish. (I have a neat Le Creuset one that I foraged from an abandoned caravan!) Reduce the elderberry juice by bubbling away until it thickens and just starts to caramelise, and then add a glug of hawthorn gin.

Drain and mash the potatoes being liberal with ground dried seaweed, salt and pepper, butter and milk until it reaches a smooth creamy consistency. Then add finely chopped sorrel leaves, chopped wild garlic and stir in until the mash is well flecked with green.

Lastly roughly chop and steam your ground elder just like spinach. Drain well, squeezing out the water, toss to loosen and season with butter and salt.

Toss your lightly shredded salad ingredients into a big bowl and sprinkle with equal amounts of olive oil and elderberry vinegar.

Make a ‘Easter egg nest’ of the mash and place a few medallions inside, pour over the sauce. Nestle the ground elder around the side and serve the salad in side bowls.

This was so delicious it elicited plenty of mm’s, aah’s and other good food noises and the diners forgot to suspiciously ask what was in it until they’d eaten it all! So enjoyed by Geza, Jim, Norrie and myself that no one took a photo. Sorry!!

Cost in a restaurant? £15 to £20 upwards. My shopping bill? £0 Actual cost? Probably no more than a pint of milk.

Below is a photo of a similar dish, this one featuring fried hogweed.


Oyster Mushrooms on the Menu


Both of the large horse chestnut Aesculus hippocastanum trees that fell in the January gale were host to some fabulous oyster mushrooms Pleurotus ostreatus. Fried in butter with an egg on the side. Mmm. One tree has not been cut up and gone forever, but one remains as a large stump on which I found these.