Category Archives: Foraging

This category includes all posts that are foraging for free food activities related. This also includes Wild food identification and harvesting. Therefore, this category does not include posts relating to bushcraft, wildlife, or anything else.

Hedgerow Beauties – Edible Spring Flowers

Given the time of year, we all know that the countryside is full of green and flowers, I was out looking for edibles when I came across these edible hedgerow beauties, so I thought I’d share these spring flowers with you.

Wych Elm (Ulmus glabra) spring flowers

First up is the Wych Elm. This tree, with one of the prettiest flower bunches over also has a great many uses. Sticking with the edibility, the young leaves are edible (raw or cooked), the inner bark has been dried and used to thicken stews, and the seeds are also edible.

Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea)

Greater Stitchwort is one of those anonymous white spring flowers in the hedgerow or on the side of the road that largely gets ignored. Until you take a closer look, that is.

Hedgerow Beauties – Greater Stitchwort

The flower is made up of five white petals, lobed so deeply that they look like ten petals. Five green sepals support them, and the stamens are yellow tipped, growing from a green centre. The green parts look very much like grass before the flowers open, apart from the fact that the edges feel quite rough; As does the stem, which has a square cross-section.

The green shoots, flower buds and flowers are all edible raw and cooked. You can chop them straight into a salad.

Forget-Me-Not (Genus Myosotis)

Forget-me-nots are tiny blue spring flowers which you could easily walk by, if it wasn’t for the striking contrast of the blue against a green background.

Forget-me-nots

Forget-me-not covers about 74 species, but the flowers are usually pink/purple in the bud, turning blue when they open. The flowers have five petals, five sepals, yellow centres and are under one cm across. The leaves are long, thin, and unstalked. The stems are hairy, and the leaves are also hairy sometimes.

The flowers are edible and you can eat them as a walking snack, to decorate cakes, and in salads.

Primrose (Primula vulgaris)

Sometimes, with these wild flowers, it’s hard to believe that they’re not cultivated because they look so perfect, and in my opinion, the Primrose is one of those.

Wild Primrose

Easy to recognise, Primula vulgaris has a rosette of crinkly, tongue-shaped leaves that are so wrinkled that they look old even when new. Each flower grows from it’s own stem (which has fine hairs) and has five pale yellow petals, with a darker yellow centre. Sometimes, the darker yellow centre forms a pentagram.

WARNING: I’ve eaten the flowers raw, and the leaves both raw and cooked, yet some people have reported that the leaves have caused a rash. It’s worth checking first, and if the leaves do cause a rash or any kind of contact dermatitis, definitely do not eat it.

Getting confident with the Apiaceae family, Hemlock – Conium maculatum

The Apiaceae family, formerly Umbellifers, also known as the carrot family, is the one that scares me the most. The simple reason is that whilst there are many edible species in the family, there are also a few deadly ones; And the worst part is that they look very similar. Hemlock, deadly, not only looks very similar to Cow Parsley, for example, but also grows right in the same spot! I mean, really!

Can you identify which Apiaceaes are in this picture?

Anyway, since my last outing, I’m feeling a lot more confident. The main reason is that whilst I’m still not 100% sure about positively identifying the edibles, I’m now 100% confident to identify Hemlock itself.

Hemlock Identification

How did I get there? Following the advice of my peers, and using multiple points of reference. As you can see from the picture above, looking at the leaves can narrow it down to maybe 5 of the Apiaceaes, but that’s not enough.

Warning – Please, please, please don’t take this as a definitive source. You really must be 100% sure for yourself, or you’re playing Russian roulette with herbs.

Colouring

The first clue that clinched it for me, was the purple spotting. Hemlock sometimes has purple spotting on the stems, like the photo below. Cow Parsley can also have purple on the stems, but with Cow Parsley the purple is like a wash of colour. On Hemlock it’s like someone flicked a purple ink-pen at it.

Cross-sections

The second clue, was the cross-section and shape of the stems. Hemlock has a circular, hairless stem, which is hollow. Cow Parsley has a ridged stem (similar to celery), minute hairs, and has much thicker walls to the hollow stem.

The leaf stems are a little different. Hemlock leaf stems are also circular and hollow, whereas Cow Parsley leaf stems are solid and a ‘V’ shape; Or, I prefer to think of it as 3 sided, where one of those sides has a groove in it to channel rain water.

Smell

The final thing that clinched it for me, was the smell. Cow Parsley smells like, well, Parsley. It’s generally considered that Hemlock has a really unappealing smell. When I first smelt it, I thought it was actually quite nice – If I smelt that as a men’s cologne, I’d be quite happy with it, but hold on; Would I want to put it in my mouth smelling like that? Oh god, no! That would be awful. There we go then.

Retrospective learnings

Of course, now that I have a 100% positive identification, I can look back at the plant and think about what else I notice. For example, compared to Cow Parsley, it’s quite a dark glossy green (NOTE: Plants’ colour can vary regionally as well as with age). The leaves’ “toothing” continues right to the end, whereas in Cow Parsley, the notches become less prominent toward the end. Also, I think that where the veins in the leaves cause an indentation and fold on the top of the leaf, it seems to be more pronounced in Hemlock.

It’s all about familiarity and confidence. I’ll be taking the time to smell and look at Hemlock every time I come across it, so recognising it becomes second nature. If you’re into foraging, I recommend you do the same, and never forget “If in doubt, leave it out”.

Scary Warning

And scary with good reason. I didn’t pick Cow Parsley as a comparison by random. They grow together and look similar. If you were in any doubt about just how poisonous Hemlock could be, lets start with the fact that there’s no cure for Hemlock poisoning. The poison causes muscle weakness, then paralysis from your toes upwards. Eventually, paralysis of the lungs and/or heart causes death.

Scared? You should be. I’m not scared now that I’m confident that I could easily identify Hemlock, but I will remain wary forever. I hope that you will too, and stay safe.