Who knew you could forage in Dalston?

The Kings Walk Garden holds a collection of short one day courses over the summer, and I was lucky enough to snag a place in lieu of a friend at the last minute.

Having an allotment has been one of my dreams over the last few years. I fear also that this might age me by about 10 years too, but I trust that I can rebuff this by hanging out in the clubs down the street after I spend an afternoon weeding. This is all speculative of course, as these allotments are like hens teeth. It’s more than likely I will be middle aged by the time my name comes up.

So, allotment or not, I find myself on a saturday afternoon with the king of foraging Mr Miles Irving. I will try and do his incredibly detailed and interesting 2 hour chat justice by listing the plants that he took us through, but by all means don’t listen to me. Please check you facts before embarking on your personal research and begin nibbling. I don’t want any fatalities on my conscience.

Fat Hen or Goosefoot Chenopodium album

Same family as Chard, Spinach, and suprisingly Quinoa. Wouldn’t probably go through the process of using the grain as you would in Quinoa, however, as the harvesting will take an age and then you need to polish it.. Best left to the professionals. High in Vitamin A &E and magnesium. Flowers quickly, but the flavour of the leaves doesn’t bitter when it does so you needn’t worry. Planted as a crop in India but considered a weed in Europe.

Red Shank / Ladies thumb Persicaria maculosa

This is from the same family as buckwheat, and found referenced in ancient food references. Eat the leaves. In a medicinal application this is good for infections and the fresh leaves are good to stem bleeding (if you can’t find yourself a plaster)

Nettles 

We are all pretty familiar with the nettle, and it has been appearing on menu’s for a while now.. What I didn’t know though, was that if you crush it in your fingers the sting no longer affects you and that you shouldn’t eat it once it has flowered as it has crystals that will build up in your kidneys and that’s not great.

Dandelion Taraxacum

Again, a relatively common leaf (plant really, but we were looking specifically at the leaf) that we see on occassion in restaurants these days. To use in replacement with any bitter leaves in salads such as chicory. The plant can be quite variable in its bitterness, so best to try before you pull.

Common Mallow Malva sylvestris

Ignored when next to its more famous sibling Marsh Mallow, the common mallow has the similiar characteristics as its other family member, Okra – a bit slimy. Good in soups to add texture of silkyness, so I figure you could add it to Gumbo? Apparently cows aren’t fond of it either – perhaps they are on to something?

Perennial Wall Rocket Diplotaxis

 

London is the capital of rocket, and you will find many variations of the ‘wild rocket’ that you see in packets in the supermarkets all around the city. This however is the true ‘wild’ one and has a much stronger peppery character. You can also eat the flowers too, which I did, and had much the same flavour as the leaves if not a tad bit stronger.  

Rowan 

Part of the Sorbus family, which is part of the Rosaceae family – where a lot of very important fruit baring plants stem from (plums, cherries, raspberries etc). This shrub produces a small red fruit which can be used in jamming, when you require additional pectin, or to be made alone which makes a bitter jelly to use on game meats. Alone the fruit is too bitter to enjoy.

Hawthorn Crataegus

This seems to be a various purpose plant that is very well loved in all corners of the world. China seems to use the fruits for all manner of things, and the fruits are quite a delicacy in the southern USA – And in Canada they used to be eaten in the winter when there wasn’t much else to munch. So much so, that if you come from Manitoulin Island you can be called a Haweater (not sure how I would feel about that though). You can eat the leaves in spring as you would any leafy green, but I would be more keen to try the fruit in a jam. There have been also tests on heath benefits of the plant, mostly for ‘exercise tolerance’..hmm.

Ladies Bed Straw Galium verum

It is believed that Ladies Bedstraw was used as a vegetable rennet. A few people have tried to use it in this way, and failed, so it is more likely that the use was more to colour the cheese. The name comes from the use of it in stuffing mattresses, with the smell preventing fleas. Used also to infuse spirits in Denmark. French chefs made a sauce with it, but probably best used as a fragrance in dishes rather than a key player.

Meadow Sweet Filipendula ulmaria

This plants name is a corruption of Mead Sweet as in the past this plant was used to sweeten Mead. Flowers after Elderflower, and therefore can be used a supplement in any dishes that require Elderflower. This is good with cherries and other fruits. It is also very good for indigestion, and has a slightly minty flavour.

Mugwort Artemisia vulgaris

With heat, this plants flavours tend to dissipate, but it is historically known for use with geese and used in the stuffing. Perhaps the fattiness assists in holding its structure. Has a strong menthol flavour which would aid in cutting through the greasiness. Japanese use the chinese Mugwort (which is much stronger in flavour) in their red bean and rice cakes.

Wild Mint

This looks very similar to normal mints except that the leaves are larger. It has a square trunk, and the leaves are on a 90 degree rotation. There are two strains of the mint family you shouldn’t eat and they are Pennyroyal, and Wood Sage.

Patients Dock Rumex patientia

This is simular to Rhubarb, astringent when raw, but you can use the leaf stem like you would rhubarb and the leaves are good as they don’t boil down to nothing. Very popular in Serbia and Romania – it is used in a spring broth.

Wild Lettuce

I think I was perhaps one of three who tried this incredibly bitter lettuce. As Miles warned, it is surprising that we persisted with lettuces at all if this was our first experience with them. Think chicory, but about 10 times more bitter. When I looked further into this, it appears that Wild Lettuce has qualities similiar to that of Opium. This wasn’t mentioned to us in the talk, and the lettuce that we were shown didn’t have the purple hue mentioned here. It may be that there are a few strains, or maybe this is best left unsaid.

Yarrow Achillea millefolium

This has been historically used in a compress when trying to supress blood flow. It’s leaf is fresh and has a scent that is similiar to lavender and rosemary. Use in flavouring in replacement of these herbs.

Chickweed Stellaria media

There are many plants that look a little like this, so the best way to check if it is good to eat is by looking at the stem. If you see a fine line of white hairs along the stem you are good to munch. Confusingly, sometimes there are two lines. This is still a good sign. This is a great salad leaf and grows like crazy.

Sow Thistle Sonchus

In the spring, this plant can resemble Dandelion. It is used in salads, or as a veg, and can replace chicory in exactly the same uses. it is best used when small, as it can get woody when older. If you have an older plant, use a bit of bi-carb and it will soften up. This will also take the sting out of any thistle.

Bittercress Cardamine hirsuta

All I have written about this in my notes is ‘delicious & rampant’. Ill let you decipher the rest.

Chicory Flower Cichorium intybus

A gorgeous blue flower which is part of the infamous Chicory plant which has many uses in all its form – roots, leaves and flowers. The flower can be eaten and is used to pretty-up any salad.

Yellow Sorrel Oxalis

All sorrel has been used for centuries by humans for various uses. It has a lemony flavour and can be dried or eaten fresh.

3 thoughts on “Who knew you could forage in Dalston?

  1. Only recently found out about using nettles after flowering myself. Many wild plants change their composition as the plant develops throughout the season. It’s good to make the point, but unless you are stuffing your face with it constantly it is unlikely to cause a problem. At least much less of a problem than if you were eating say – a big mac – with a similar regularity.
    PS: Photographic guides are better to use these days – but those drawings are the real thing.

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