Special Ingredients Blog Food Writing

Accidental foraging, a handful of leaves

A walk on Devon moorland recently led me to some great foraging opportunities, including some plants I’d never picked before.

I found myself in a sea of tiny pink flowers, beautiful in their own right, but then discovered their leaves are edible too. Wood purslane have small, succulent leaves with a fresh, faintly lemony taste, very similar to the larger purslane salad, sold in bunches in Middle Eastern vegetable shops. I like to add a handful of them to other green leaves, possibly with some sliced radishes and a light lemon and oil dressing.

Penny wort, or Minor’s lettuce (as it’s called in Cornwall), has a similar texture but grows clinging to walls, rather than carpeting the ground. I’d always ignored this little plant, thinking it must be inedible, until a knowledgeable friend gave me a taste.

It has a flavour that can only be described as green – green in the way watercress or spinach tastes green, but without the peppery bite. I’ve never found sufficient to eat on its own, so it’s better just sprinkling a few leaves into a salad.

A leaf that does grow in vast quantities though, is wild garlic. The woodlands I walked through were thick with the stuff. I’d found it a little late in the season though when some of the leaves start to become a bit stringy and too pungent tasting. It’s when the pretty white flowers appear, it has reached this stage, but nevertheless, it is a lovely sight and if you pick it carefully, there are always a few young leaves to be found. Lightly sautéed with lots of butter, it makes a delicious bed for sweet scallops, as I ate it that night. Otherwise add a few leaves to scrambled eggs, a frittata or omlette. Alternatively you can have it finely chopped and mixed with yoghurt and cumin as a marinade for chicken.

Another plant with a strong taste is wood sorrel. The tall stems are scattered through long grass in fields and beside pathways. Sorrel has a bright, sharp lemony flavour and makes a perfect addition to egg dishes. It has small, firm green leaves which can be shredded and mixed to eggs to make frittata. I like to stir in a few shredded mint leaves and basil too, with a spoonful of crème fraiche and parmesan. The quickest and simplest of lunches.


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