Here’s a list of the edible wild plants we’ve spotted at our orchard.
Wild Mustard – the leaves taste like wasabi, eat raw, use in a dip or salad, or cook them like spinach. The yellow flowers taste like mustard & are also lovely in a salad.
Plantain (Ribwort / Rats tail) – Uses: Plantain leaves are ancient medicines with many virtues, used throughout the world. Either plant can be used to combat a number of respiratory ailments, such as bronchitis, nasal catarrh and sinusitis; as well as middle ear complaints. Both plants have been used to treat bladder infections for centuries.
The plantains are outstanding wound herbs. If you cut yourself when out foraging, gardening or whatever, then treat yourself, for this plant will very likely be near-by. Simply gather and chew a couple of good looking leaves, then apply the ‘spit poultice’ to the afflicted area. Bleeding stops very quickly, and broken flesh is rapidly sealed together, due to the astringency of tannins, and the soothing mucilage. Plantains are mildly anti-septic, so they also help prevent infection. In addition, these plants are really useful against insect bites and stings, especially for children. It works much better than dock leaves when stung by stinging nettles. Once again, chew or rub the leaves together until you get the juices flowing, then apply.
You can cook the leaves like spinach or the young and the pre-flower buds are moist and crunchy and taste strongly of mushrooms. Both lend themselves well to being pureed and made into a dip.
Plantain seeds can be gathered and added to meals, or ground into flour to make flat breads etc. The mature seeds of ribwort are lovely and nutty, and just big enough to be bothered about. They work like chia or linseed in that they
Navelwort / Pennywort / Pennypies / Umbilicus rupestris – grows along the cornish stone hedges, looks a bit like a belly button, lovely salad leaf with a good taste. Care should be taken when removing the leaves as the whole plant can easily be detached from where it is growing and it should only be harvested when there is an abundance of the plant and only a couple of leaves taken from each rosette.
Blackthorn – The Blackthorn Prunus spinosa is a common shrub in Great Britain (often called a sloe tree), found in most hedgerows, often near Hawthorn, which it superficially resembles. Blackthorn almost always bears its small white flowers before the leaves appear opposite to Hawthorn which flowers after the leaves appear. But, it’s the fierce thorns which make it famous. These thorns are exceptionally large and sharp with a brittle tip, which inevitably snaps off should they pierce your skin. This then turns septic and can be quite sore.
Early flowering, blackthorn provides a valuable source of nectar and pollen for bees in spring. Its foliage is a food plant for the caterpillars of many moths, including the lackey, magpie, common emerald, small eggar, swallow-tailed and yellow-tailed. It is also used by the black and brown hairstreak butterflies. Birds nest among the dense, thorny thickets, eat caterpillars and other insects from the leaves, and feast on the berries in autumn.
The small pretty flowers are best eaten raw, or crystallised for cake decorations. The leaves should not be eaten, but once dried they can be used as tea. The berries are known as ‘sloes’ and these are very popular for making ‘sloe gin’, a potent alcoholic drink which if made with lots of sugar is more like a liqueur. You can also make sloe apple jam or jelly. You can eat them straight from the bush after the first frosts of the year, but most will find them too sour to pallet. They do, like many fruits contain toxic elements, but have been eaten and used in the kitchen for many years.
Elderflower – the flowers make wonderful aromatic juice / cordial or wine. See recipe. The berries are also edible. You can make a delicious medicinal (!) drink by putting ripe berries in a jar, coating them with honey and then covering them with brandy. Leave 6 weeks then take 6-10 drops in a spoon of water at the 1st sign of a cold. Or just gave a wee shot to keep the cold out whenever you need!