Foraging in April: herbs and plants to find

Foraging in April: herbs and plants to find
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If you're walking in the woods, you'll probably smell wild garlic before you see it. (Photo: alamy/Tom Gainey)

April is the time to look out for fresh new greens and herbs to give your food a seasonal springtime boost.

Next time you're out look for these seven easy-to-identify edible herbs and plants.

Always take a good field guide with you and please follow our sustainable foraging guidelines.

Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum)

Also known as horse parsley, alexanders is a biennial plant and believed by some to be one of the best wild vegetables of spring. It’s not native and was introduced to the UK by the Romans.

How to use it: every part of it is edible but the succulent stem is the best bit. People say it tastes similar to angelica and parsley, but there are many different ways of bringing out its flavour. You can steam or boil them, toss in butter and season with black pepper. Leaves and flowers are also edible - add them to salads.

What to look for: it’s widespread in coastal regions in the south of England. Look along cliff tops and hedgerows. You can pick the stems from February but they’re at their best when the first flower buds appear in late March and April.

Bramble leaves (Rubus fruticosus agg.)

Bramble is both loved and hated for its thorns as well as its delicious fruit. It's likely you've picked blackberries but did you know the leaves are edible too? Apparently they're packed with antioxidants and vitamin C and have medicinal properties. The leaves are astringent, which means they have a drying and tightening effect - chew a leaf and you'll notice your mouth drying up.

How to use it: leaves have long been used medicinally as a tea because if their astringent properties. It's been used to treat mouth ulcers, gingivitis and sore throats. You can make a delicious, fruity wild tea with a few fresh or dried leaves. Infuse in hot water for 5 minutes. Dried leaves can be stored in an airtight container away from direct light.

What to look for:  bramble is considered an aggregate of hundreds of different microspecies but they are easy to identify. Look for their long, rambling, thorny, reddish-green stems. The young, green, tender leaves are perfect for picking in April.

Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris)

Also known as wild chervil, this abundant plant is an excellent all-round herb. It's a member of the carrot family and is a biennial or short-lived perennial plant. It is also sometimes called mother-die possibly because it resembles hemlock which is poisonous and closely linked with witchcraft. 

How to use it: its leaves make an excellent all-round herb for salads and garnishes. Its leaves have a delicate, spicy almost aniseed-like flavour. They can be chopped and added to salads, omelettes, soups and spring pasta dishes.

What to look for: common along the verges of roads, lanes and woodland edges. Look for its white flowering stems which grow up to 1.2 metres tall. The young leaves are best when the plant isn't fully grown before May or June. Don't accidentally confuse it with poisonous hemlock.

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

Also known as hedge garlic, it's leaves have a mild, peppery garlic flavour. It flowers in April and May and is a member of the cabbage family. Its other common name, Jack by the hedge, comes from its garlic-like aroma when the leaves are crushed - for it was said that the devils breath smelt of garlic and Jack is another old English name for the devil.

How to use it: pick its thin, vibrant green leaves and chop as a herb to add to soups, dressings, casseroles or sauces. You can also add the leaves to salads and sandwiches (especially cheese).

What to look for: you'll find it growing abundantly along hedgerows and verges. Pick the young leaves throughout spring. Later in the summer the leaves develop a stronger, more peppery taste making it quite bitter.

Hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)

A common annual herb with rounded leaves that's considered by most gardeners to be a weed. Its leaves and flowers have a delicious, peppery, tangy flavour.

How to use it: all parts of the plant can be eaten when young. Pick leaves and flowers from the middle of the plant and wash well. Since they grow low to the ground they may be gritty or dusty. It has a peppery flavour, great for salads, soups, salsa, pesto or as a substitute for cress. 

What to look for: it grows in a rosette shape, low to the ground with flowering stems (with tiny white flowers) that rise from the centre. You'll find it growing on bare soil or gravel, cracks in paths and at the bottom of walls as well as hedgerows and waste ground.

Mallow (Malva sylvestris)

Although it's un likely to be flowring yet, the leaves and stems of mallow are edible are are oerfect for picking now. Leaves are rich in protein, calcium, iron and vitamin C and in traditional medicine they’ve been used to treat constipation and diarrhoea, dry throat and chesty cough.

Mallow flowers are easy to recognise (Photo: Don Hooper/Alamy)

How to use it: the slightly furry leaves and stems are best picked around now until early summer. They contain a resin which gives them a distinctive gummy texture a bit like okra. It adds glutinous richness to the Arabic soup, molokhia, which is made from them. Later, in the summer, the mauve flowers will appear. They have a similar flavour and texture to the leaves and are good addition to salads, while the seeds have a delicate nutty flavour.

What to look for: find it in open and sunny habitats along hedgerows and roadsides and in pastures and wasteland. Its geranium-like leaves are best picked from now and until mid-summer.

Wild garlic (Ullium ursinum)

Wild garlic, also known as ransoms, is a native bulb that often grows in dense clusters on the floor of damp woodland and along shaded hedgerows. It’s a rich source of folklore and is credited with the ability to ward off vampires and evil spirits.

Carpet of ramsons

How to use it: the leaves and flowers are edible and delicious and have an unmistakable smell. The flavour is mellower than that of cultivated garlic and can be used in many ways. Add leaves to soups, sauces or omelettes. Make a wild garlic pesto or use to infuse olive oil. They are also delicious in salads and sandwiches or chop and mix with butter to make a delicious version of garlic bread.

What to look for: very common throughout woodland in England and Wales, but less so in Scotland. Leaves appear as early as February and are best picked before the flowers have died (usually early May).

Make wild garlic pesto. See our wild garlic pesto recipe and get our top collecting tips

Have you had any foraging adventures?

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