Foraging in May: a guide to wild herbs and other edible plants
May is here and if you’re excited by foraging, now is the time to gather, learn, explore and experiment. As well as welcoming old favourites, there are always new things to discover and recipes to try out.
Here are some familiar edible plants as well as those you didn’t know you could eat.
Please harvest responsibly and only take what you are confident you can identify. For top tips on safe, sustainable foraging check out our guidelines.
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Chickweed is a vigorous weed that's probably trying to take over your borders right now. But did you know you can eat it? The leaves, stems, and flowers are all edible either raw or cooked.
Credit: Arco Images GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
How to use it: its tender leaves can go in salads with lemon and olive oil dressing. Blend into homemade pesto, or use to liven up fish or chicken. The tiny white, edible flowers make a pretty salad garnish.
What to look for: it’s a creeping plant with small pointed leaves and star-like white flowers. Look for it in your borders in the garden and on waste ground. It’s abundant and ongoing throughout the year from spring to late autumn.
Credit: WTML/P Holmes
How to use it: at this time of year, the young leaves, flower buds and young flowers are all edible. They can be added to green salads and grated root salads. The developing flower buds are particularly good.
What to look for: you’ll find hawthorn in hedgerows, woodland, waste ground and planted in urban areas. The leaves are deeply lobed and the small, white flowers have five petals and an almondy smell. It flowers from May to June.
Lime (Tilia cordata)
The young, heart-shaped leaves of small-leaved lime (and other species of lime) are edible. They have a succulent almost sweet flavour which is enhanced once the leaf is covered in honey dew from aphids.
Credit: WTML/D Nelson
How to use it: the young, translucent leaves can be cooked, but are best eaten raw. Add them to salads or sandwiches instead of lettuce (with a spritz of lemon juice). There are a lot of offshoots on the tree during the growing season. These are perfect for picking and can be harvested on a regular basis.
Where to find it: lime grows wild across the UK, but is commonly planted in country parks, along avenues and in urban areas.
Mallow (Malva sylvestris)
The leaves, stems and flowers of mallow are edible and are perfect 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.
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. Add the bright and beautiful mauve flowers to salads or as a garnish for desserts and summer cocktails.
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.
Credit: F Hutchinson/WTML
How to use it: the fresh leaves are edible and have a sweet taste when young. Leaves are best eaten before it flowers as they turn bitter. Chop them and use as a herb or mix with dressings and salads. The flower buds can be pickled like capers and the flowers can be eaten raw and added to salads or desserts. The fresh or dried leaves and flowers can also be used to make a tea.
What to look for: grassy places, verges, hedgerows and in meadows. It blooms from late spring through to September.
Red clover (Trifolium pratense)
Red clover is a very common plant in the pea and bean family. Don’t pick too many – bees love them. Clovers occasionally have four leaflets, instead of the usual three. They can even have five, six, or more leaflets, but these are rarer.
How to use it: its flower heads are a ‘ball’ of small tubular flowers. They have a sweet and delicious taste and are a great as a salad garnish.
Where to find it: red clover grows almost everywhere in grassland, look for it in open and sunny places along hedgerows and in pastures and wasteland. Its purple-red flowers appear from May and it continues to flower through to September.
Sorrel (Rumex acetosa)
Sorrel, sometimes called common or garden sorrel, is a perennial herb that looks a bit like spinach with succulent stems and tender, arrow-shaped leaves.
Credit: Alamy Stock Photo
How to use it: the leaves and stem of sorrel have an acidic, lemony flavour. Add them to soups, sauces, pies (sweet or savoury), quiches or eat fresh in green or potato salads. Try making sorrel pesto by blending the leaves with pine nuts, garlic, parmesan and olive oil. The leaves can also be brewed into a tea.
Where to find it: look for wild sorrel amongst meadow grasses and flowers in spring and summer. Pick only fresh young leaves – older ones can taste bitter.