You may already have seen my Ten Delicious Wild Foods article, but wait, there’s more ….
The hedgerows are in fact bursting with excellent wild foods, and I just couldn’t fit all my favourites into a top ten. So here we go with Ten More Delicious Wild Foods That You Can Eat For Free.
All the foods on this page are found throughout temperate climate zones. If you don’t live in a temperate climate zone (such as most of Europe and the USA), consider using the comments to tell me about wild foods where you live; I’d be interested to hear about them in case I decide to visit wherever you are.
Needless to say, get a good field guide and take care in identifying wild foods. If you’re in any doubt as to the identity of your prospective meal, leave it alone or ghastly, unspeakable things may happen to you.
Without further ado, here we go with another ten excellent wild foods …
Squiffy’s List of Ten More Free Wild Foods
Yes, that’s right, dandelions are edible. The best bit is the leaves, eaten when young. They taste a bit like lettuce, but a little bit more bitter and less lettucey, if that make sense, and sometimes turn up as part of the salad in posh restaurants. Apparently you can also eat the roots boiled, or make fritters from the flowers. I haven’t tried either (it’s tricky to get the things out of the ground and the flowers don’t really look that appetising), but if you have, then let me know!
Hedgehog Mushroom (Hydnum repandum)
As always, take care with identifying mushrooms. However, this particular one is really hard to mistake for anything else, due to the fact that it has teeth. That’s right, in place of the usual gills, hedgehog mushrooms have lots of small, toothy structures that look like the teeth of a small animal. Fortunately they don’t bite, and if you’re lucky enough to find a good crop (typically they grow around pine forests), the taste is generally mild, nutty and excellent. Fry them in a little butter or oil.
Glasswort is a sort of cactus of the sea shore. While cacti conserve water because there isn’t much where they grow, glasswort conserves water because it grows in places where fresh water is hard to find, on mudflats or muddy patches of sand by the sea. What’s really great about this plant is that it comes ready-salted. The traditional way to eat it is to boil it very lightly and then dip it in melted butter, but I actually prefer it raw. Pick the stubby ‘leaves’ when young, and pull the flesh off the stringy central core with your teeth. Crisp, tasty, and full of vitamins. In Norfolk, England, glasswort is sometimes to be found on restaurant menus and is sold by the roadside when in season.
The salsify, or vegetable oyster, is a fairly invasive plant that resembles the dandelion, to which it’s closely related, except that it’s purple. The roots are the bit to eat. Books on wild foods typically recommend you to boil them whole, since they exude a milky juice when cut and lose flavor. I personally tried them chopped and fried. They aren’t bad; I’ve never tried oysters so I don’t know if it’s true, as alleged, that they taste like oysters. To me they taste more like Jerusalem Artichokes if anything. But here’s where I confess that it’s a very long time since I tried one of these, and in fact I didn’t pick them wild but grew them, as a young whippersnapper, in my mother’s garden. Once you’ve planted these things they keep coming back every year and in unexpected places. My Mum eventually had to move house to get rid of them. Be warned …
I’ve linked here to the Giant Puffball, but in fact as far as I know, all white puffballs are edible. Whatever you do, don’t eat them when they’ve turned to powder or are starting to turn greenish-yellow inside. That would be disgusting! No, you want them when they’re young and firm and white all the way through. The taste varies; I used to slice them and roast them over fires during my misspent youth, but I suspect they would be better fried. I’ll try that experiment as soon as I can and get back to you.
5. Sweet Cicely
I used to be somewhat obsessed with this plant, and now I don’t know why. But it’s definitely worth keeping an eye out for. The leaves are very like those of the incredibly-common ‘wild chervil’ or cow parsley, which you can also eat (once you’ve identified it safely and correctly), but which I find disappointing. Sweet Cicely on the other hand has a rather fine aniseed flavor. The whole plant smells of aniseed, especially the leaves when crushed (compared to cow parsley’s mousy parsley smell), but it’s the unripe seed capsules that are the best bit. They grow surprisingly large and juicy and are good to eat raw. Apparently they’re also good pickled, and if you’re into pickling things you could consider adding a handful of green cweet cicely seeds to the mix. Sweet cicely seems to prefer temperatures that are a little on the cool side, and while I rarely encountered it in England, it is easy to find in Scotland. Wikipedia says it is a native of central Europe. Whether it grows in the USA I don’t know, but you can always buy the seeds and grow it yourself (hope this link works!): Sweet Cicely Herb 50 Seeds – Myrrhis odorata
Of course, no discussion of wild foods is really complete without mentioning the elderberry (or the blackberry, but see my other post for that). The flowers can be coated with batter to make fritters, or fermented with sugar to make elderflower champagne. But I don’t recommend it; the flowers are reputed to smell like The Black Death. I’ve never smelt The Black Death and doubt whether it has such a pleasant, if odd, fragrance, but I can say that for me the flowers taste awful both in fritter and in champagne form. However, the berries are a different story. Mixed with sugar they are OK in pies — probably best with other fruits, since they are too juicy to make a firm pie mix. They really come into their own when used to make wine. I’m no great fan of wine, but elderberry wine is really good. It tastes like wine should taste; fruity and fragrant, with no bitter oaky aftertaste (unless you mature it in oak barrels!), and it gets better with each passing month.
It’s always exciting to find wild strawberries. Their leaves look a lot like those of another common weed, the name of which I can’t remember — except that true wild strawberry leaves end in a little point, while the fake version is flat or indented at the end. Anyway, when you catch the plant red-handed with strawberries, all doubt is removed. The fruits are nothing like shop strawberries, which they resemble tiny versions of. Their flavour is intense, sweet and very strawberry-like, but rather different to commercial varieties. Many people consider the flavour superior. I doubt whether you’ll ever find enough of these delightful little fruits to make jam — unless you grow them yourself and have a lot of patience for picking them — but they are an excellent fruity snack at the right time of year.
Bilberries are a lot like American bluberries (I think maybe the latter is a cultivated version of the former), but smaller. Of course you can do all kinds of things with them, as with blueberries — pies, jam, fruit smoothies and so on — if you can pick enough. But they are also good enjoyed straight from the bush. They taste a lot like blueberries to my mind. You’re probably going to have to go and ramble on the moors to find this one (watch out for your local Beast of the Moors, not to mention those bog holes that suck you in and kill you while the Beast menaces you from the edge), but it’s well worth the effort. Often you find bilberries growing on close-cropped bushes eaten by sheep, for instance on Kinder Scout in my native Derbyshire, but if you hunt around you can find entire tall bushes covered with tasty fruits.
The Hazelnut can grow into a rather pleasing little tree, but is perhaps more often found in hedgerows, where it blends into the general shrubbage but can be recognised by its distinctive leaves. The nuts are to be found cloaked in protective leaves, inside of which is a little nut in a brown shell. I’m sure you know hazelnuts; they are frequently to be found chopped or ground in chocolates, but they’re also delicious enjoyed by themselves, with just a little salt.
Although I’ve ordered the above list as well as I can from worst to best, to tell the truth it wasn’t as easy to put these in order as it was with my original Top Ten Wild Foods list; the ones on this list are all more or less equally excellent.
There are of course many other wild foods to be had, but I won’t talk about them here since the list could go on indefinitely. Some of the other intriguing possibilities include nutty sedge tubers, cat-tail roots, sycamore syrup, wild plums, chanterelle mushrooms, pine nuts and many more.
If wild foods interest you, check out one of these books on the subject:
(I get a small amount of cash if you buy using these links — yipee! and thanks).