How to Forage for Herbs and Edible Plants in Your Neighbourhood
Foraging Is Easy
Foraging can be really easy and can be done in the neighbourhood you are in, though be careful not to gather plants that are by busy roads where they can absorb the polluting fumes of traffic. Be careful not to collect plants that may have been sprayed with herbicide too, for obvious reasons. But have a look around and see what you can discover. It really is surprising how many really useful plants are growing in the areas we live in, and yet most people haven't a clue and either ignore the plants, or perhaps go as far as killing them as weeds!
As an experiment, I spent just 30 minutes seeing what plants I could gather in a suburban area. Let's have a look at what I found in gardens, on lawns, along roads and lanes, in hedges, in a field and in public flower-beds.
The Rose Is an Edible Flower
It was very easy to find roses. Rose petals are edible and make a colourful addition to salads, rose hips from wild roses, are an excellent source of vitamin C and can be used in herbal teas, and perfumed rose flowers when dried are a great addition to pot-pourri.
Roses grow in many gardens and parks and wild roses grow in hedges and woodland. Are there any roses where you live?
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a very popular culinary and medicinal herb from the large family known as the Lamiacae. It grows wild in some places in Portugal and elsewhere in the Mediterranean but is more commonly cultivated in gardens here and in many parts of the world. Rosemary makes bushes and has evergreen needle-shaped leaves and woody stems. It bears purplish flowers along its upper stalks. The whole herb is aromatic. Rosemary can be used in cooking and is great with meat and savoury dishes and in soups and stews. It is good for the health of the hair and is often an ingredient in shampoos. As a herbal tea it is a good treatment for colds and flu and it is also said to be good for the memory.
It was one of the herbs included in the song Scarborough Fair by Simon and Garfunkel.
It is in lots of the gardens here and in flower borders along roadways and in parks.
Sage (Salvia officinalis), like Rosemary, is another herb in the Simon and Garfunkel song lyric: "Are you going to Scarborough Fair, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme..." It is grown in many herb gardens and in allotments and many parts of the world. It is another medicinal and culinary herb. Sage is used in soups and stews and stuffings. It makes a great herbal tea with antiseptic and tonic properties. It likes a sunny position and will form low spreading bushes. It needs a warm climate to flower though. Sage is another herb in the Lamiaceae.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) is yet another aromatic herb in the family known as the Lamiaceae. Like Rosemary and Sage it is commonly grown in gardens. It has a strong smell like lemons, hence its name. Lemon Balm can be used in the kitchen to help add a lemony flavour to drinks, dishes and desserts. It is a perennial plant that forms clumps and it will yield its delightful aroma if you lightly bruise its foliage.
Cleavers (Galium aperine) is also commonly known as Goosegrass. Its name Cleavers comes from the fact that the plant will "cleave" to your clothes and the coats of furry animals. It has tiny burrs for seeds and tiny hooks on the plants stems and leaves that help it grasp on to whatever it is straggling over. many children like to play a game by throwing it at each other. Cleavers is usually regarded as a weed but it is an edible one. It can be cooked in spring greens and used to make a herbal tea. It contains a lot of silica so is good for the hair. The seeds of Cleavers when dried, roasted and ground up make a substitute for coffee.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a very easy herb and edible plant to find. It is practically cosmopolitan in its distribution and grows in lawns, grassy places, in arable land, waste places and even in cracks in the pavement.
Although regarded as a weed, the dandelion is one of the best edible plants out there. Raw food expert and author Markus Rothkrantz calls it a "superfood." This is because the entire plant can be eaten and it contains plenty of vitamins and minerals. Dandelion leaves can be eaten raw in salads, the flowers can be gathered and used as the base for dandelion wine, and the roots can be dried, roasted and ground up to make dandelion coffee, which is a popular beverage sold in many health stores.
It has diuretic properties too and is used in herbal medicine.
DANDELION FLOWER TEA BENEFITS: Health Benefits | Side Effects
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) is one of the many species and varieties of Mints. These plants are also in the Lamiaceae, like some of the herbs already detailed. The Peppermint likes moist soil and will spread rapidly. Its scent and flavour are too well-known to need any sort of description and there are countless products flavoured with the essential oil of this herb. Peppermint is very good for the digestion when taken as a tea. It is another culinary and medicinal herb.
The Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) is very popular garden flower grown in gardens throughout the world. It also grows wild in many places, including the Canary Islands and in countries around the Mediterranean where it has become naturalised. It has rounded leaves and pretty flowers of yellow, orange or red. They are followed by hard green seeds that turn brown as they ripen. The flowers and leaves have a spicy taste like Watercress and are great eaten in sandwiches and salads. The seeds can be pickled as a substitute for capers.
The Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) and Roman Nettle (U. pilulifera) both have stinging hairs but this ability to hurt you disappears when the plants are cooked. The young leaves and shoots make a great substitute for Spinach and can be cooked the same way as spring greens. Add a knob of butter when serving.
Nettles also make a very good herbal tea that is useful for helping to purify the system and the tea contains plenty of iron which helps prevent anaemia. Nettles are usually regarded as a weed but they are very useful plants that can easily be foraged for.
Nettles have been used to make Nettle Beer as well.
Common Mallow (Malva sylvestris) is another very common plant that is thought of as a weed. It grows on waste ground, on arable land, along roads and just about anywhere it has managed to take root. Common Mallow leaves and flowers are edible, as are its seeds that are like little nuts and are known as "mallow cheeses." The leaves are very full of mucilage. They can be cooked as greens or deep fried in hot oil to produce green crisps. The purplish-pink flowers are very pretty and can be eaten raw. The Common Mallow has almost rounded ivy-shaped leaves and the plants grow to a metre or more in height though can be shorter. It is one of very many common plants that get ignored or destroyed but are actually very nutritious.