At this point we all know that if we look hard enough at nature we’ll find tasty things to eat. (Foraging and berry-picking aren’t exactly new concepts.) But when you live in a big, largely grey, city it can be easy to feel a bit like: What the hell would I even go looking for if I went foraging here? So, as we head into spring, we decided to ask Amanda Brame, the horticultural director at iconic restaurant/garden centre Petersham Nurseries for her top tips on snacks you can easily find in London’s woodland, hedgerows and fields – and what to make out of them once you’ve completed your harvest.
‘As always with foraging,’ Amanda says. ‘Don’t forage on private or Crown land and only forage for personal consumption: to do it for financial gain is illegal. Be mindful of where you are. Obviously, avoid dog walking tracks, busy roads and waste refuse areas.’
1. Nettles (urtica diocia)
‘Yep, stinging nettles! The whole plant is edible! This weed causes much discomfort when touched – so beware, and wear gloves when harvesting. Pinch out the young fresh tips and make a refreshing healthy tea. Or make a soup. Toss in butter with chopped spring onions and a couple of garlic cloves, and add some vegetable stock. Cook for a few minutes, then blitz until smooth add a dollop of crème fraiche for a vitamin-packed and delicious lunch.
Found: ‘All over London in woodlands, hedgerows and fields. It has a preference for damp, fertile and disturbed ground.’
2. Wild garlic or ramsons (allium ursinum)
‘You’ll see this pretty plant growing in large clusters of snow-white flowers on long stalks above broad, bright-green strappy leaves, in shady woodland areas. It has a very distinctive onion-like scent that is wonderful when it’s made into a delicious pesto: pine nuts, parmesan, a sprig of parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice, all blitzed with olive oil and tossed through fresh pasta. It tastes amazing! Even the pretty flower buds can be pickled to use instead of capers. Just add cider vinegar and a few pink peppercorns, et voilà!
Found: ‘All over London parks and hedgerows. Look out for damp shady areas.’
3. Sweet violets (viola odorata)
‘Keep an eye out for this cute little plant. Violets have a delightful springlike fragrance, are a low-growing perennial with heart-shaped, hairy, deep green leaves, pretty blue-violet flowers and distinctive five-lobed petals. You may also find them in lilac or white. The flowers are vitamin-packed and used to be known as “nature’s vitamin pill”. Violets are used in many delicious recipes – which include crystallised violets, syrup and ice cream – or used to decorate cakes and desserts. They can even be tossed into fruity salads.’
Found: ‘In woodland edges and beside paths quite, often in verges. There’s some in Kingsmead Estate Hackney.’