In this digital age children can all too easily become isolated from meaningful contact with both the natural world and the people around them. Forager David Hamilton says a day gathering edible plants, picked in the wild, can be a great way to reconnect with family and nature…
SPEARMINT Mentha Spicata
There are many kinds of mint, all of which are edible. All plants in the mint family have a square stem. The only other plants with square stems are figworts (which don’t smell of mint) and nettles, which have stinging hairs. In short, if it has a square stem and smells of mint, it most likely is mint! Water mint is more common in Ireland and prefers to grow in moist areas. It also escapes from gardens quite easily so you often find it close to houses.
HOW TO EAT IT
Pour boiling water onto a handful of leaves to make mint tea, or mix a handful with a large slice of watermelon to make a refreshing drink. Try it with Greek yoghurt or sparingly in a salad with cucumber and feta cheese.
NETTLE AND MINT SMOOTHIE
This makes enough for two really yummy green smoothies. It is packed with enough goodness to keep grown-ups from constantly complaining that you kids don’t eat enough healthy food.
- ½ avocado
- 75 g / 2¾oz / ½cup cucumber
- 1 ripe banana
- 300 ml / 10 fl oz / 1 ¼ cups of your favourite milk*
- 50 g / 1 ¾oz / 1 ½cups nettles or spinach, stalks removed (wear gloves when removing stalks)
- 3 tablespoons mint leaves
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup (optional)
- juice of 1½ limes
- Put the avocado, cucumber and banana into the jug of a blender. Add the milk, turn on the blender and whizz for the count of 5 elephants.
- Add the nettles or spinach, the mint and the maple or birch syrup, if using, and whizz for the count of 5 elephants again.
- Squeeze in the lime juice and whizz for the count of 2 elephants.
*This works well with cow’s milk, but you can also use cashew nut milk, almond milk or any other plant-based milk.
MINT ICE CUBES Carefully place one or two mint leaves into each section of an ice-cube tray and top with water. Put the tray in the freezer and wait for six hours. Goes well with lemonade.
DANDELION Taraxacum Species
A very common plant with jagged, teeth-like leaves and yellow flowers giving way to a fluffy seed-head known as a dandelion clock.
The word dandelion comes from the French ‘dent-de-lion’, which translates as ‘tooth of lion’ or ‘lion’s tooth’. The leaves are the shape of a spikey tooth which makes it easy to identify. Avoid dropping or discoloured plants which may have been sprayed.
HOW TO EAT IT
The whole of the dandelion plant can be eaten. The leaves are best eaten in the spring before the plant flowers (see ‘Bitterness’ opposite). The roots can be eaten in early spring or the autumn and cooked like a vegetable or roasted and ground into a drink, though they can be very bitter. The flower heads can be eaten in salads or cooked with sugar or honey to make a cordial or cough syrup. The flower buds are also edible, tasting best when blanched and served with butter or oil and a squeeze of lemon.
- 1 tablespoon garlic butter or 1tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
- ½red onion, finely chopped
- ½ red pepper / bell pepper finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves (if using oil)
- 25 g / 1 oz / ½cup dandelion leaves, roughly chopped
- 6 eggs
- 3 tablespoons milk
- salt and pepper
- Melt the butter or heat the oil in a pan over a moderate heat.
- Add the chopped onion and pepper and cook until they start to soften (around 10–15 minutes).If you are using garlic cloves rather than wild garlic butter, add them after around 8 minutes.
- Throw in the dandelion leaves and allow them to wilt.
- In a bowl, beat the eggs, then add the milk. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper into the mix and pour it over the softened and wilted vegetables.
- Once the underside of the frittata is browned, place the pan under a moderate grill until the egg stiffens and browns. Serve with a side salad.
BITTERNESS Dandelion leaves can be quite bitter. They are less so in the spring and after heavy rain. However, if the bitterness is too much, try bringing the leaves to the boil at least twice and discard the water each time. Add other greens, such as nettles, and mix with melted butter, a squeeze of lemon and perhaps a dash of balsamic vinegar.
David promises, “Once you’ve caught the foraging bug, you’ll soon be looking for chestnuts to roast, hazelnuts to crack, or the best wild apple trees. Foraging is for life!”