Herbs in general are pretty underrated aren’t they and wild herbs seem to get an even wider berth afforded to them. This doesn’t make any sense at all does it? Today’s average supermarket punter is quite happy to buy cut salads in a bag, with a shelf life of a couple of days, rather than a lettuce head that last 4 times as long. We buy, in vast quantities, carrots, ready peeled and chopped into little batons for us – all of this at a vastly higher price than err, a carrot!
Why? We suffer don’t we from “busy life syndrome”. We are sooo busy that we often waste 20 minutes a day trying to convince and impress others about just how very busy we are. Don’t bother, just do 20 minutes extra work and your to do list will be a bit shorter at the end of the day.
But, when in comes to picking something out of our own gardens, for free! Well, that is challenging. So much of what we see in our garden is not only edible and free, it’s also delicious! You would think that we would feeding our kids shovel loads of Common hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) if only the presence of hog in the name alone….
Like so many forage species, the rule is pick them young and so look out for Hogweed in the late spring and summer. Pick the emerging leaves (still folded) at the base of the plant. The leaf and flower buds are usable too, just pick them and open the bud case and take out the contents. The magic happens when you fry it in butter until just a little crispy and then season with lots of salt and pepper. Even the seeds can be dried and used in sauces and chutney’s very much like you would use coriander seeds.
We rave about new season Asparagus and yet here is something, like Samphire, that is even better with a very similar taste.
The one other plant that you’ll need to know about if looking for Common hogweed for food is it’s relative – the Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum). In flower it’ll be taller than you are with flower heads as big as serving platters. It’s poisonous and an irritant particularly if you get the latex from a broken stem on your skin. None of which stopped the good old Victorians from introducing it to our sceptred isles as a decorative garden border plant. If you have it in your garden you will know that already by the queues of “Garden Police” at your front door shouting “that plant is illegal” at you.
As always in forage, if you are not 100% sure of what you have then heed the advice of comedian Sarah Millican advice and feed it to your least favourite bairn first! Only joking.