Sometimes certain flowers shout out at you, or at least they seem to. For me, these often aren’t the large, blousey ones in neon shades of shocking colours, they are the little ones, the ones often walked past, overlooked as “weeds” and pulled out of lawns. These are the wild ones, which have evolved perfectly to their surroundings, growing out of cracks and corners, untamed and untampered with. They are full of folklore, old wives tales, medicine and magic.
Theses last few days I have been noticing the pink blossoms of red clover poking their heads out of roadside verges, nodding in the breeze, waving at me as I drive past them in my car. So when I found myself in the middle of a meadow, surrounded by swathes of clover flowers it seemed like the perfect thing to pick a few.
Both the leaves and the blossoms are edible, I like to sprinkle the flowers on top of salads, rice and cous cous, for a pretty peppering of pink nectar rich decoration.
Gather on a dry, sunny day and pick ones which haven’t gone brown at the bottom. Also try not to gather ones which are nurturing tiny insect larvae in a little ‘cuckoo’s spit’ frothy wet blob at the base of the bloom. As you pick you will notice how many other creatures are feeding on them so make sure you leave plenty for the bees!
As well as having a delightful honey flavour, red clover flowers also work as a skin cleanser and help to balance oestrogen, so are very good for the menopause.
This year I made a small batch of red clover lemonade, a delicate, floral drink which came out a glorious colour. Here’s my recipe:
Red Clover Lemonade
This makes a cordial style drink which needs to be diluted.
A few good handfuls of red clover flowers
Pour boiling water over the blossoms, enough to cover them. Leave to stand overnight, ensuring blooms are submerged under water (this will stop them from oxidising and turning brown)
Strain and add lemons and zest, I used three for a good lemony flavour.
for each litre of water add 800g of sugar. Dissolve, bring to the boil and if you want it to keep pour into hot sterilised bottles, otherwise just make sure you keep it in the fridge.
Dilute with sparkling water and a slice of lemon!
For the last four years I have been taking my foraged finds back to my tiny south facing garden shed, (where I have no electricity) and turning them into a range of preserves. My shed has been bursting at the seams and spilling out the door, dripping jewel like jars of syrups, vinegars, jellies, cordials and salts down the garden path, into the house and taking over every corner of my life. I have been hiding away in rural bliss for many, many years, working alone and becoming slightly feral. After much deliberation, I decided it may be time to rejoin society and In late Spring I took the plunge and signed a lease on a premises in Cardigan town with my dear friend, Carys Hedd. Carys is an incredible artisan maker who runs classes and stitches beautiful bespoke pieces of upcycled clothing under her own label Wench.
The following few months were spent brainstorming, scrubbing, painting, planning, hammering, sawing and planting. We hauled in the help of the carpentry skills of Misha, Benjamin Grey, and John Spikes.
We built a kitchen for me to preserve in, bought retro units from a selection of wonderful Welsh junk shops and antiques centres. We trauled charity shops and boot fairs. Benjamin built me a beautiful long bar top and Carys was given an incredible ‘sewing wardrobe’.
Carys stitched us beautiful dresses for the grand opening, I baked us wild treats and finally, in the middle of July we unveiled the doors of our studio Melfed, number 6 The Arcade, Cardigan High Street.
Melfed is just off the High Street, at the bottom of a Lost Arcade, opposite Barclays bank & next to The Works
A fusion of foraged food & fashion!
Gwledd a Gwisg Gwyllt
Since then I have been loving the new space! Carys has started upcycled evening classes and I have been bottling the late Summer sunshine and Autumn bounty.
To help us acclimatise to urban life we have been taking morning dips in the sea, and of course returning each evening to our rural dwellings, me half way down a wooded valley in Ceredigion and Carys on top of a mountain above the Gwaun valley.
We are squirreling away in our studio most weekdays, so do pop by to say hello if you are passing Cardi town.
February. The bright green tips of wild garlic are starting to emerge, one of my favourite foraged greens and a lovely reminder that Spring is on its way! All parts are edible – the leaves, flowers, bulbs and seeds. Many people know it as ramsons and I have also heard it called bears garlic: Legend has it that as bears awaken from hibernation they hungrily search out the bulbs, dig them up and feast on them to Spring cleanse their systems.
These first tips are the tastiest and the tenderest. They are delicious finely chopped and sprinkled into sandwiches, or made into wild garlic pesto (recipe below) As they mature I use them by the handful, in stir fries and with pasta sauces. Cooking them really softens their pungent garlic flavour and means you can use them liberally as a spring green.
To pick them just nip out the tips with your nails, or snip with scissors. The leaves will quickly regrow. I usually find them by the moist and shady banks of the river in deciduous woodlands, often in carpet like swathes and often alongside bluebells so take care not to accidentally pick bluebell leaves as you are gathering them!
The pretty white star shaped flowers also have a strong garlic flavour and look lovely sprinkled on top of salads or used as a garnish.
A wild Spring salad, from last May, with wild garlic flowers, honesty flowers, and a mix of foraged leaves.
The crunchy green seed pods can be pickled in vinegar. As the seeds ripen they turn black and become very hard, at which stage they can be ground in a pepper mill and used as a garlicky condiment.
I will be running a series of workshops using wild Spring greens, my next one is at the wonderful Small World Theatre in Cardigan on Saturday 19th April
Details of my workshops are on my website www.wildpickings.co.uk
Every year I make rose hip syrup. Lots and lots of it. Often people tell me they remember their parents giving it to them when they were children, along with tales of gathering the vitamin c packed hips from hedgerows during the war, when oranges were hard to come by. I Love going out on sunny Autumn days when the rosy red hips glow starkly from their thorny branches, beautifully contrasted by the turquoise sky. The thorns are like claws that hook onto your skin and you have to make sure you get out of them the same way you go in, in reverse, or they will tear. Of course you can wear gloves but that never really works for me.
The squishy tangerine shaped hips from the rosa rugosa bush are the first to ripen and are often found planted in coastal areas. That is where I usually start my gathering from, then I move to the hedgerows to collect the harder oval hips from the native dog roses. Some people say wait for the first frosts before you pick them, but here on the coast West Wales the hips are usually turning slightly brown and fermenting a little by the time the first frosts soften them.
Inside the hip lies a hairy, irritating seed which is used as itching powder, so whatever you do with them the seed needs to come out. I find the easiest way to do this is to cook them up then strain them through a jelly bag or fine muslin, which is another reason that they are perfect for using in syrup. People often ask me if boiling them kills the vitamin C but from what I have read it is the time between picking the hips and making the syrup which causes the loss of vitamin C rather than the cooking. This is especially interesting as today though rosehip syrup is made commercially, the hips are imported from South America, so I can only imagine how little vitamin C is left in them by the time they arrive in the UK.
This is the recipe I use and is based on the recipe from the Ministry of Food recipe. It is really delicious and tastes so exotic. Pour onto porridge, pancakes, icecream or add to prosecco for a special cocktail.
1 Kg Rose Hips
3 litres of boiling water
Immerse the hips in the boiling water and mince with a tough hand blender (doing this in the water helps preserve the vitamin c ) then bring back to the boil. If you don’t have a hand blender you could put them into a food processor, roughly mince them then add to the water. Leave for 15 minutes to stand. Strain through a jelly bag until most of the liquid runs through.
Put the minced hips back into a pan, add one litre of water and bring to the boil. Stand for 15 minutes then strain through the jelly bag.
Once the liquid has dripped through, combine both lots of rose hip juice. I pour them through the cleaned out jelly bag one more time just to make sure all the hairy seeds are removed. Put back into a clean pan.
Boil the mixture till it has reduced by about a third (up to a half if you want a really thick syrup)
Add sugar. I use fair trade granulated, 850g for each litre of liquid. Pour in carefully so the hot liquid doesn’t spit up at you. Stir to dissolve then bring back to boiling point and boil for 5 minutes. Pour into hot, sterilised bottles and seal immeditately. Like this it will keep for at least 6 months unopened. If you are going to use it immediately you don’t have to worry about sterilising the bottles, just store in the fridge
This year I found a beautiful patch of black rose hips from the burnet rose which were growing wild in sand dunes.
I loosely followed the recipe above but used less water, the hips broke down quicker and gave a much less thick liquid. The taste is quite different from the red rose hips – quite musky and more bitter, so I added spices – cinnamon, cloves, cardamon and vanilla. A dark, magical syrup which I look forward to pouring into my porridge on cold dark Winter mornings
A number of people have asked me for a recipe for red clover wine, so here it is.
As with most of my wine recipes, it is adapted from Roger Phillips “Wild Food” this is one of my all time favourite books on wild food and I thoroughly recommend it.
2 litres of red clover blossom – I pick them into a litre jug to measure them. Press down lightly & add more til you get the amount.
1 litre white grape juice
1kg caster sugar
Pick your blossoms when they are freshly opened, with no brown bits. You need to use them immediately or they will turn brown. Scrupulously clean a bucket – I use sterilising powder. It will need to be large enough to hold a gallon of liquid ( I use a very large tupperware style 15 litre container with a lid. This means I can double up the ingredients to make enough for 2 demijohns if I want) Heat 3 litres of water with the sugar, stirring to dissolve. When it reaches the boil pour it over the red clover flowers. Add the chopped oranges & lemons. When it cools down to about blood temperature add your yeast. I use a teaspoon of Young’s dried active wine yeast. When cool add the litre of grape juice. This is to add tannins to the wine. You could add raisins instead or a teabag (if doing either of these you need to make up the extra litre of water)
Cover your bucket or container so no little insects can get in, a lid is best. Leave it for 5 days to start fermenting, then strain off into a super clean demi john. I cover the air gap with a piece of kitchen towel or muslin & elastic band for a couple of days before I fit the airlock while fermentation is very lively as I’ve had overspills in the past. When it calms down a little then I add enough cooled boiled water to bring the liquid just below the neck of the demi john.
Once it has finished fermenting, or there abouts, “rack” into a clean demijohn – syphon off the wine, I use a cheap plastic syphon tube from the home brew shop which cost a couple of pounds. This should leave the layer of sediment at the bottom. Leave to settle and clear, then it is ready for bottling and drinking. I found it was delicious immediately after I bottled it (about 4 months later) but did not keep well so I would advise quick drinking! I found it to be a mellow, refreshing wine. Red clover is said to be good for balancing estrogen and as a skin and blood cleanser, which is what I smugly told myself as I glugged my daily glass.
Let me know how you get on!
After a few balmy, sunshine filled days at the beginning of the month, March has quickly turned cold again, with much of the country wrapped in a blanket of snow. At the moment it feels like we are locked in a battle between Spring and Winter and the tender new plant growth that has precociously sprung up has been blasted by frost. When the hedgerows are battered with bad weather I like to head for the coast where there is usually always some tasty wild food to be found. Late Winter & early Spring is a great time for seashore foraging: we get extra low tides which are ideal for gathering seaweeds and exploring undiscovered bays usually cut off by the sea.
Laver – nori – Porphyra umbilicalis
This is one of my favourite coastal foods and can be found on rocks at low tide.
In Wales, where I live, laver is traditionally boiled for several hours, until thick and gelatinous, then rolled in oat and fried into patties. I like to eat it dried and toasted. It needs lots of washing as sand collects in the delicate folds and dries very quickly in the sun or above a range. Don’t be tempted to dry it in the oven as the house will smell very bad, very quickly! Once dried it can be toasted in a hot oven or frying pan for a couple of minutes – it will change colour and turn bright green. It can then be eaten as a crispy snack or crumbled onto rice or vegetables. Traditionally it is picked in the Winter, after the first frosts and eaten dried from a paper bag as a snack.
Growing up on the Kent coast my grandfather would often take me to a little cockle & whelk shop in Margate. The taste of Dulse seaweed reminds me of all these nostalgic flavours of the sea, in plant form – it is also called vegetarian oyster. I like it dried and chopped up with potatoes or sprinkled into savoury cheese dishes. Dulse needs a quick rinse and can be dried in the same way as laver.
Cut seaweeds with a sharp knife or scissors, leaving a good third of the stipe attached to the holdfast on the rock to regrow.
Rock Samphire – Crithmum maritimum
The fresh tips of this aromatic plant can be found from late Winter, growing precariously on the edge of cliffs and can be picked throughout Spring and Summer. If you nibble it raw it has quite a pungent herby flavour but this softens with cooking. Boil, steam or stir fry for a few minutes and drizzle with olive oil and & black pepper for a side vegetable. It is naturally salty and can also be pickled and is popular eaten with seafood.
One of my favourite old sayings “When Gorse is in Bloom, Kissing is in Season” rings true any time of the year, as anyone who is familiar with the flower will know that there will always be some around somewhere. There are great swathes of it growing on the cliffs near me and the dazzlingly bright yellow flowers and intoxicating smell of coconut is a welcome dose of sunshine, especially in Winter.
Gorse flowers have a slightly bitter, floral flavour, with a hint of coconut. They are a pretty addition sprinkled onto salads and make a delicate, refreshing cordial.
Gorse Flower Cordial
As many gorse petals as you can pick! Ideally, at least a litre jugful.
Juice & zest of 2 oranges
Pick the gorse flowers on a dry sunny day, ideally when you can smell the coconut fragrance as this will give a more flavoursome cordial.
Put the blossoms in a pan and cover with boiling water. You just want to add enough water to submerge the flowers. Leave to steep overnight. Strain through a jelly bag or piece of muslin. Add the zest and juice from the oranges. Measure out the liquid and pour back into the pan. Add 700 g of sugar per litre of liquid and heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Pour into hot sterilised bottles if you want to keep it for a few months, otherwise bottle into clean containers and keep in the fridge.
A little piece I wrote in Autumn 2012 for the lovely ezine Slow it Down
Autumn is here already and although in my neck of the woods much of the wild fruit is not as bountiful as last year, there is still a great deal about if you go looking for it. As a forager, October is both one of my busiest and favourite months of the year. On a sunny day, when the light is warm and golden there is nothing nicer than a wander through a favourite nature spot, where the trees are plump and fruitful, a time of plenty before the Winter sets in.
Autumn fruits are packed full of vitamins and flavour. For modern palates which often prefer sweetness to bitter or sour tastes, eaten straight from the tree or bush they can be quite sharp, or, if you have ever popped a raw sloe in your mouth, eye wateringly astringent. Lightly cooking them with a little sweetener draws out the juices and makes the most of their rich and complex flavours.
If you are lucky enough to live by the coast, you may have come across Sea Buckthorn, the orange berries of which seem to be an acquired taste but I found their sour tartness mouth wateringly good and from reading up on their heath benefits they are cram packed full of goodness, an incredible super food. Picking them is a bit tricky – they are surrounded by a thorny armour and not long after they become ripe burst as soon as they are touched and exude bright orange juice everywhere. Holding a bowl underneath them to catch the delicious explosion seems to be the best way of harvesting them!
Gathering Rosehips also involves careful manoeuvring around thorns but they are well worth the effort. A jelly or syrup made from them and spooned over porridge on a cold Winters morning brings an amber glow to the belly and is like a ray of sunshine. All rose hips are edible – the mandarin shaped soft hips of the Rosa rugosa are the first to ripen, with the harder hips of the native dog rose needing a good blast of cold weather to soften them up. Which ever variety you use they need to be minced and sieved very finely (though a jelly bag) to remove the irritating hairy seeds which are in the centre and have pretty much the same effect as itching powder!
Elder trees produce clusters of juicy dark berries which are reputed to be wonderful for treating cold and ‘flu symptoms. They need to be heated gently, as the raw fruits contain toxins which can cause upset stomachs. They also make an incredible Port-like wine and I have a couple of demi johns bubbling away for drinking next Winter.
Crab apples are often ignored because raw they are incredibly sour, though you may come across a ‘wildling’ which will be sweeter (this is a tree which has grown from a pip, not the true crab apple, Malus sylvestris) but when they are cooked and mixed with sugar, alchemy takes place and their flavour is transformed. They are very high in pectins and adding some to jams or jellies will not only taste lovely but also help them to set quickly.
As with all foraging, make sure you leave plenty more than you take. Birds rely on berries and fruits for their winter foods and the jewel like colours in the hedgerows brighten the shortening days
The recipe below is perfect for making the most of whatever fruit is available to you and is suitable for all the fruits above.
Autumn fruit syrup
This will make about one and a half litres of syrup
2kg mixed fruit. eg Crab apples, rosehips, elderberries, seabuckthorn berries, blackberries, damsons. You don’t need to peel or core, just make sure the harder fruits are chopped up
about 500ml water – a little less if you are using mostly juicy berries
Add the harder fruits to the pan first such as the rosehips & crab apples as they will need to cook for a little longer (try about 10 minutes before adding the rest of the fruit) simmer the fruit until it breaks up. Bash it and mash it a bit with a wooden spoon to make sure that all the juice is extracted. Pass everything through a sieve or leave to drip through a jelly bag overnight (use the jelly bag method if you are using rosehips)
Measure the juice and return it to a clean pan. Gently heat and add 750g sugar for every litre of water. Once the sugar has dissolved and the juice begins to simmer take it off the heat – if you allow it to boil too furiously it may set like jelly (I have done this before, it is delicious but you won’t be able to get it out of the bottle easily) pour it straight into hot sterilised bottles. It will keep unopened for a good few months, just pop it into the fridge once you have unscrewed it.
This is delicious made into a drink, drizzled onto pancakes, icecream, porridge or yoghurt and makes my favourite champagne cocktail!