This is the time when the natural growing season is starting to wrap up for the year. It's an abundant time from now until October with many great treats in store.
When you're out and about scanning the hedgerow, here's what you can look out for.
This is one of my absolute favourite things to forage at this time of year and I love introducing this as a spice to my foraging events. It has notes of cardamom and makes a fabulous alternative spice for your dishes. These are from the Hogweed plant, the whole plant is edible root, stalk and leaf. The name derives from the fact that it was used to feed pigs! However, be careful not confuse this with it Giant Hogweed. This is poisonous. For identification photos please visit my blog post on poisonous plants.
The good news is, at this time of year it is easy to distinguish one from the other. The leaves of the giant hogweed are very spiky and the plant can grow to the size of a small tree. The stem also has spikes whereas the common edible hogweed has smooth stalks and rounded leaves.
The seeds have strong cardamom notes and make an amazing spice to add to your cooking or baking. In Iran they are used regularly in cooking and are called "golpar". Visit my recipe section the hogweed seed macaroon recipe - it's always a big hit and is so simple to make. If you come on a foraging trip with me in Autumn you are almost guaranteed a taste of this spice as it's so abundant and tasty.
Staying with the seed theme, here's another one that is abundant, delicious, exotic, useful and totally overlooked!! The Alexander plant as with the hogweed is edible from it's roots to it's tips. Timing is everything however...Now is the time for harvesting the seeds. You will also start to notice towards September a regrowth of the beautiful lush, green foliage which is also a great addition to the pot for stews, soups and curries and very nutritious. It is a member of the parsley family so it has a very big flavour of parsley. It has a similar nutrition profile to parsley or any green leaved edible.
I guarantee that if you don't already know this plant, you will not stop seeing it once you've identified it. It is particularly abundant near the coast line.
Let's hear it for these hedgerow heroes! Free, delicious, packed full of anti-oxidants - picking blackberries is an annual ritual I would never miss. You can make delicious jam, tarts, muffins, crumble, freeze them and enjoy in smoothies or as a breakfast topping for months afterwards!
Some years are better than others granted...But this year is good and they are ripe and juicy right now so get them before they are gone!
Instead of buying expensive blueberries that have been encased in plastic and shipped from far away, consider dedicating some time and part of your freezer to blackberries. They contain anthocyanins that are powerful in boosting the immune system and fighting cancer. Just like blueberries (only better) they boost brain function as well.
While you are picking your blackberries, you may want to think about taking a few leaves as well. It is said to be similar to raspberry leaf in aiding female womb health. It is anti-microbial and good for mouth ulcers. It can be taken as a tincture or tea and can be harvested and dried for use anytime from early Spring to early Autumn.
So the lesson here is squirrels don't wait for hazelnuts to go brown on the tree and therefore neither should you. The nuts are a bit early this year so you can go ahead and pick these right now while they are still white on the tree. Then leave them in sunny place inside to go brown - then they will be ready to eat!
Hazelnuts are delicious as we know and have the benefit of giving us vitamin E which is great for the skin as well as full of beneficial antioxidants therefore reduces the risk of cancer if consumed regularly!
It contains a range of minerals like vitamin C, magnesium, calcium, iron and potassium which can benefit the body in many ways including reducing the risk of osteoporosis.
Let's not forget that locally grown aspect which means that you are benefitting the environment by sourcing locally grown food.
If you have some space in your garden or elsewhere, hazels are a great choice as they are generally an easy tree to grow with numerous benefits. They often have a relationship with mycelium (fungi) and you can buy hazelnut trees already inoculated with the truffle mycelium. In the past they were valued for firewood as they are an easy tree to coppice.
This is a photo of the plant in full flow and green. By now, it will have become dry and brown in most parts but you should recognise it. If you can see the small hairy green balls (pardon the expression), these are the seeds. Gather these, dry them and then grind them for making a caffeine-free coffee that is beneficial for your lymph system. It's a great alternative and might also save your garden from being over-run next year! Or maybe you will like the coffee so much - you won't mind it so much any more! :-)
BTW, in case I didn't mention it before...The green leaves are edible and you can make a natural deodorant from them by simply boiling the leaves in water and using the infused liquid under your arms (after it's cooled - obvs ;-)).
Field mushroom or Agaricus campestris
This is one of my favourites and is easy to identify as it looks just like the portobello mushrooms you find in the supermarket. However, it tastes so much better than that! I think it probably tastes sweeter due to the satisfaction of finding a lovely abundant patch and bringing them home. Mushroom hunting can be become very addictive once you realise how downright tasty the edible kind are! Check out my recipe for mushroom risotto if you are looking for ideas on how to use these ones.
The one thing you need to watch out for is that you have not found a Yellow Stainer. The Yellow Stainers are exactly the same as the field or wood mushroom but they smell like ink or a chemical and the flesh once bruised or cut will immediately turn a bright sulfuric yellow colour. They are not deadly poisonous - they don't kill people but they will probably make you vomit. Sorry, there really is no delicate way to say it.
The edible field or wood mushroom will have a sweet, mushroomy aroma and will not stain when bruised or cut. The difference is very clear and you need to test by bruising or cutting the flesh before bringing it home.