There are many edible plants and leaves in Britain, from the classic ice burg lettuce to nettle leaves. Not only are these wild and home grown edibles tasty, there are also healthy each packing its own boost in nutrients and vitamins.
The season and time of year will dictate what you can grow or forage but there are varieties of leaf salads that can be cultivated and eaten all through the growing season. This is largely because they grow quickly and with relative ease making them easy to grow and eat.
Wild edibles in your backyard
If you have a typical suburban British garden the chances are you will have one or more wild edible growing there. Wild edibles are plants, the most common ones you will find in your garden will be leaf edibles. Contrary to popular belief, leaf edibles are full of vitamins and flavours many of which you will be surprised you called them weeds!
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Top 10 wild edible plants – A helpful illustrated guide
Here are some of the most common wild edibles you are likely to find in your back garden if you live in Britain, these are also good plants to start you off on your foraging adventure. They are easily identifiable and tasty:
1. Dandelion (Taraxacum)
Likely one of the most common wild edibles available in the UK, the dandelion is often referred to as a ‘weed’. Every part of this humble plant can be used from the root to the stem, the young leaves make a great alternative to rocket in a salad and so do the flowers.
Dandelion roots can be eaten and are not dissimilar to carrots and parsnips, or they can be roasted and ground to be used as a coffee substitute. The roasted roots have a bitter taste and make a convincing energy drink.
2. Hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)
Hairy bitter cress grows in abundance, all year round in the UK making it a great plant to forage. It tastes of cress only slightly more peppery and is best served fresh in salads or on sandwiches. There are some plants that could be misidentified but luckily none of these are toxic, the best way to confirm you have hairy bitter-cress and not another edible cardamine is to taste it.
You are not allowed to uproot plants on common land in Britain, but if you can get the land owners permission to take one then do. Place the bitter cress plant in a fitting plant pot and keep it in the porch or on a windowsill. Water regularly and remove the flower stems as they appear. This will keep the plant producing its edible leaves.
3. Wild onion (Allium vineale)
The wild onion, also known as crow garlic, onion grass, stag’s garlic, compact onion, false garlic, and wild garlic grows across Britain. Mainly found in coastal areas, in hedge rows, parks and among some cereal crops like wheat.
The leaves of wild onion are delicious and can be used in a similar fashion to chives. The plants bulbils are also edible and can be harvested to be used fresh, or can be dried to create a tasty seasoning. If you have the land owners permission to dig on the land, you can dig out the bulbs which are somewhere between garlic and onion.
Foraging for crow onion is bets reserved for the late winter or early spring months. The plant remains edible throughout the year, but the leaves do start to toughen up as the year progresses.
4. Brambles (Rubus fruticosus)
One of the countries most recognized hedgerow plant is possible the humble bramble. There are multitudes of species spanning the UK but all carry the ever recognizable fruit. You can use the berries produces by brambles as you would any berry, jam or reserves are beautiful made with brambles.
The leaves can be used for brewing a fruity tea, simply pick fresh leaves and steep them in some hot water. Brambles were once a staple used for its tastes and medical purposes. The plant contains tannin in its leaves and bark making it a great astringent used to treat dysentery, diarrhea and hemorrhoids.
5. Elder flower (Sambucus)
If your one of the few people in Britain that hasn’t had Elder flower cordial, do yourself a favor and go and find some! Or even better make some, elder flower grows in abundance throughout the UK. Not only is it very tasty, elder flower also boasts some medicinal effects;
“Elder flower is used for swollen sinuses (sinusitis), colds, influenza (flu), swine flu, bronchitis, diabetes, and constipation. It is also used to increase urine production (as a diuretic), to increase sweating (as a diaphoretic), and to stop bleeding”
Elder flower cordial is also good for helping with hay fever, making a cordial from local flowers introduces small amounts of pollen into the body. It is also a natural antihistamine and therefore may also alleviate some of the symptoms caused by hay fever.
6. Hedge Garlic (Alliara petiolata)
Hedge Garlic also known as Jack by the Hedge, Garlic Mustard, Poor Mans Mustard or Penny Hedge is a wonderful addition to any meal. As you can gather from its many names, this plant resembles a garlic taste with a hint of mustard, it goes well as an addition to leaf salads with a little dressing.
The main pro to this edible is that it contains natural antifreeze making it available to foragers all year round. It is also easy to identify and has no dangerous look-a-like plants that could be confused as hedge garlic.
7. Ground Elder (Aegopodium podagraria)
The ground elder is one of Britain most usable wild flowers. It has a taste similar to sweet parsley only many consider it a better flavor. It grows in abundance through out the UK and is a pest to many gardeners. It was brought over by the Romans as a staple food but now is spread across this green and pleasant land.
Ground elder is also known as Ground Elder, Goutweed, Herb Gerrard, Bishops Weed and is usually available between March & October. You can use the younger leaves in salads & the older leaves can b used much like spinach. Leave the more coarse leaves to one side when preparing you meal as these are not as pleasant and can be fibrous.
A mild warning when foraging this plant, once flowered the leaves act as laxative once consumed. Its other medical uses consisted of a poultice to sooth and treat gout and other inflammations. This plant can be mistaken for ‘Dogs’ Mercury’ which is toxic.
Dogs mercury main distinctive feature is the hair covering the leaves and stem, the leaves are also not in groups of 3 like the Ground Elder.
8. Wild garlic (Allium ursinum)
Wild garlic is another of the Allium family that some of the plants we have covered are also a part of, it is the same family as onions, leeks, scallions and garlic. The taste follows suit with a punchy garlic taste, this flavor can be tamed with a little cooking. However, if you are looking for something that really packs some flavor, try the flower buds!
Wild garlic is also known as Wild Garlic, Ramsons, Broad Leaved Garlic, Wood Garlic or Bear Garlic. It is available between February and June, easily identifiable by its strong smell although there are some lookalikes to watch out for. Check each leaf you gather for the distinct garlic smell, if it doesn’t smell the chances are its not wild garlic.
It is a great plant wildly used across Britain, it can be used in place of garlic in many recipes or try making a pesto with the leaves. Again like fellow alliums, wild garlic can be used to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
9. Goosegrass or cleavers (Galium aparine)
Most commonly known as ‘sticky weed’ due to its ability to stick to clothing, goose grass may also be used as an edible! The plant is only worth eating if you pick the fresh shoots which can be eaten fresh or cooked. Once they have grown they become very fibrous and even more bitter.
The other edible option you can utilize with cleavers is to wait until it has seeded. Once the seeds are fully hardened they can be roasted and made into a convincing coffee substitute. Goose grass is a safe foraging bet with no toxic plants with similar characteristics exists.
10. Nettles (Urtica dioica)
Nettles are often looked upon as a weed with the potential to irritate your skin. While this is a fair comment, it doesn’t take into account the plants many uses, including its edible ones. The nettle is extremely common in the UK and can be found in parks, hedgerows and your garden.
The most enjoyable edible to make with nettles has to be nettle tea. When harvesting, pick the fresh growth from the top of each nettle, these are the best for a sweet nettle tea. If you are wanting to cook and eat nettles then take the new growth or fresh tops, when cooked nettles are similar to spinach in texture with a distinct but pleasant flavor.
Nettles are also a very fibrous plant and is often used to make cordage from its stems, its medical uses range from pain relief to clearing a dry scalp. If you have a load of nettles that need culling, take the edible parts and use the rest for composting.
Edible plants you can grow in the UK
You can also grow edible plants in your garden which are low maintenance and easy to grow. Plants such as herbs, leaf salads vegetables and fruits can all be bought as seed and easily grown. You can even buy most plants as seedlings if you don’t want to grow from seed.
There is something about growing your own food to eat and growing produce from seed can be extremely rewarding. Edible plants in the UK both foraged and grown can be a great & healthy addition to your diet.