May 20, 2016 by Chris Westgate
This month we are pleased to bring you a guest blog from our friend Chris Westgate, Founder of Heavenly Hedgerows, who produce award-winning gourmet jellies, jams and liqueurs, mostly from hand-picked local wild plants and berries.
This time of year my garden is awash with yellow flowers. Not tulips or daffodils, but the humble dandelion. All parts of the dandelion are edible, except the seed clock, yet we make little use of this abundant plant. My favourite use is dandelion jelly and it is savoured through the long winter months. My neighbour, Teresa Cooke, makes the best dandelion jelly and I've included her recipe at the end.
Spring greens are late up this year, despite the mild winter. So it was with some disappointment that International Dandelion Day on the 5th April came and went with but a few on show. Traditionally Dandelions are collected on St George's Day. And so it makes sense to feast on this versatile plant.
Leave the roots until the autumn when they are nice and big. Boil them and add them to stews. Or dry them and grind as a coffee substitute. The stems make a nice stir-fry. The petals can also be used to make tea or wine. And the leaves are excellent when young - finely chop them and add to salads. Pickle the buds. And then if you have any left over, make a wish, then blow the seed clock to ensure there's plenty for next Spring.
If you're new to foraging, dandelions are a great place to start. As are other garden edibles - nettles, daisies, blackberries. When you've familiarised yourself with how to use these, get a good book with colour photographs and you can move further afield. Remember our taste buds have changed over the years and not everything is as sweet as a wild strawberry. Introduce these new foods slowly. Remember to be 110% of what you are picking before you consume. Nature has a lovely way of having look-alikes. One well meaning friend once gave me a bag of Privet - mistaken for elderberries.
Foraging is fun, it's good for the soul and it's free. Be mindful to stick to pathways and not trespass. Always ask landowner's permission before collecting wild food. Collect only what you need. Save some for the birds and re-seeding. Be a sustainable forager. Foraging for commercial purposes is illegal without landowner's consent. Uprooting a wild plant is also illegal. A good foraging book will give you clear advise on the law regarding foraging outside of your own garden or window box.
2 pints flowers (no green), 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 5 cups jam sugar. Boil flowers for 10 mins in 4 pints of water, strain through a sieve.
Bring to a rolling boil, add sugar, boil for another 1-2mins, pour into hot jars.
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