Wild Food Foraging in Yorkshire
What wild food can I eat in Yorkshire?
If you live in or are visiting Yorkshire and are wondering what edible wild plants there are to eat here, read on...
Have you ever walked past the weeds on the city streets, or the hedgerows by the River and wondered... "how much of it can you actually eat?"
The surprising fact is; on our everyday travels through the towns and cities of Yorkshire, most of the weeds we see are perfectly edible. Not only that but they can be said to hold super food status in their health giving benefits, have travelled zero food miles AND are FREE!
Now, I didn't promise that all of them are tasty but you can have fun working out which you enjoy. Here are some tips to get started on recognising the wild food to forage in and around York.
You may already have heard of some of our Yorkshire 'weeds' - Dandelion? Daisy? Thistle? Nettle? Dock? You may also be able to easily recognise them. This is the best place to start, York is full of the above, found in both inner city and rural outskirts alike and all the above are edible. Furthermore they can be made into delicious dishes but most importantly are hard to mistake for anything toxic.
If you do mistake nettle for dead nettle, a red nettle, or a woundwort, no harm will be done, just the taste will be a little different. If you mistake a sow thistle for a thistle you will just see it's more bitter, the above five plants are really good for newby foragers in York for this reason. They are EVERYWHERE and safe starting points.
So, how does a nettle taste? Well, mostly when a plant has prickles or stings it doesn't need to also taste bitter as a secondary defence. It's just not necessary. So nettles tend to have a muggy, slightly pungent blandness.
Often cited as being interchangeable with spinach so if you enjoy Saag Aloo, or salmon and spinach quiche, why not add wilted nettles instead. The most basic nettle recipes are nettle crisps- simply pop fresh nettles on a baking tray, rub in oil and salt and bake in a medium oven for about 8 minutes catching them when they are dried and, well...crisp, but still green. Allow to cool.
Nettles were a popular food of the Romans but we have been eating them for about 8000 years, it really is one of our traditional foods over and above roast dinners and fish and chips. Traditional ways to eat York nettles would have been to cook them with a local grain of the era and bind this together with animal fat and fry them as nettle cakes. Nettles contain iron, and other minerals plus vitamin c, but surprisingly also protein and calcium making them a great plant for vegetarian
women. Caution: nettles sting but don't kill you, I pick with bare hands and enjoy the tingling sensation that I believe will help prevent arthritis in my hands into old age. Bring a glove if you can't bare the sting or use your coat sleeve pulled over your hand. The sting is made up of tiny hairs delivering a mix of formic acid, acetylcholine and histamine. To me the best part of nettle for eating is the seeds. Containing omega oils, mucilage they act as a tasty toasted topper to salads, buns or cheese or even in flapjacks or cereal. Gather nettle seeds in Summer, toast lightly in a frying pan and scatter on .... anything really.
The humble dandelion - found on lawns, in cracks on pavements, woodland walks and countryside edges all around York - is also a great first wild food. Available, like nettle for much of the year even in the North of England you will never be short of this super nutritious food. If you think about a shop bought lettuce, dandelions, 'pound-for-pound' contain about twelve times as much vitamin 'A' and roughly six times as much vitamin 'C' plus the time from picking to plate means there has been little time for these nutrients to deplete with oxidisation.
Unlike its bland neighbour dandelions taste a little bitter, but it's a bitterness that is subtle and one that you can get used to and even complements certain foods: An easy family meal is to wilt some dandelion leaves into bacon and pasta and sprinkle with parmesan. If you cut the central vein out the bitterness is reduced. The flowers can be used pulled apart and cooked in rice and spices, to make a kind of golden rice.
Dock can be the bain of gardeners; springing-up and smothering all else with its large leaves. So, you may be glad to know all parts of dock are edible. Like nettle and dandelion the whole plant can be eaten from root, stem, leaves and seeds. The plant is rich in oxalic acid (the stuff found in wood sorrel, sheep sorrel and rhubarb leaves - a chemical that gives a tart lemon flavour). A little is ok, some people who eat a lot of oxalic acid can get an upset tummy, so traditional recipes add dairy as this mitigates the affect. A fab refreshing way to use this lemon taste is of course with fish - chop young dock leaves up into vinegar and sugar then use as a sauce for fish or use the lemon taste in an easy sweet-treat such as lemon sherbet ice lollies, collecting the juicy stems, and bashing them into some water, add sugar and a dash of cream and freeze in lolly moulds.
Why not combine the above into one meal foraged for free, from the streets of York?
- Golden rice with steamed fish with pureed dock leaf sauce.
- A side of nettle crisps, maybe add a spinkle of some of our native spices.
- Desert of dock lemon Sherbert ice-lolly.
There is so much more to say about these plants, this is just a taster.
If you are worried about city pollution, thankfully our city centre is pretty industry-free but here are a few tips... Avoid picking by:
- Lampost corners
- Busy roadsides
- Old industrial/pharmaceutical or petrochemical grounds
In Hedges next to recently sprayed farmers fields (look for signs of pale droopy thistles or buttercups)
Choose instead; riverside walks, old pub gardens, and cemeteries, unsprayed lawns and woodland edges.
To be honest pollution is less of a concern than identification errors. So, to help you start foraging safely and sustainably, in York, I've created a downloadable e-book. It costs less than a cup of coffee and you can download it to your phone to refer to as you walk about the city learning about the tasty uses of our Yorkshire weeds!
Di runs Wild Harvest School of Self-Reliance from two tipi sites just outside the city. She has been teaching foraging for 18 years, and has operated the York wild food walk for the last ten years by the River Ouse. Picture showing the York Wild Food Walk.
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