Foraging in your garden or park

Danielle Lowy’s guide to finding food on your doorstep

Stop and think about it: how daft is a system where we turn a large percentage of our garden into lawn, and grow things to look at, then get in gas-guzzling cars to buy food that’s travelled hundreds of miles, been packaged and put on shelves, when we could be eating what’s under our noses, free of charge?

Some people say weeds are just a plant in the wrong place. They appear in gardens, blown by the wind, dropped by birds, carried by small animals and accidentally imported with shop-bought plants. 

As a gardener I have felt stressed by the pressure to present a regimented, ornamental garden with a neat, weed-free lawn. A couple of years ago, however, I decided to learn to love my weeds. It was so exciting to unearth a range of edibles I’d done nothing to cultivate! I discovered these common weeds all have edible, and even medicinal properties. Most edibles are nice combined with other ingredients, and the herbal teas are lovely as combinations too.

Feverfew is well known for alleviating headaches and migraines - simply chew a couple of the bitter-tasting leaves
Self-heal is a low-growing flower with many medicinal properties: healing wounds, calming nerves and soothing sore throats. It can be used externally and drunk as a tea. Just snip off some flowers.
Dandelions are packed with nutrients. Personally I find them too bitter, but apparently, they can be blanched for a better taste. If you have the patience, dig up and roast the roots to make a tasty coffee substitute. Don’t forget to leave some flowers for the bees - they love them!
Wood sorrel is a pretty plant with delicate white flowers, both of which add a lovely lemony taste to a salad.
Hairy bittercress is related to watercress, giving a lovely peppery taste to salads, or with a sliced orange.
Chickweed and the small emerging leaves of ground elder can be eaten as salad leaves or made into pesto. I have enough ground elder to stock a supermarket, but unfortunately, it’s not my favourite.
Plantain (broadleaf and ribwort) makes a good tea. It's also anti-inflammatory, good for bites and stings. Chew a leaf and place on affected area. Broadleaf plantain makes tasty crisps: toss in salted, lemony oil with a pinch of paprika. Bake for a few minutes, then eat immediately
Daisies have edible leaves and flowers to add to salads, as well as for herbal teas.

And a note about nettles 

Nettles have definitely earned their place in the heart (and stomachs) of foragers. They are profuse, delicious and packed with vitamins and minerals. Snip off the top 4-6 leaves – but don’t forget to wear gloves! I love them as a fresh-tasting herbal tea for their anti-histamine properties. They also make great soup – fry onions and wild garlic, add potato, carrot and two big handfuls of nettle tops plus water or stock. Cook to a pulp and blend. This spring I have chopped nettles into a thick pancake batter to make fritters – delicious with a dipping sauce of chili, herbs and yoghurt.