You should only eat plants that you are absolutely sure about – eating a poisonous plant by mistake can be fatal.
A man who ran a survival class was jailed recently when one of his students chose a poisonous wild carrot, thinking it was very similar wild parsley, and died after putting it in a soup.
“Common sense goes a long way when picking”
Also use common sense when picking – avoid areas that look and smell as if they have been marked by animals, are near busy roads or factories, or are in the middle of cultivated fields or vineyards where pesticides may have been recently sprayed.
Washing the plants after you get home is a good idea – pests, including liver fluke, can be taken from plants growing in wild areas.
One of the most commonly harvested edible plants are dandelions – the leaves – which in spring are tender and slightly less bitter than later in the year. They are wonderfully fresh and green at a time of year when there is not much else.
They are often served as a bit of greens in baguette or cheese sandwiches.
The common French name dandelion is a tribute to their diuretic effects, which seem to affect some people more than others. Another name is Lion tooth, supposedly where the English name for dandelion comes from.
In addition to stimulating the kidneys and bladder, dandelions are said to be great liver tonics and packed with vitamin C.
Nettles (nettles in French) are another edible wild plant at its best in the spring before flowering, when the leaves and stem tops are tender.
It is best to wear gloves, long sleeved shirts and long pants when collecting as it is very easy to rub against a freshly picked leaf and experience tingling.
Plants usually lose their sting about an hour after being cut and are often eaten like spinach, washed and cooked quickly in a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid and plenty of butter and garlic, or put into a soup.
Surprisingly, for a plant with such a strong bite, they are practically tasteless, so if you put them in a soup, rely on other ingredients to add flavor.
A more modern trend is to incorporate fresh nettle leaves into smoothies – again, they don’t have much taste but they give off a nice, fresh green color.
The older French praise nettles as a liver tonic. In late winter and early spring, in many areas of southwestern France where vines are found, wild leeks are a traditional delicacy.
They are often found in vineyards. Now they’re usually only picked when people know the vines are organic and there hasn’t been a recent spray.
They are generally thinner and smaller than cultivated leeks and have a more delicate taste, but are delicious baked in wine with butter until tender.
Wild asparagus is another spring treat sought after by French families.
Resembling thin green asparagus, it is usually found in the scrubby rocky areas on the edge of woods – sometimes called garrigue in the south of France – which have little agricultural value apart from goat pastures.
The key to finding it is to recognize the climbing asparagus fern, with thorny leaves much like wild juniper leaves, which thread through shrubs and small trees, very different from the ferns of cultivated plants. Asparagus sprouts are found at ground level nearby.
“It is advisable to go in search of wild asparagus with someone who knows what they are doing”
The stems are often a bit more woody than cultivated green asparagus, so hard pieces should be cut off before cooking – they can be used as a flavoring in broths.
The wild asparagus is then steamed and often served with melted butter or a hollandaise sauce, like cultured asparagus, or put into an omelet.
In damp woods some people look for some form of wild garlic, wild garlic (garlic bear). The leaves, with a pungent garlic flavor and smell, can be incorporated into a salad.
Pick it only if you are absolutely sure – the leaves can look like poisonous lilies. Going with an expert to identify it is a good idea. Elderflower (Elderflower) are a late spring treat. When you pick them, make sure you smell them first.
Once you’ve found a tree with a scent to your liking, choose it – a pair of pruning shears comes in handy.
It is always a good idea to leave flowers upside down on paper in a cool place for a while after picking to allow wild insects to escape.
Traditional elderflower syrups are still made in certain regions of France, as are elderflower champagnes.
British and French recipes do not vary, to the surprise of some.
Another use for the flowers is to fry them in a light batter and serve them in a dessert. A liquid fish and chips batter is ideal, and they fry a golden color in a minute or two.
Serve with a pinch of sugar and crème fraîche.
Regional drinks vary across France but a aperitif made from the spring growth of pines is popular in parts of the southwest.
Traditionally, tips should be cut before Pentecost. They are put in a container with raw red wine and sugar to taste and left to macerate for 10 days before being bottled and left for at least a month.
The result is a brut wine transformed, not only by the sugar, but by the aromas of pine, which are refreshing and not as harsh as wines made from Greek pine resin.
Walnut trees probably belong to the property and are not considered ‘wild’, but a similar method is used to Nut wine with small green nuts picked in late spring and early summer.
Leave to macerate with the wine and sugar for about 10 days. When bottling walnut wine, a lot of people add brandy, but it’s not necessary and can make it a bit heavy for an appetizer.
An alternative liqueur, sometimes considered a Italians thing, is made by macerating the walnuts cut into quarters brandy and sugar for three months until the liquid is so dark brown it is almost black. It’s absolutely delicious on ice.
Breton beekeeper celebrates as sales of green hornet traps increase
Gardening in France: oriental poppies take center stage in spring