Brooklime, Veronica beccabunga, is an unassuming leafy green plant of damp freshwater places. The name may be unfamiliar but the plant is relatively common. You’ll find brooklime growing in boggy ground (the sort in which you’d wished you’d worn boots, not shoes), on the damp margins of ponds, streams and rivers and sometimes within shallow streams.
The plant is hairless and has fleshy, succulent-looking green leaves that are oval, slightly serrated and arranged in opposite pairs on short stems from a round (not square) stem. The plant puts up shoots up to 30cm (12in) tall but often less than that. Brooklime has a tendency to sprawl with shoots trailing along the ground and where it does, the leaf nodes produce roots. It is related to speedwells and produces similar pretty little blue four-petalled flowers. There are no flower pics in this blog I’m afraid as it’s too early in the year (flowers May to September).
You can eat the leaves and stem. Miles Irving describes brooklime as “bitter without any redeeming features”. The leaves certainly look more succulent and tasty than they actually are but I think he’s being a little harsh. I guess it does depend on context though. I was first introduced to brooklime by Professor Gordon Hillman in 2002 while I was undertaking a bushcraft course that required us to live from the land for several days. On one of these days we’d spent most of the day building a shelter and hadn’t foraged very far, but we had found a few wild foods, including the newly-learnt brooklime.
My group’s main meal was a small ‘stew’ consisting largely of water but also containing some chanterelles (oh what we’d have given for some butter to fry them in!), opposite-leaved golden saxifrage and brooklime. It wasn’t the greatest dish we’d ever eaten. To begin with we’d roasted some crushed sedge seeds in the dry bottom of the cooking pot to add some extra nutrition before adding the water. We’d overdone the roasting and the seeds were somewhat charred, ultimately giving the whole stew a charcoal taste. The brooklime leaves were a welcome injection of freshness to our burnt-toast flavoured slop!
On balance I’d say, for most people, raw brooklime is a little too bitter to be eaten in any great quantity. You could put a small proportion in a salad with other greens and it would be OK. Brooklime is easy to spot and collect, however, so shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s better added to soups or in the later stages of a stew to add some herbage.
Recommended Books for Further Reading:
Related Articles on Paul Kirtley’s Blog:
This article is meant only as a guide and is largely a record of my recent forages. It is not a complete treatment of all edible plants that might be available. Nor does it provide a complete treatment of all poisonous plants that may also be present in the habitat where you find the above-mentioned plants. If you want to learn more about plant identification you should invest in some good field guides. The safest way to learn about edible wild plants is for someone who already has the knowledge to show you in person. Any foraging you do on your own is at your own risk.
The most important thing to remember when identifying wild foods is:
IF IN DOUBT, LEAVE IT OUT!
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