Foraging For Early Spring Greens: Some To Eat, Some To Avoid…

Foraging For Early Spring Greens: Some To Eat, Some To Avoid…

Foraging for Spring greens - Ramsons and Opposite-Leaved Golden Saxifrage.
There are some very good spring greens to forage. There are also some very poisonous plants appearing at this time of year. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Late winter and early spring is a lean time.  As soon as shoots start to appear, however, there are some tender, young spring greens to gather.  They grow quickly too – the early spring plants race to grow before the trees produce leaves and cut out much of the light to the forest floor. 

You must be careful though – early spring plants often have defence mechanisms by way of toxins. Many of the wild flowers we associate with late winter and early spring – snowdrops, daffodils, lesser celandine, bluebells – contain poisonous substances. There are also less familiar plants you need to be wary of. 

You should always take care to positively identify any plant you intend to eat. But in spring, before heading out, you should make a mental note that it is easier to be fooled by plants when they are not fully formed, than later in the year when you have more to go on. That said, there are spring greens that are easily identified…

In the article, any statements relating to the frequency of occurrence of the plant relates to the UK and temperate Europe.

Some Edible Spring Greens

Common Chickweed, Stellaria media

Chickweed is a common plant, found along waysides, on the edges of fields and under hedges. It sprawls and creates a straggly mound. The leaves are generally lush, unless the weather has been dry for a period when the plant begins to wilt.

Common Chickweed, Stellaria media, leaves and flowers
Common Chickweed, Stellaria media, leaves and flowers. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Chickweed makes a juicy addition to salads. Chickweed does contain saponins – natural soap – which in large enough quantities are toxic. Indeed chickweed has been known to cause saponin poisoning in cattle. But it is rare and this is when the animal has eaten many kilos of the plant.

Common Chickweed, Stellaria media, flower detail.
The flower of Common Chickweed, Stellaria media. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

The stems are round, not square. Chickweed has small star-shaped white flowers with five petals (Stellaria comes from the Latin stellar, meaning star).

Common Chickweed, Stellaria media has a single line of hairs between the leaf nodes and a round stem
Common Chickweed, Stellaria media, leaves and stem hair detail. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

It is important you don’t confuse other species, such as the poisonous Yellow Pimpernel, for Chickweed. This is easy when the plants are in flower as the Pimpernel has yellow flowers. The key identification feature to look for in Chickweed is the single line of hairs running down one side of the stem.

Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage, Chrysosplenium oppositifolium

Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage is a plant of shady, damp places. Hence you find it in woodland by the sides of streams and in boggy ground. As its name suggests, the plant’s leaves are arranged in opposite pairs of rounded leaves. As the leaf develops it grows a scattered ‘stubble’ of short whisker-like hairs that are much less stiff and wiry than they look.

Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage, Chrysosplenium oppositifolium, leaves, flowers, mat
Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage, Chrysosplenium oppositifolium. Note the stubble-length hairs forming on the upper surface of the leaves. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage, Chrysosplenium oppositifolium, leaves, flowers, mat
Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage, Chrysosplenium oppositifolium, can form dense mats. Note the golden flowers on top of the leaf clusters. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

The plant flowers March to April. The flowers are a golden yellow (again in the name) and have no petals. The plant grows along the ground putting down roots and potentially forming large, dense mats. Despite being small, the succulent leaves are easily collected and make a good addition to a wild salad.

Wild Garlic, or Ramsons, Allium ursinum

As you walk through the woods a little later in the year – typically mid-April – when the flowers of Wild Garlic, or Ramsons, are in bloom, you almost invariably smell the plants before you see them. Earlier in the year, before the flowers arrive, the plants are a little more discreet. The leaves aren’t hard to recognise though. The leaves are long, pointed and grow in dense clusters.

Wild Garlic, Ramsons, Allium ursinum young plant amongst leaf litter on forest floor
Wild Garlic, (Ramsons), Allium ursinum. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

You find the plants in damp, open woodland growing amongst many others of the same species – the forest floor can be taken over completely by them. If you are in any doubt about identification, pull off a section of leaf and crush between finger and thumb. It should smell distinctly of onions/garlic.

There are many, many recipes containing Ramson leaves – anything from traditional soups to wild garlic pesto.  While many wild leaves are bland or somewhat bitter to our modern palate, if you like onions and garlic, ramsons are a welcome injection of flavour to a wild salad, particularly when the leaves are young.  You can add them to an outdoor stew or use them to accompany wild meats.  The base of the stems are more like spring onions.

Garlic Mustard, or ‘Jack-by-the-Hedge’, Alliaria petiolata

Quite common, often found in hedgerows, by the side of tracks and roads, and on the edge of woodlands. The distinctive toothed, heart-shaped leaves of Garlic Mustard start to appear in late winter.  They are hairless and quite glossy. 

Garlic Mustard, Jack-by-the-Hedge, Alliaria petiolata, young leaf
Garlic Mustard, (Jack-by-the-Hedge), Alliaria petiolata, young leaf. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

At first harder to spot than their unrelated namesake above, these leaves are much more mildly flavoured.  Again, when bruised they smell of garlic (but much less strongly than Ramsons do).  Eaten on their own they are pleasant but sometimes a little ‘gritty’, with a bitter aftertaste.  They are good chopped and mixed with other salad leaves. 

Jack-by-the-Hedge, a.k.a. Garlic Mustard, young plant developing in Spring.
Jack-by-the-Hedge, a.k.a. Garlic Mustard, young plant developing in spring. Photo: Paul Kirtley

You can also use the leaves of garlic mustard as a stuffing herb – for a small trout or other fish for example.  It is probably better to wait until later in the spring as the plant develops into a tall, easily recognisable specimen, when you can remove a few leaves without damaging it.

Wood Sorrel, Oxalis acetosella

Wood Sorrel is a small plant of shady deciduous woods and sometimes coniferous plantations. Thought by some to be the original Shamrock, it is very similar to clover in having 3 heart-shaped leaves but without clover’s white leaf markings. Clover is also a plant of grassland whereas Wood Sorrel grows in the woods.

Wood Sorrel, Oxalis acetosella young leaves in spring
The leaves of Wood Sorrel, Oxalis acetosella, pushing through in early March. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

As a wild food, Wood Sorrel makes up for its diminutive size with its surprising tangy citrus/apple-peel flavour. This mouth-watering taste is down to the oxalic acid contained in the plant. Oxalic acid in large quantities is not good for the body (it can contribute to kidney stones) but a few Wood Sorrel leaves as a wayside taste sensation or to top off a salad or dish is fine.

Dandelions, Taraxacum agg.

The dandelions are a very common but also a very complicated group of plants.  Most people don’t realise that about 220 micro-species of dandelions have been differentiated in Britain alone.  They display similar characteristics with strongly toothed leaves, giving rise to the name ‘Dent de Lyon’, literally tooth of the lion. 

Dandelion, Taraxacum agg, leaves, rosette
The distinctive, strongly toothed leaves of Dandelion, Taraxacum agg. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Leaves are typically bitter, with the younger leaves sometimes being less so.  They can be added to salads with other less bitter leaves or blanched to remove some of the bitterness.

Common Nettle, Urtica dioica

The Common Nettle, also known as the Stinging Nettle, is unlikely to be a stranger to anyone who has ever set foot in the countryside in Europe.  It is also one of the more important leafy wild foods, particularly for someone living off the land.  It is nutritious and sustaining, also containing a surprising amount of protein. 

Common Nettle, Urtica dioica, leaves
The top-most leaves of Common Nettle, Urtica dioica are the best. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Nettles also taste pretty good and retain an agreeable texture when cooked.  There are masochists who revel in eating nettles raw but it’s much better for most of us to at least blanche the leaves to soften the hypodermic, histamine-injecting hairs.  The top-most leaves are the most tender.  The leaves also make a pleasant tea.

Cleavers, or Goosegrass, Galium aparine

Cleavers, also known as Goosegrass and, in some parts of the county “Sticky-Willies”, is in the bedstraw family of plants.  The plant is a very common constituent of the greenery under hedges, on wayside verges, on the banks of ditches and streams, and waste ground.

The plant has many backward facing hooks that help it cling on to other vegetation as it grows up amongst it.  Similar hooks on the fruits later in the year mean when brushed past they stick to clothing or fur.

Cleavers, Goosegrass, Galium aparine, young shoot
A young shoot of Cleavers, or Goosegrass, Galium aparine. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

In the spring you can eat the shoot tips (the first couple of inches) but due to the hooks you should soften the plant by steaming them or adding them to a soup or stew.

Hairy Bittercress, Cardamine hirsuta and Wavy (or Wood-) Bittercress, Cardamine flexuosa

Wavy Bittercress is also known as Wood Bittercress. This plant and Hairy Bittercress are very similar. Hairy Bittercress is more hairy and the flowering stem of Wood Bittercress – also known as Wavy Bittercress – is, well, wavy (rather than straight).

 Hairy Bittercress, cardamine hirsuta; Wavy Bittercress, cardamine flexuosa, leaves, rosette
Bittercress rosette. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

In plant identification books the key identification difference between these two bittercresses that is often given is that the flowers of C. flexuosa have six stamens, whereas C. hirsuta have four. 

bittercress leaf detail showing somewhat lobed leaves and terminal leaf
Bittercress leaf detail. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Growing in woods, alongside streams and rivers and on rocky ground and tracks, these plants are quite common.  In terms of foraging, we can treat them the same.

The bittercresses are in the cabbage family and one of the best winter greens.  They have a mild peppery flavour and taste a little like cabbage but also a bit like rocket.

Lady’s Smock, Cardamine pratensis

Lady’s Smock is also known as Cuckooflower due to the first calls of cuckoos generally coinciding with the appearance of the flowers. I’ve heard locals in some parts of England also call this plant ‘Milkmaids’, presumably due to a resemblance to the light-coloured headwear they used to cover their hair.  Interestingly, Cardamine californica, found growing in the western United States and a relative of Lady’s Smock, is also known as Milkmaids.

Lady’s Smock is a common plant of river banks, open grassland and waysides that becomes very obvious when it flowers in early Spring. As a roadside plant, it seems like there’s a crowd of them standing on the verge. The flowers are typically a pale lilac or pink but can be almost completely white.

 Lady's Smock, Cardamine pratensis, flowers.
Beautiful pale-lilac flowers of Lady’s Smock, Cardamine pratensis. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
Lady's Smock, Cardamine pratensis, lower leaves, rosette
Lady’s Smock, Cardamine pratensis, lower leaves. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Lady’s Smock is closely related to the bittercresses above (they are all genus Cardamine) and can be similarly used as a salad plant.  Beware though! Lady’s smock is much more spicy, having a flavour something like horseradish or mustard.  If you eat a few leaves, the effect on your nose is similar to having eaten a bit too much English mustard.  It’s fun to encourage your friends to try a little too much…

Sweet Violet, Viola Odorata

Sweet violet is found by the side of paths and under hedges.  Its leaves are typically bigger than other violets and quite rounded with little or no point or tip.  All the leaves shoot from the main rootstock of the plant, with no side-leaves on any shoots. The plants can form quite dense colonies.  Sweet violets flower in the spring, from as early as February. 

Sweet Violet, Viola odorata, leaves
The large, rounded heart-shaped leaves of Sweet Violet, Viola odorata. Photo: Paul Kirtey.
Sweet Violet, Viola odorata, leaves
A dense colony of Sweet Violet, Viola odorata. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

The flowers are fragrant; quite sweet and a bit pungent. Some people don’t like their perfume. The leaves and flowers are edible. The leaves are a very mild salad leaf. The flowers can add a dash of colour. When collecting Sweet Violet leaves in areas where Winter Heliotrope grows be careful not to collect the young leaves of the latter plant by mistake.  If you are unsure, look for the violet’s flowers to be sure.

Some Poisonous Plants to Avoid

Lords and Ladies, Arum maculatum

Wild Arum, and Cuckoo-Pint are also names for this plant.   The leaves are a common sight in most parts of the Britain in spring.  Arum grows in shady places such as under hedges and in woods. 

Lords and Ladies, Cuckoo pint, Arum maculatum, spring leaves
The spring leaves of Lords and Ladies, (Cuckoo-pint), Arum maculatum. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

The leaves emerge in late winter from an underground tuber. The leaf stalk is long and the leaf itself is a distinctive arrow shape. All parts of the plant contain calcium oxalate crystals, which will cause severe irritation to soft tissue such as inside the mouth and in the throat.

Foxglove, Digitalis purpurea

Often found in glades, clearances and around the edges of woodland, the purple spire of a flowering Foxglove is instantly recognisable. Less obvious is a lone rosette of leaves. Foxglove plants grow over a two-year cycle. Only in the second year of growth does a plant put up a flowering shoot. Once you know the look and feel of the leaves, however, even the rosette is difficult to mistake for much else (with the possible exception of Comfrey).

Rosette of crinkly furry leaves of foxglove
A rosette of leaves of Foxglove, Digitalis purpurea. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Foxglove contains several cardiac glycosides with names such as digoxin and digitoxin that affect the action of the heart. These toxins are present in the whole plant. Drying or cooking do not diminish their effect. Contact with the plant may cause dermatitis in some people.

Common Ragwort, Senecio jacobea 

This relative of the daisy is increasingly common in the UK.  It likes to grow in grassland, disturbed areas and waste ground.  The leaves show a good deal of variation but in general are tough, dark green, complicated-looking with deep indents.  From a distance a non-flowering plant looks a bit like kale. 

Common Ragwort, Senecio jacobaea, rosette leaves
Rosette of Common Ragword, Senecio jacobaea. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Ragwort is well known for its ability to poison horses and cattle.  It is also toxic to humans, although no cases of direct poisoning from eating the plant have been recorded.  There have, however, been cases of liver damage from tea made from the leaves.  The whole plant contains several pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which act to destroy the liver.

Hemlock Water Dropwort, Oenanthe crocata

This plant grows in wet ground, in and around ditches and near to water. Personally I didn’t know the plant until I spent time in the south of England, where it appears in pockets. Where it does occur, it tends to be in dense populations. Growing up in the North East, I’d never seen it. It also occurs in the west and the photo in this section was taken in the Lake District. I’ve also seen a fair amount of it in mainland Europe.

Hemlock Water Dropwort, Oenanthe crocata, new leaves
Fresh young leaves of Hemlock Water Dropwort, Oenanthe crocata. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

In summer the plant grows up to 1.5m (5ft) tall but in spring, it starts off low to the ground, growing up and out from a tap root that looks deceptively like a parsnip.  Hemlock Water Dropwort is part of the carrot family and is also related to celery, parsley and coriander amongst other familiar food plants. You should be able to spot the family resemblance in the photo. 

The family also contains some seriously poisonous plants and amongst the most dangerous is Hemlock Water Dropwort. It is one of the most poisonous plants in Britain but is not the same species as Hemlock. It has been the cause of a significant number of fatal plant poisonings. Most poisonings result from misidentification, often when collecting wild plants for food. 

The main toxin in the plant is oenanthotoxin, an unsaturated higher alcohol, found in all parts of the plant. The toxin is particularly concentrated in the root, where concentration is strongest in winter and spring. Death may occur within hours of eating the plant. There are also other toxins in the plant including one that can cause contact dermatitis which is exacerbated by exposure to sunlight. 

Foraging Plants For Wild Foods – Disclaimer

This article is meant only as a guide to some of the plants available in late winter and early spring and is largely a record of my forages. It is not a complete treatment of all edible plants. Nor is it a complete treatment of all poisonous plants. The safest way to learn about wild edibles is for someone who already has the knowledge to show. 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!

Recommended Field Guides


I’ve eaten all of the above edible plants many times but obviously (well at least I hope it’s obvious), I haven’t eaten the poisonous ones. The fact that they are poisonous is based on the work of other people. Nor have I undertaken my own chemical analysis of these plants. Information about the toxic substances contained in these plants is taken from the following publication:


Related Articles on Paul Kirtley’s Blog:

Conopodium majus: Pignuts and How to Forage for them

Five Survival Plants Every Forager Should Know

Hemlock, Conium maculatum

47 thoughts on “Foraging For Early Spring Greens: Some To Eat, Some To Avoid…

  1. The ramsons are out here in Hertfordshire, not in flower yet of course, but on a sunny & warm afternoon a few days ago I was out to recce part of a walk and rode past a patch of ramsons on my motorcycle. The garlic aroma was strong enough for me to notice it from inside my crash-helmet as I zipped past in just a second or so! I’ve been spending a few days off in the woods & have been making good use of your tree ID post from last week. I also had a golden opportunity to check out a deer couch yesterday. The muntjac that had been resting there had just got up and wandered off as I passed close by. I must have disturbed it just enough to make it get up but not enough to spook it completely. It didn’t spot me and I watched if for several minutes before it vanished into a thicket. There were very few signs of it’s trail as the ground is deep in hornbeam leaves and quite hard. It jumped six or seven feet to cross a stream and managed to avoid the softer ground there completely. There were no tracks that I could see even though I knew exactly where it had been. I’m glad I decided to check your blog this morning, so I’m off out again in a minute to see what looks good to eat.

    1. Hi Steve

      I hope you had a good day out? It was another beautiful spring day.

      Muntjac are small and light and don’t leave much sign in leave litter. But once you’ve done your tracking course, it’ll be a different story…..

  2. Luckily I’ve spent a bit of time outside over the last couple of days – Spring really is with us, as Paul’s photos show ! Cock Pheasants are doing there thing , Spring Greens are bursting through , Birch Sap is rising ready for ‘tapping’ , a lovely time of year….only one ‘down-side’ the ticks are well and truly back.

    When out with some pupils yesterday I was very aware of the ‘pitfalls’ of foraging for winter greens ; the young Arum and Dogs Mercury grew right alonside the Wild Garlic ! Pignuts beside young bluebell and hemlock.

    As I say a very useful article.

    1. Thanks Mark. It sounds like you had a really good day out with the kids yesterday and are making the most of the fine weather. It is a great time of year to be out and about. There’s so much going on!

  3. great read paul!!
    i have read that arum roots are actually edible when treated a certain way but i would have to see someone else eat them first!!!

    1. Yep, I’ve read this in various places too but I admit I’ve never tried it. The problem with ‘old’ methods is that they are not always safe if the toxin acts over a period of time.

  4. Hi Paul, yet another really nice bushcraft post!
    Most of the plants you mention are quite common here in the Netherlands too.

    1. Hi Joep

      Good to see you here again! I’m glad you liked the article. I tried to pick plants for the article that have quite a wide distribution.

      All the best


  5. shepards purse is also edible which is just aswell because it looks quite like wavy and hairy cress. do u know if thale cress is? these plants can look quite superficially similar i think

    1. Hi Mark

      While Shepherd’s-purse, Capsella bursa-pastoris, is also in the cabbage family (Brassicaceae), and the leaves show quite a lot of variation, they are different, more like rocket. Later in the year, the flowering stem with the distinctive seed pods set it apart very clearly. Thale cress, Arabidopsis thaliana, (I had to look up the scientific name of this one) is a small, scrawny plant but yes, it is also a brassica and it is edible.

  6. For the , Allium ursinum , although there is a distinct difference in flowers, the leaves of following plants could look similar for some people. Polyganatum odoratum and polygonatum multiflorum, both are poisonous. In English, Angular Solomon’s-seal of Scented Solomon’s-seal and Solomon’s-seal, David’s-harp, Ladder-to-heaven, the berries of the latter are sweet but poisonous (one source: Schauer / Caspari “all common plants of europe”.

    1. Ivo, the member of the Convallariaceae family that has leaves most similar to Allium ursinum is actually Convallaria majalis, or Lily-of-the-Valley. The important identification point to keep in mind is not that they look similar in a book but that Allium ursinum smells of onions/garlic, whereas the other three species don’t. As I wrote in the article “If you are in any doubt about identification, pull off a section of leaf and crush between finger and thumb. It should smell distinctly of onions/garlic.” Only if you had no sense of smell would you seriously worry about confusing these species…

      All the best,


      1. Good point, thanks. That part I missed. Smell would be the obvious difference.

  7. Comment on Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella), in dutch witte klaverzuring contains oxalic acid (hence part of the Latin name). It can cause sharp, dry, stinging or burning sensation if applied to the tongue or skin or throat (often if eating in large quanties). Comments in Ray Mears and Gordon Hillman [Wild food]. Weak poison. On list of poisonous plants in Netherlands and Belgium. Overall the impact seems very weak (see also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_wood_sorrel) which puts things a little bit in perspective. Rhubarb leaves (which we do not eat) contain a very high dosis which can be a problem, see http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002876.htm for evidence on this. Seems that boiling helps to reduce the acid part.

    1. Hi Ivo, yes Wood Sorrel does contain oxalic acid and I wouldn’t recommend anyone eats lots of it. In the article I point out: “Oxalic acid in large quantities is not good for the body (it can contribute to kidney stones) but a few Wood Sorrel leaves as a wayside taste sensation or to top off a salad or dish is fine.” But it is certainly worth re-iterating. I’ve had a kidney stone and it’s not pleasant!

  8. Great overview, clear pictures, many books could learn from it 🙂

  9. Another great article Paul. I have made several trips out to the woods over my holidays and your pictures and information made it extremely easy to identify and find the plants I was looking for. I made made a salad with some of them, tasted great. 🙂 Many thanks again for all your insight and information great as always. I am finding it alot easier now to find stuff out there.

    1. Hi TinkyPete

      Good to hear from you again. Thanks for letting me know how you’ve been using my articles. It’s been a great spring for foraging and I’m glad to hear you have been enjoying some wild salads (and that they tasted good! 🙂 ).

      All the best


  10. Brilliant Article, I’m just starting to learn to identify edible plants and there uses, It is one massive subject, your articles make it very easy to pick out the goodens, cheers.

  11. Good Article. I need to do more Plant recognition. its a pity I dont know plants like my Tank recognition… always scored 100%.
    Keep up the good work Paul.

  12. On eating the common nettle raw: just fold it a couple of times and squeeze/rub it to ‘break’ the hairs. Won’t sting that way. Pretty tasteful too!

  13. A superb blog, with good photos and advice. As I am just about to put together a spring sallad, this is very welcome. We have much garlic, even 3 cornered with flowers (flowers are early I think). My blog is in its infancy, will post adress when I have more going on.

    1. Hi there, thanks for your feedback. This blog is indeed useful again at this time of year. I love this time of year when the early greens start to show and you know Spring is about to properly come forth.

      Please let us know your blog address when you are ready.

      All the best,


  14. About the Calcium oxalate. I’m actually living in the Azores islands and traditionally we eat Colocasia esculenta (Inhame) that’s full of of oxalate but this substance tends to disappear after a good cooking.

    More rarely the people eat Arum itallicum (we call it “serpentina” or “brigalhó”) that´s other poisonous plant with calcium oxalate, but that became edible after good cooking.

    Just wanted to share with you this information.

    Great article. Very useful information.

    Greetings from Portugal.

  15. Yet again another great article with excellent photos, thanks! Please do a book (series of books or manuals) on British bushcraft and the seasons, with your style and clear images I think it would be a winner!!

    1. Hi Alex,

      Thanks for your great feedback. I’m glad you would like more in this vein. I will look into the options…

      Warm regards,


  16. Another great article, thanks for sharing, I’m keeping an eye out for the ladysmock this is one I can’t remember seeing locally, but now I’m aware of what it looks like I will most likely see it everywhere !!
    I’m always worried about Hemlock, it’s very similar to some plants that are edible, and its so deadly. Positive identification of hemlock helps with confidence and growth of Knowellege. If in doubt leave it out.

  17. Just havin a look now, think I missed it. But will be good to try and find some examples of hemlock after reading the article and study it up close so I can recognise it easily.
    Looking forward to the masterclass, I think it’s going to be very good for me and will make my bush crafting much better and will leave me less reliant on modern foods to supplement my trips out.

    1. Good stuff.

      One other point – in my experience, Hemlock Water Dropwort is much more common than Hemlock.

      1. Thanks for that Paul. Starting my own sketch book so I can note the key differences, I may even start a plant scrap book.
        I have managed to positively identify the Water drop wort near by where i live, which is a good start.
        I have the book Food for free Richard Mabey and Forager by Miles Irvine, although the ‘Forager’ book has black and white photos and illustrations, as opposed to full colour in the new edition of ‘Food for free’, but both are full of valuable information, and include some poisonous species as well, all that said, your photographs show the detail much more clearly than in the books, and especially the close-ups, the books show 1-2 sample pics, sometimes at a distance, where you have shown many different shots up close in detail.
        Personally, I’m finding that its all in the detail. Im also using the wild flowers of the british isles and the British wild flowers books to cross reference.
        Link for foraging books below:

  18. Do you know if you can eat any part of pelasites fragrans – winter heliotrope? I have plenty of it and it would be so good if it can be eaten! Thank you. Ann.

    1. Hi Ann,

      Thanks for your question.

      Winter Heliotrope, Petasites fragrans is closely related to Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara and both are known more for their medicinal uses than culinary. The Petasites more generally are known as butterburs and, again various species have medicinal uses. They have also been found to contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids, and while some sources state P. fragrans as being rich in Vitamin C, I would be wary of eating it as a salad plant for this reason. These alkaloids – also found in other Asteraceae such as Ragwort,Seneceo jacobaea, as well as species such as Comfrey, Symphytum officinale – are known to cause liver damage or even contribute to the onset of liver cancer.

      You can read more about pyrrolizidine alkaloids here.

      Warm regards,


      1. Thank you for that. Shame as they are prolific. I wonder what would happen if I cooked them? Like spinach?

  19. All most helpful – thank you. I would like to know if you can eat any part of winter heliotrope?

  20. All the info lovely. I didn’t know about the saxifrage so will now add that to my list. I would also suggest adding sorrel leaves and hawthorn leaves at this time of the year. I love the stalks of the dandelion flowers as well as the flowers. Many thanks. Ann. (I’m getting rid of the heliotrope as best I can but find it goes pretty deep!)

    1. Hi Ann,

      Thanks. Glad you like the info.

      You may well find sorrel leaves at the time all the above featured species are coming out (you might even find it in the depths of winter) but hawthorn tends to come out a bit later, certainly after the above plants do. That’s not to say you won’t still find the above out when the hawthorn also appears.

      Glad to know you’re dealing with the heliotrope.

      Warm regards,


  21. Glad to know you’re dealing with the heliotrope

  22. Paul: I always feel that your articles are very well written, and explained in detail, and are quite good for people in the U K or Europe. Do you know of anyone in the U S that you could recommend that has a blog similar to yours that I could follow.

  23. Liked your article on spring greens. Ribbed plantain, Plantago lanceolata, is good too. I have been adding it to smoothies and steaming it with other greens through the winter too.

  24. Always good reading from you, Paul.
    Great time of year to grab some good for you And tasty greens.
    Just nipped out to the path down the side of our house to get some nettles and hedge garlic to make a crustless quiche with for my lunch.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.