Foraging notes – early March

Dandelion flowers and buds

Is there a more unappealing menu than one filled with dandelions and nettles?

Of course, to the untrained eye (and palate) these dull-looking and common weeds offer little to spark an appetite in the wild.

However, with spring still waiting to deliver its plentiful bounty, you have to take what you can get in a survival situation.

So it’s at this time of year you can look to young shoots and buds amid the fresh growth to supplement the abundance of mushroom and fungi.

Nettles have always played a big role in bushcraft for centuries. Romans introduced them to the British Isles, and they would have played a big role in the diet of our Saxon and medieval ancestors.

It’s a shame that nettles tend to get overlooked nowadays, as the tender young leaves (take care to use gloves when picking) are laden with minerals like iron as well as high in vitamins D and A.

Nettle tea is a simple and fast way to get a hot, vitamin-rich brew in the wild, but it also makes a good alternative to spinach when cooked in a similar way. Just make sure you render down the irritating hairs on the stems and leaves.

For a real moral booster round the campfire, pick a long stem with plenty of leaves and simply brown them by the heat of the fire… instant nettle crisps!

The versatility and profusion of nettles are an easy option to fall back on, but good nutrition in the wild is highly dependent upon variety.

Now is a good time to turn your attention to dandelions. This is another highly versatile plant, of which every part is edible – from root to petal. Raw or cooked.

Although bitter, each part of the dandelion presents excellent nutritional variety.

The root (once scraped) can be used much like a potato, or it can even be gently roasted, dried and ground to make something akin to instant coffee granules.

The stems can be chopped into your campfire pot to pad out other foraged ingredients, while the young leaves can be used like a raw salad or cooked as a leafy vegetable.

The star attraction of a dandelion, though, is the flower. Its golden petals can be used with or in anything, and they make for a good on-the-go snack out in the field.

For a real treat, gather the unopened buds and marinate them for a day or two. You can then use them like capers which is a welcome boost of flavour and variety as you wait for nature’s supermarket to throw open its spring doors.

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