Introduction: Wild Nibbles
If you're ever walking along somewhere and feel a bit peckish, this instructable might help you! You'd be surprised how many common plants are perfectly edible.
This instructable is a short guide to several plants that are good for just nibbling on as you pass them by - this isn't about foraging or cooking anything. Just tasty stuff to keep your teeth occupied... better than chewing gum!
All of these are pretty common (some localised) where I live in NW England, I assume most are easy to find over the rest of the country and possibly much of Europe or elsewhere.
Photos are all my own except a few from Wikipedia until the right time of year comes around and I can take some myself!
Step 1: Beech
Beech can be a huge tree or made in hedging, and is easy to recognise. It has smooth greyish bark and spiky brown buds that open into green serrated leaves (see photos). In the autumn the trees have plenty of nuts with a taste somewhere between walnuts and chestnuts.
In spring the new leaves can be eaten while they are still bright green and floppy, but get bitter fast when they become darker and stiffer in a couple of weeks. I find that if they're chewed too long they start to taste bitter too so just give them a couple of munches. Loads of them around though!
The nuts come in a hard outer shell that opens up by itself when ripe, the nuts (called 'mast') are small but plentiful and drop to the ground making them easy to gather. Looking like a steep three-sided pyramid, use your nail to crack off the thin inner shell then rub off the bitter hairs before eating it.
The trees don't seem to produce them every year, or sometimes just empty shells... Not sure whether this is just normal for beech or if it depends on the weather and seasons.
Step 2: Bilberry
Not something you'll find around town, bilberries mostly grow out on the hills near moorland. Related to the American blueberry, bilberries look the same but are smaller and sweeter.
The plant often grows close to the ground amongst the heather but produces berries when it's bigger and bushier. The larger the bush the more berries.
When you find these in late summer/early autumn there's usually a lot around, so either bring a pot and gather loads or just eat them until your hands are pink!
Step 3: Blackberry
Everyone knows this one. Grows on just about any bit of wasteland, hedgerow or woody corner and has lots of juicy berries in autumn.
Blackberries are fun to pick from the thorny brambles and delicious to eat, but watch out for worms in the very ripe ones! They can be eaten when red before they're properly ripe if you don't mind the very sour taste.
The leaves are also fine for nibbling on when very new, just rather furry and tastless.
Step 4: Dandelion
Many people know that the ubiquitous dandelion is edible but few seem to have tried it.
The leaves are the main part, eaten when fairly fresh and new they are a bit like a rather bitter green lettuce. You may want to strip out the stem in the middle, the milky sap in it is terrible to taste!
Also fine later in the year when the leaves are larger but much too bitter for my taste.
The flowerheads and buds can be eaten too but look out for the little bugs that like to hide in there.
Step 5: Elder
Lots of good things can be made with elderflowers and elderberries, but they can also be nibbled straight off the tree.
It's a large shrub or smallish tree with leaves made up of several leaflets, growing bunches of white flowers in spring/summer and then the small black berries follow after.
The flowers have been said to taste like champagne, or a mouthful of vanilla ice cream, but personally I think it's like a mouthful of finely-chopped cabbage. Anyway, try it yourself!
The berries are very rich with a strong flavour, safe to eat but I'd recommend small quantities.
The wood and leaves are somewhat poisonous, so don't eat those. Pick some though if you like, the leaves keep flies away apparently.
Step 6: Garlic Mustard
This tastes, surprisingly, like garlic and mustard. Other names for it are Jack-by-the-hedge and Poor Man's Mustard.
It grows often by the edges of paths and gets up to a foot or two tall, with little four-petalled white flowers at the top. Crush the leaves and it'll have a strong garlicky smell. The leaves are nice to eat when young but the flavour is too strong for my taste when they're a bit older. It can be very nice mixed with other things as a flavour though rather than a food by itself.
Step 7: Ground Elder
Called ground elder because it looks exactly like elder leaves but grows on the ground (duh), this weed is a pest in some gardens.
It grows up to a foot or so high in a mass together, and is easy to recognise firstly because it looks like elder and secondly look at the stem, it's triangular.
The leaves taste quite nice with a strongish flavour, and you can also use it like spinach in salads or cooking if you happen to have this nuisance in your back garden :)
Step 8: Grass
Yep, normal grass.
Ok so you can't properly eat it as such but it is good to nibble on, which is what this instructable is for...
Find some longer grass, not like a lawn, and select one of the stems with the seeds at the top. Hold the stem and gently but firmly pull up and it should slide out of its sheath without snapping. That fresh juicy bit at the bottom can now be nibbled on and enjoyed! Now you just need a straw hat, a haycart and some dungarees.
There are many different sorts of grass as you'll notice when looking at the seedheads, and many different tastes too. Some are sweet, some starchy like raw potato and some just rather tastless. You'll soon get to recognise the nice ones.
Step 9: Hawthorn
Common in hedgerows and as shrubs or small trees, hawthorn has edible leaves and berries (haws) but look out for the strong sharp spikes it has.
The leaves are better when new in spring, a bit tough with a slightly nutty flavour, quite like raw cabbage actually (which is nice!) but can be eaten all year round if you don't mind them somewhat older and tougher.
After the pretty white flowers come the red berries in autumn, which I think taste rather like an overripe floury apple. They have a large seed in the middle so eating them is scraping the fruit off the seed with your teeth really. The larger the berry the better they taste! Normal small ones aren't especially nice but if you find a bush with large round ones they can be delicious.
Keep clear of garden varieties with pink, red, double etc flowers because these tend to taste pretty nasty.
Step 10: Lime / Linden
Another large tree, this is one of my favourites.
Easy to recognise because the smooth leaves don't look similar to anything else except hazel, and hazel leaves are much coarser and hairier.
The leaves of this are really nice and also last for much longer than beech leaves, remaining good after they stiffen up a little well into early summer. Sometimes they get a kind of sticky film on the top, this gives them a sweet taste.
There are two types of lime, one with large leaves and one with smaller but they're both about the same for eating.
The odd flowers are also good, they're sweet and somehow juicy tasting without actually being juicy. I find them quite refreshing in a hairy kind of way.
I have read that when crushed up together with the fruits they make an interesting confection but am not sure how that works because a) the fruits and flowers aren't out at the same time and b) the fruits don't taste good at all.
Step 11: Ramsons
A localised one, this isn't common everywhere but where you do find it you find lots of it! It likes wooded places, especially if there's water nearby.
Ramsons are like a wild onion, all parts of the plant are edible and taste like strong chives or spring onions. Delicious with a nice hunk of cheese. It has spear shaped leaves and a round ball of white flowers on a taller stem like an onion.
The leaves look like Lily of the Valley so don't confuse the two - Lily of the Valley is poisonous! Crush them in your fingers and ramsons will have an oniony smell. See the last photo for more details.
You can also eat the flowers when they're out, very tasty but the 'centre' of the ball where the individual flowers come from is very strong. A few of these and you may have a hole through your tongue.
Step 12: Wood Sorrel
Wood sorrel is not related to sorrel, but does taste similar.
It's a pretty little plant that is usually found in woods (hence the name!). It grows low down on banks and among rocks, rather like moss and often amongst it. There are three heart-shaped leaves on each stem and small white flowers.
The leaves are a bright light green and often stand out from the background, making them easy to see.
Eat the leaves without the stringy stem, they have a nice lemony tang to them and are perfect to nibble on. Tricky to gather a large amount though because they are so small and spread apart.
Step 13: Enjoy!
Well that's some of the more common ones, maybe I'll add a few more as I think of them and get photos.
Enjoy! Hopefully you'll notice a few of these and try them next time you go out somewhere :)