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!

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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 :)

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    18 Discussions


    4 years ago

    I'd stay away from elder. The alcaloid that makes the wood and leaves poisonos is also present in the fruits, and some people are more sensitive to it than others. Even a light allergic reaction in the wild can be dangerous.

    Besides the leaves of wood sorrel, look for red clover. Its seed pods - which it produces all the time, except in winter - are tiny, but very nourishing. And you can also eat the leaves.

    If in wetland or on the shore of a lake or pond, or slow flowing river, look for cattail growing close to the shore. Reach as deep into the water, grab the roots, and pull them out. Remove the outer, foamy leaves from the base of the stem. Cut off the root and the stem where it begins to be foamy throughout. The inner, juicy part of the stem can be cooked like asparagus.

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago

    Hmm ok thanks I'll add a warning to elder soon (got a couple of things I've been meaning to add anyway).

    I did know about cattail (known in the UK as bulrush) but didn't include it here because the intention of the instructable was more for stuff you can just pick and nibble on while walking along somewhere, nothing that needs cooking or preparing in any way..


    9 years ago on Introduction

    You can't forget sour grass. Here at least, on the west coast, me and my friends always used to love to come upon a patch of the yellow flowers.

    2 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Didn't know what sour grass was so looked it up... it's wood sorrel! Some types have yellow flowers, but I've only ever seen it with white which is much more common here in England. Can't remember why I didn't add normal sorrel though. Will do when I get some photos of it ;)

    animal loverSparrowhawk

    Reply 5 years ago

    Yellow wood sorrel used to grow in my fromt yard... not anymore, though. I live in southern California and its so hot here that I guess they all died.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Miners lettuce, Redbud, Clover flowers, mint, and chickweed are all edible, although I might have gotten their names wrong.

    3 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Never heard of Miners lettuce or Redbud before, on looking them up it seems they're common in America but not here...

    Mint I didn't include because it's not very common (but maybe I will after all) and chickweed because I've never found and tried it!

    Clover's interesting... I'll have to hunt some up and try it :)


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    What country are you in? I am on the North Coast of California, and all the plants I listed above grow wild in my yard.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Excellent instructable! Many of those are found here in the states too, and I found this pretty helpful! -Cory


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I was always told not to eat Ground Elder once it flowered, as it would become a potent laxative.
    It gets too bitter for my taste weeks before it flowers though, so I doubt anyone would want to eat it then anyways.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    How could you miss out wild strawberries!  Such an intense flavour in such a small berry which puts any of the cultivated varieties to shame.

    Ramsons brings back memories of my wedding-day to me.  On leaving the reception we found that our 'friends' had filled the car with wild garlic.

    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I've just realised - I've got everything you mention here apart from the linden and bilberries (but including wild strawberries) in the garden.  Enough hemlock to take out a small village too.  It is quite a wild garden in places.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Loads of good info here! I never knew you could nibble ground elder.

    Perhaps a warning/disclaimer in the first step would be useful. While your photos are clear and well referenced when not yours, it would be good to recommend people look up other pictures before trying some things so they don't get mixed up with less edible plants!

    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I used plants that can't really be confused with anything poisonous (except ramsons, sometimes) but yes perhaps I'll put a general disclaimer about eating things...

    I didn't put cow parsley for example because I don't have any decent photos and that can easily be confused with hemlock and other stuff.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Nice instructable!!

    In Germany all of these can be found, too.

    Jayefuu is right, especialy  the leaves of Lily-of-the-Valley are easily mistaken for ramsons....and they grow in the same places, extremely poisonous!! So check carefully before you eat them!


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Wood Sorrel

    Here in the states, we have this as well. But I've never seen it with a white flower. Ours have yellow flowers. Same great taste. In my back yard it grows in abundance.

    Also, if you can find it, check some books by Euell Gibbons. Here's a start: