15 September 2020
By Laura von Nordheim

What does nature have in store for you this month?

Foraging for wild food is a great incentive to get outdoors, soak up the sun, get to know your local flora and tap into all the goodness that nature has to offer. May is abundant with wild herbs such as sorrel, dandelion, hawthorn, lambs’ tongue, mustard garlic, wild garlic, and ground elder.

How to identify wild herbs.

Get yourself a guide on wild herbs either in print or online. Wild herbs are relatively easy to identify when you learn to take leaves, flowers, roots and surrounding area as well as time of year into account. Familiarise yourself with look-alikes to ensure you are picking what you were looking for. The woodland trust has an excellent month-by-month foraging guide and you can make a donation to help UK’s largest woodland conservation charity.

How to use wild herbs.

Only pick what you need! Wash wild herbs thoroughly and use raw in salads. Some herbs like wild garlic or ground elder can be cooked like spinach, encased in puff pastry to make a delicious borek, or added to curries and soups. Wild herbs make beautiful garnishes on any dish.

How to preserve wild herbs.

To preserve wild herbs, store in oil, freeze or dry. For freezing, chop finely, mix with a little bit of oil and pop in the freezer in small portions to use in your cooking all year around. An ice-cube tray is perfect for freezing small herb portions. Drying herbs loses much of their flavor, but you might want to experiment with hanging small bunches over a radiator and drying them out completely before storing in pretty glass jars. Alternatively, preserve in jars as deliciously healthy wild herb pesto and use with pasta, spread on bread, dip with veggies or add to stews and soup.

How to make wild herb pesto.

Wash wild herbs like sorrel, dandelion, hawthorn, lamb‘s tongue, mustard garlic, wild garlic and ground elder thoroughly. Use a blender to blend nuts such as walnuts, almonds, cashews, pine nuts and seeds like pumpkin, sesame, sunflower seeds. Add wild herbs and a good quality olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, chilli. Wild herbs such as dandelion and lamb’s tongue can be bitter, so experiment with adding honey. The Sheffield Honey company offers local honey.

If you do not have access to an electrical blender, use a knife to chop nuts, seeds and herbs finely, mix with oil and season to taste.

A plate of spaghetti with wild garlic pesto and salad leaves

Take these easy steps to avoid your lovely pesto from spoiling.

Before filling your pesto into jars, make sure your jars are 100% clean. Clean thoroughly with hot water and soap, do not dry. Sterilise open jars and lids in an oven for 15 mins at 160-180°C.

When filling your jars, leave an inch space at the top to fill up with olive oil, covering the top layer of pesto. Wipe smears away with a clean paper towel. Avoid air bubbles in the pesto by gentle knocking the jar on a table covered with a tablecloth.

How are wild herbs so healthy?

Wild herbs contain high amounts of amazingly healthy vitamins, minerals and nutrients, because they live in an intact ecosystem filled with other plants, trees and animals. Wild herbs get to soak up nutrients from healthy soil instead of being raised in large greenhouses or mono cultures that require fertiliser to cope with depleted soil. In contrast to store-bought herbs, vegetables and fruit loose much of their nutrients due to early picking, time-consuming transport, and long storage in warehouses and supermarket shelves, wild herbs are freshly picked, and retain micro- and macro-nutrients.

Good for you, good for the planet.

Foraged foods require no packaging and no transport. Did you notice? Our wild herb pesto is vegan! Plant-based diets help to improve soil, animal welfare and human health.

Roszak et al (1995) wrote an excellent book on the importance of (re-) connecting to nature, as a mutual healing process between the planet and its people. Use this month to connect to nature and the hunter-gatherer that lives in all of us. Don’t be greedy. Pick in areas that are abundant and be mindful to share with other animals and foragers. ‘Take some, leave some’.

How to find wild herbs.

In Sheffield, Rivelin Valley near Walkley and Porter Brook near Endcliffe Park are great foraging spots. You will find sorrel, dandelion and lamb’s tongue in the meadows and fields. Ground elder and wild garlic prefer shade and proximity to a stream. Mustard garlic likes to grow near paths, with some shade and some sun. Hawthorn can easily be foraged in a park, as the bushy tree allows you to pick leaves higher up than a dog can pee.

Who am I?

Laura von Nordheim is a PhD researcher at UoS. As part of her research, Laura designs healthy food advertising to investigate the effects of healthy food cues on children’s eating behavior. Before her PhD, Laura worked as a cooking instructor and vegan chef in London and taught healthy eating workshops at nurseries, schools and colleges.

A photo of the author wearing a mustard coloured scarf and smiling, holding a pomegranite in two halves by a colourful fruit stall

You can find out more via:

Laura von Nordheim

BSc Psychology
MSc Health Psychology
PhD Developmental Psychology (IP)