In ditches and damp meadowland:
In midsummer as the blossom on the elder fades, meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria raises a blousy cream head. Growing in abundance on the banks of streams and ditches, its honey scent fills the evening air, perhaps being part of reason the Druids considered it to be a sacred herb. In medieval times it was used as a strewing herb.
Meadowsweet is sometimes referred to as Queen of the Meadow and was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I. Country folk suggest that its scent will aid a headache and indeed salicylic acid was isolated from meadowsweet to make aspirin. The red stems of meadowsweet are brittle and the underside of of its three pronged leaves downy. Use the blossom as you would elderflowers. I infuse the heads when cooking summer berries in preserves or puddings.
In the hills:
Pigeons and deer graze on blaeberries Vaccinium myrtillus so unsurprisingly these tiny blue fruits compliment game in the kitchen. The small berries are fiendishly difficult to pick as often there is only one berry on each plant. However, as my children know, once you get your foraging eye in you will see the wee berries everywhere.
Children are particularly good at finding these Lilliputian blaeberries but watch out for rabbit holes hidden in the heather. On August 1st the Gaelic festival of Lughudasadh used the blaeberry harvest to gauge the potential of later crops.
If you return from picking blaeberries with reddened hands, I’d say that you have done well. Gathering them is a labour of love but thoughtful foragers don’t pick for the neighbourhood. Use blaeberries in any recipe that asks for blueberries.
On the seashore:
By the end of July marsh samphire is becoming woody but look out for sea aster Aster tripolium, a small purple flowering plant that is often growing nearby. Its thick leaves enable it to survive in salty conditions.
Although sea aster was once considered a poverty food, its leaves are now sought after by chefs and cooks. The leaves can be wilted in butter, steamed as a vegetable, added to salads or used in pesto.
Make friends with the tides and you can pick your own seaweed, which is all the rage in trendy kitchens. Dulse Palmaria palmata, a common ruby- red seaweed grows at the low water mark; you’ll find it on rocks or growing on other seaweeds. Historically dulse was eaten raw by coastal folk but it is now one of the ingredients included in the BBC Food Programme’s Ark of Taste (a global list of endangered ingredients).
Seaweed has a holdfast (think roots) which does as the name suggests; it is important not to cut this when you pick it. Fresh dulse turns green when cooked and dries to a magnificent purple-maroon; sprinkle dried and finely ground dulse as you would a herb or spice. Fresh dulse pairs well with potatoes and will cook in much the same time.
In the Hedgerows:
The petals of the fragile wild white rose described by the poet Hugh MacDiarmid, scatter in a light wind and for this reason I’m happy to pick a few handfuls. Spread your petal gathering over the hedgerows, a little here and there, leaving plenty for the birds and bees.
Wild rose petals can be dried or frozen or infused in cordials, vodka or gin. If you open a small bag of frozen Rosa rugosa petals at Christmastime, summer scented memories will fill your kitchen. Fresh or frozen Rosa rugosa petals will ensure a scented Barbie pink syrup to swirl on winter porridge or mix in a summer cocktail.