Bath Asparagus, Ornithogalum pyrenaicum grows in scattered pockets along the hedgerows of country lanes near Bath. It also exists in more expansive colonies in certain woodlands thereabouts. Thought to have been a Roman import, the plant has flowers that give rise to it’s other name: The Spiked Star of Bethlehem. Though a protected species, the tasty young flower buds and stalks are often cut down in their prime by the dreaded hedge strimmers – this green roadkill then makes for a delicious meal! My favourite thing to do with this wild vegetable is to steam it for a few minutes, season then add a squeeze of lemon juice. For a breakfast to remember, serve it on sourdough bread with hollandaise sauce and poached duck eggs. This year, with the late season for St George’s mushrooms I might make a mushroom and asparagus risotto- the taste of Bath Asparagus is less strong than it’s cultivated cousin, so it won’t overpower the flavour of the mushrooms.
Bath Asparagus growing in woodland near Bath.
The young shoots and green flower buds of Common Hogweed Heracleum sphondylium are one of our best wild vegetables. They are fantastic in risottos, fried in coconut oil and eaten as a green or as tempura (see picture and recipe below) As well as this, being a cut and come again vegetable, you can enjoy harvesting from the same patch for weeks on end.
Some caution needs to be taken as the sap from the plant can cause phytophotodermititus; a burning of the skin, when exposed to sunlight. For this reason gloves should be worn when picking and the plant should not be eaten raw. Take care not to mistake Hogweed for its relative: Giant Hogweed, which has more serrated leaves and a purple, blotchy stem. Another, deadly member of the carrot family is Hemlock and eating just a small amount of this plant can be enough to kill you. You really need to be 100% certain you can identify plants in this family before consuming any of them. I’ll write more about the carrot family soon but for now I recommend going out with an experienced guide who can show you what to look for. There’s some excellent reference books out there, including Miles Irvin’s Forager’s Handbook with silhouette images of plants (good for pattern recognition) and useful descriptions of the characteristics of different species.
This is a lot of fun to make, utterly delicious and you will love some of the alien-like shapes which manifest. Like a lot of my favourite recipes, it works well with various ingredients; Nettle leaves, Wild Garlic seed heads, Ground Ivy leaves, Oxeye Daisy leaves and flowers… to name but a few.
- A few handfuls of Hogweed shoots/ green flower buds
- 150g plain flour
- 1 tbsp of cornflour
- 1 egg
- 100g sunflower oil
- 400ml of cold water
- Soy sauce
Sift flour, egg and salt into a bowl. Whisk in the water, but don’t over beat as you want the mixture to be light and fluffy. Coat the Hogweed shoots and flower heads then deep-fry in batches.