For the past six years the BSBI (Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland have encouraged people to go out at the start of the New Year and spend an hour hunting for all the wild flowers they can find. As a forager I like to go out and see what there is to forage. Here is an account of how the walk went.
We set off down Colchester Road from the mushroom farm. Most of our route, although along tarmac roads, actually followed ancient drove ways which have been in use since the bronze age. Along the first section the verges are closely managed in front of the various houses. The very short grass had the usual lawn weeds, dandelion, daisy, yarrow but also chickweed, common sorrel, smooth sow thistle and tormentil. Across the road from the houses where the verge is less heavily managed was the first mushroom, Agaricus depauperatus. This is a relative of the field mushroom, growing amongst the grass and leaf litter. A little further was a ring of Butter Caps, a very variable species, one of the tough shanks. You can see some of the variation in the photo. These are not the most exciting mushrooms to eat and confusing to try and identify but by early winter most of the look alikes have stopped growing.
At the cross roads we went onto Carrington’s Road. There are fewer houses here so the verges and hedges are a bit wilder. There were nettle shoots, young dock leaves and wild chervil shoots amongst the grass. Some of last years hogweed still standing with ripe seeds and in the hedge some ripe rose hips on the dog roses.
A short way along Carrington’s Road we turned onto Back Lane. This is another heavily managed stretch of lane where the householders tend both sides of the road in front of their properties. The gappy hedge had some gorse in flower. The coconut scented flowers can be added to salads of infused into honey for flavouring dessert and drinks.
We turned off Back Lane onto a wide footpath. You can clearly see the structure of the old drove ways on this path. The way is 6 or 7 metres wide with with a shallow ditch either side and then hedges of mostly oak pollards and coppiced holly on a low bank. This has created a long strip of undisturbed woodland that can be good for fungi. We were hoping for some wood blewits which can be prolific along this path but not this year. There were a few scattered fungi, mostly crusts on dead branches but there was a solitary Tawny Funnel which usually grows in large rings.
We left the footpath and turned onto Waterhouse Lane. This is lined by tall hawthorn hedges with oak trees that shade the lane. There is a vigorous colony of wild chervil along here as well as stinging nettles, dead-nettles, cleavers and ground ivy. This is where we came upon the first good patch of haws. It has been a very good year for haws, better than most of the other hedgerows fruits which had very short seasons.
It was along here that we found a good edible mushroom, a Shaggy Inkcap. It has been a good year for these. They have been coming up on and of since September. Shaggy Inkcaps must be cooked soon after picking before they deliquesce into black ink. They have a subtle but delicious flavour so best cooked simply in butter and enjoyed on their own.
From Waterhouse Lane we crossed over to Park Road. This is more open with a hedge only on the west side of it. Yarrow and the only young Hogweed shoot grew under the protection of the hedge, in the sun. Further on is more wooded either side and we came upon a small clump of Velvet Shank flaming in the hedge. A proper winter mushroom and a good edible too, with a crunchy texture and fruity apricot taste.
We once again joined Colchester Road and headed back towards the mushroom farm. Through a gap in the hedge (more vigorous management) we spotted some mushrooms on a willow across a pond. Turning down the footpath beside the pond to investigate we came across this old poplar trunk covered in oyster mushrooms.
When this tree came down a few years ago it was covered in Velvet Shank for a couple of seasons. Now there was no Velvet Shank but several kilos of oyster mushrooms. This tree is across open fields to the north of the mushroom farm. The prevailing wind is from the south so we suspect this has grown from spores from our own oyster mushrooms, it’s rewilded itself. In addition to the oyster mushrooms was a small clump of Poplar Fieldcap. This has arrived here without any help from us. This is a very popular mushroom in Italy where it is known as Piopino. It has a sweet nutty flavour and firm nutty texture when young.
All in all quite a fruitful walk. Here is the complete list of what we found to eat. By the way there were only 10 plants in flower.
New Year Edible Plant List – 35 species
Dandelion roots, leaves, flowers
Smooth Sow Thistle leaves
Bristly Oxtongue leaves
Spear Thistle root, leaves
Hogweed shoots, seeds
Wild Chervil shoots, leaves
Alexanders shoots, leaves
Fool’s Watercress shoots, leaves
Common Sorrel leaves
Curled Dock leaves
Ribwort Plantain leaves
Buck’shorn Plantain leaves
Common Chickweed leaves
Greater Stitchwort shoots, buds
Willow herb leaves
Wood Sage leaves
White Dead-nettle leaves, flowers
Red Dead-nettle leaves
Ground Ivy leaves
Common Hemp-nettle leaves, flowers
Cleavers shoots, leaves
Common Mallow leaves
Hedgerow Crane’sbill leaves
Herb Robert leaves
Stinging Nettles shoots, leaves
Bramble leaves, fruit
Dog Rose hips
New Year Edible Mushroom List – 10 species
Blushing Wood Mushroom Agaricus sylvaticus
Shaggy Inkcap Coprinus comatus
Butter Cap Collybia butyracea
Velvet Shank Flammulina velutipes
Tawny Funnel Lepista flaccida
Poplar Fieldcap Agrocybe aegerita
Oyster Mushroom Pleurotus pulmonarius
Wood Ear Auricularia auricula-judae
Many-zoned Polypore Coriolus versicolor
New Year Plant Hunt 2017 Flowering Plants (not all edible)
Dandelion Taraxacum agg
Groundsel Senecio vulgaris
White Dead-nettle Lamium album
Common Hemp-nettle Galeopsis tetrahit
Ivy Hedera helix
Common Chickweed Stellaria media
Greater Stitchwort Stellaria holistea
Gorse Ulex europea
Petty Spurge Euphorbia peplus
Germander Speedwell Veronica chamaedrys