The UK’s Top 7 Hedgerow Herbs
Some of the most delicious ingredients are free, and just a country walk away – or even closer.
Here’s our pick of some of the most useful and widespread herbs hiding in hedgerows across Britain.
1. Wild garlic (Allium ursinum)
April – June
During these months, you’re likely to be knocked out by the pungent aroma of huge swathes of wild garlic, or ‘Ramsons’, carpeting woodlands and shaded hedgerows across the UK.
Their leaves taste like a milder version of conventional garlic, making them great for soups, stews, or wilted in butter and served alongside mashed potato. Alternatively, leave some rolled up leaves in a bottle of olive oil for a few weeks for a delicious garlic marinade. They also make an excellent pesto and taste great slapped straight onto a cheese sandwich on a woodland walk!
2. Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
June – October
Does anyone else remember grabbing and eating a handful of these aniseed-scented, thread-like leaves as a child on a hot summer’s day?
Well, it turns out this could have been quite dangerous: fennel is one of a number of plants that produce toxic, skin-blistering chemicals in strong sunlight. However, there’s nothing to stop you from eating the leaves and seeds when cooked – just make sure you gather them wearing gloves! The seeds are great in curries, and the leaves make a delicious addition to fish dishes.
3. Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)
March - May
The Romans have a lot to answer for – they’re the ones who introduced stinging nettles to the UK.
The bane of every country walk, (traditionally known as ‘Devil’s Leaf’ in Somerset,) they lose their sting when cooked, and the young shoots make a delicious addition to soup, herbal tea, and even haggis!
4. Borage (Borago officinalis)
May - September
These delicate blue flowers were traditionally used as a kind of herbal pep-pill, taken as a hangover cure and an aphrodisiac. According to 17th Century diarist John Evelyn, it will “revive the hypochondriac and cheer the hard student.”
Today, their light, fragrant flavour makes them an attractive addition to salads and summer drinks. Acclaimed edible flower grower Jan Billington features them in her ingenious recipe for Pimms jelly.
5. Corn mint (Mentha arvensis)
April – September
Bearing a superficial resemblance to peppermint, the scent of this versatile hedgerow herb is somewhat sharper and less ‘minty’ – but don’t be fooled by the smell.
It can be used exactly as if it were a garden mint, and is especially effective in savoury dishes like mint sauce or Indian-inspired mint chutney: Perfect for summer cooking!
6. Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale)
Their sheer abundance alone should be enough to qualify them for this list – but dandelions also make an excellent salad base. They can be served raw or cooked with a little butter like Spinach.
They’re very high in nutrients, to the extent that they were recommended to Brits during the Second World War to supplement rationing. Choose the young, tender leaves for extra delicacy.
7. Ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria)
June – August
This spinach-like member of the carrot family is still a common pot herb in Scandinavia. It was originally introduced to Britain by the Romans.
Elder often appears in large patches, it fell out of cultivation due to its tendency to completely take over its hosts’ gardens – a trait which caused 16th-century botanist John Gerard to bemoan: “where it hath once taken roote, it will hardly be gotten out again.” So don’t take any back to plant in your garden!
So - go forth and forage!
Remember to gather in moderation, give all your herbs a wash before use and, above all, make sure you’ve got the right plant!
If you're not sure, crushing and smelling the leaves will give you another clue to figuring out what species you're dealing with, or a good field identification guide will help you be absolutely sure.
Now, get out there and enjoy!
Growing your own herbs is one of many ways you can help to keep our wildlife thriving. Find out how else you can support the vital work we do and protect our wildlife.
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