Gather Magazine

Edible plants to forage in spring

Foraging is a simple way to connect to the outdoors and bring bowls full of green, earthy flavour and fresh days ahead to spring tables.

With the end of winter in sight, small signs of spring and new life are emerging. Wintry hedgerows are bespeckled with green and some of our favourite wild edibles are beginning to reappear. While foraging is possible year-round in the UK, early spring brings some of the most popular finds. Nettles, wild garlic and dandelions become part of the seasonal menu. Foraging is the act of searching for and collecting food from the wild and is being practised more widely every year. However, it’s an age-old practice. It’s how our ancestors found their food and sustained their lives for millennia.

Why forage?

One of the greatest things about foraging is that it forces you to slow down and connect with your local environment. Heading outdoors in search of wild edibles makes you more aware of your surroundings. Scanning the environment in search of food is an immersive experience and can ground you into the present moment. Through the act of observation you’re practising mindfulness. You can accentuate this connectedness by taking the time to not only look for, but also feel and smell the plants. Foraging is in many ways a full body experience as you tap into your deepest instincts.

It’s also an excellent way to connect with others in perhaps the most natural way possible, not only while you search for food, but also while you cook and feast upon your findings. It’s good for the countryside too, with sustainable foraging seen as the equivalent of pruning your garden. By taking new leaves and only what you need, you can encourage new growth.

Top tips for foraging

It’s important to manage expectations with foraging and not set out in search of a whole meal. Instead, search for plants that you can combine with other ingredients. It helps to do some research beforehand, so you know what you’re looking for and whether it’s in season.

You can forage in the UK throughout the year, but different species appear at different times. Once you’ve decided on what to forage, it’s time to head outside and see if you can find it. Local woodlands and waterways are a good place to start, but you can also forage in local parks and even your back garden – check to see what kind, if any, chemicals have been used on the area first. You’ll be surprised by what you can find, even in the most urbanised areas.

Remember to forage sustainably and that local ecosystems are also dependent on the plants you’re picking. Only take what you need, from plants which are plentiful.

What can you find in the UK in early spring?

Grassy banks, woodland, hedges and heathland have an abundance of pickings throughout March and April. Our favourites include nettles, wild garlic and dandelions

Wild garlic

Passing through British woodland in the spring is synonymous with the scent of wild garlic. This moisture-loving flowering plant is an easy find, often close to water. Recognisable by small white flower petals and broad green leaves, be careful not to confuse it with Lily of the Valley. The best way to check is to rub a leaf between your thumb and forefinger and see if a garlicky smell

is released. Wild garlic is known to have antibacterial properties, reduces blood pressure and improves cardiovascular health. It also aids digestion and is high in vitamin C, A, iron, copper and more. Cook with the leaves and use the flowers to garnish salads.


This common flowering plant is simple to identify and found almost everywhere – even in urban areas. It’s easiest to find on lawns, roadsides and shores of waterways. First appearing in early spring, all parts of the plant are edible and can be eaten both raw and cooked. As can the bright yellow flowers, which arrive later in the season. Dandelion is known for being slightly bitter in taste, but is less so when cooked. It can be quite delicious when paired with the right flavours and is well-known for its health properties. Long associated with herbal medicine, it helps to stimulate digestion and has a positive effect on liver function.


One of the easiest wild edibles to identify, stinging nettles are at their best in early spring. Come equipped with a pair of thick gloves and a bag for collecting to avoid their sting. Unbeknown to many, nettles are a superfood. They have higher nutritional values than spinach and almost as much protein as pulses. They’re also high in iron and calcium, making them the perfect addition to a vegan diet. Be sure to pick new, paler leaves from the top of the plant and avoid picking them when they’re in flower. Handle with care until they’re cooked, when the sting will be neutralised.

Foraging safety

The number one rule of foraging is: do not eat anything unless you are 100% sure what it is. The UK is home to some potentially fatal plants, including Hemlock Water Dropwort, so it’s worth familiarising yourself with dangerous plants too. Here are our top tips for safe foraging:

  • Only eat something if you are absolutely certain what it is
  • Forage one leaf at a time, so you know what you are picking
  • Double check your findings when you get home
  • Cross-reference between two sources of information when identifying plants. For example, two different books or websites
  • If you’re not sure, find a botanist online and share pictures to ask for a second opinion

Wild and wonderful: two spring foraging recipes

The joy of foraging doesn’t end with the foraging itself. The next step is to cook up some delicious locally foraged recipes. Best enjoyed when shared with others, here are two of our favourites

Nettle soup with wild garlic

A fresh, light soup, full of green and earthiness, perfect at the start of spring. Wear gloves or plastic bags on your hands when handling the nettles as they will sting until they’re cooked.

Time: 50 minutes
Makes: 4 servings

1 tbsp olive oil
25g butter
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, diced
1 leek, sliced
1 potato, peeled and diced
1L stock
300g washed nettle leaves
200g wild garlic leaves
50ml double cream

  1. Heat the oil and butter in a saucepan. Add the carrot, potato, onion and leek. Season, cover and sweat gently for 15 minutes, occasionally stirring.
  2. Add the stock and simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Add the nettles while stirring, then add the wild garlic leaves. Simmer for 2 minutes.
  4. Remove from the heat and blend until silky.
  5. Season and add double cream.

Dandelion and garlic pesto

The addition of lemon balances out the bitterness of dandelion greens in this delicious dandelion pesto.

Time: 10 minutes
Makes: 1 cup

120ml olive oil
70g pine nuts
200g dandelion leaves, chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp lemon zest
3 gloves garlic, minced
1 tsp turmeric, ground
25g parmesan

  1. Blend all ingredients except for the parmesan in a food processor. If it’s too thick, add a little more olive oil.
  2. Add the parmesan and blend until smooth.

Keep in the fridge and eat within three days.