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common hogweed

Heracleum sphondylium

Heracleum sphondylium, common hogweed, is a wild food plant that has something different to offer each season: in early spring, the young leaf shoots are a delicate vegetable, then the flower stalks taste like crunchy celery, the flower buds can be used like broccoli (though the flavour is more parsnip than cabbage), the open flower umbels can be dipped in batter for fritters and the roots can be dug up and eaten (with landowners permission, of course) year round.

In winter, even in snow, some of the flat, papery, aromatic seeds still cling to the desiccated flower stalks and their cardamom-y, burnt orange perfume lends itself to flavouring spiced warming winter dishes.

I find their aroma quite strong, and best like using them balanced by other wild or imported spices to flavour foods and drinks. Steep them in rum, gin, cocoa, Glühwein, or chai for instance, or grind them for use in curries or stews and gingerbreads, biscuits, and buns.

Do take care with the identification, because other members of the Apiaceae, the carrot family, have similar looking flower stalks, and while we enjoy the aromatic seeds of many of them (such as carrot, celery, coriander, cumin, and caraway, for instance) others (like hemlock) are lethally toxic.

Have a look for them in meadows and roadsides on your winter walks and give one a sniff and a nibble to see if it’s a scent that suits your palate.

If you enjoy the flavour, try using them in recipes as a substitute for cardamom or mixed spices.  If you are looking for inspiration, I have some hogweed seed recipes (such as the Wild Winter Spice Cake) in the Cooking Book section.

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