Foraging in Portugal in Spring for Edible Wild Plants
Common Mallow is aptly named
The Common Mallow (Malva sylvestris) is very aptly named because it is such a widely distributed plant and grows as a weed on waste ground, roadsides and on arable land too. The Common Mallow has pretty mauve-pink flowers and crinkly leaves that are very soft to the touch.
You can eat the flowers, leaves and seeds. The leaves are very glutinous but can be cooked like spinach, deep fried or added to soups. The seeds are like minute nuts and have a nutty flavour. They are known as "Mallow cheeses."
Springtime foraging in Portugal
Portugal is a real feast for the eyes in springtime because of the amazing diversity of wild flowers that come into bloom then, not forgetting the trees and shrubs.
Because of its many varied habitats the country supports a very varied flora and this makes it a wonderful place for foraging for edible plants. It is very easy to find many plants you can eat in Portugal.
Black Mustard illustration
Black Mustard tastes spicy
The Black Mustard (Brassica nigra) is another very common plant that often grows as a weed in waste ground, along roads, and anywhere its seeds have fallen. It can reach several metres in height in very good conditions but is usually a lot shorter. It is easy to spot because of its bright yellow flowers. Try tasting these and you will quickly know if you have got the right plant because of the distinctive spicy flavour, a bit like cabbage and hot like mustard.
The leaves and shoots of the Black Mustard can be cooked as greens, added raw to salads, and the flowers too are edible. The seeds are harvested to make mustard.
Fat-hen or Goosefoot
The Goosefoot or Fat-hen
Fat-hen or Goosefoot (Chenopodium album) is another common weed in Portugal that likes to grow in towns and cities and on farms and cultivated ground. It is commonly seen in waste places and even growing through cracks in the concrete of roadsides.
Fat-hen is an excellent that can be eaten raw but is best cooked like spinach as greens. It is said to contain more iron and protein than cabbage or spinach, and is a source of Vitamin B1 and Calcium. free wild food
Sea Beet or Wild Spinach
The Sea Beet (Beta vulgaris) is an ancestor of the cultivated beetroots we are all familiar with and sometimes it has the reddish-purple showing in its stems and leaf-stalks. It is also known as Wild Spinach and the leaves cooked as greens are as good as if not better than cultivated spinach or what we can buy at the greengrocer's.
The Sea Beet will actually grow on beaches amongst the pebbles and rocks at the tops of beaches but also does well on cliffs, on waste ground and roadsides. It can be found inland as well as by the sea.
Sea Beet grows from a rosette that produces sprawling flowering stems with small greenish flowers. It can be found all year around and the leaves are quite glossy but vary in size.
The Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) and the Roman Nettle (U. pilulifera) can both sting you but, surprisingly, are good to eat because their stinging ability vanishes when the leaves are cooked. Best-selling author Richard Mabey tells us in his foraging classic Food For Free that Nettles "have high levels of Vitamins A and C". They also contain a high proportion of protein and plenty of iron.
Pick young leaves and shoots with care and cook the like spinach.
Nettle leaves can also be used to make herbal tea.
Wild Lettuce illustration
The Wild Lettuce (Lactuca virosa) is a tall plant and doesn't look much like the lettuces we eat as salad but it does contain the same white milky sap or latex and produces small yellow flowers.
Wild Lettuce is more of a herb than an edible plant because its leaves are generally considered too bitter and chewy, though they can be added to salads. Its white sap has sedative and tranquilising properties and has even been used as substitute for opium. The latex prepared this way is known as "Lettuce Opium."
Wild Lettuce grows in waste places and along roads. It can reach reach over two metres in height.
Milk Thistle in Portugal
Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) is sometimes confused with Wild Lettuce because both plants have milky sap and prickly leaves, though the Milk Thistle is has much better protection with longer spines. Milk Thistle gets its name because of the whitish marbling on its leaves.
It is an edible plant, if care is taken to avoid the spines. The leaves and young shoots can be eaten and the seeds can be brewed as a herbal tea.
Milk Thistle is mainly thought of as medicinal herb, though, because it is very good for the liver. Milk Thistle can be bought at health stores in the form of capsules, tablets and tinctures.
Milk Thistle has attractive purplish flowers and is a tall plant. It grows in profusion in waste places and along roadsides.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)is a common wild plant found in Portugal and many other European countries, as well as the UK. It likes sandy soils and will grow by the sea or inland. It is often found on waste ground, along roads and paths and on banks.
Fennel is a culinary and medicinal herb. Its feathery foliage has a distinctive anise-seed aroma and flavour and is good made into sauces to be served with oily fish, or it can be chopped raw into salads.
Fennel seed is used to make herbal teas and is so popular in some countries, like Spain, where it is known as "Hinojo", that you will find Fennel tea-bags on sale at grocery stores.
Fennel is good for the digestion and as a remedy for flatulence.
Fennel forms large clumps and produces tall flowering stalks that reach two metres or more and that bear umbels of yellowish flowers.
Fennel is one of the food-plants for the caterpillars of the Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio machaon).