How about this for a familiar roadside / streamside / pathside / everyside sight at the moment:

Cow Parsley, it’s everywhere!  Like a big sign in white spray-paint all along the hedgerows saying ‘English summertime’.  This particular profusion is near Leatherhead, Surrey not far from the beautiful wooded hilltop that is Norbury Park.

Cow Parsley, or Wild Chervil as it’s also known, is an edible herb.  But it’s not as simple as this.  You see, that head of dozens of tiny flowers means this plant is an umbellifer (that’s its family’s name) and there are a lot of umbellifers which look a lot like each other.  The most worrying are Fool’s Parsley, which is poisonous, and Hemlock, which is deadly. 

These two have leaves which look like Cow Parsley’s.  In his book ‘The Forager Handbook’, Miles Irving has detailed all the differences very precisely in a table.  Fool’s Parsley is easy, underneath the flowers, it has really long green bracts that droop downwards.  We once had some growing in the garden and I was surprised how long and obvious the bracts actually are.  Cow Parsley doesn’t have any such thing.

Although the stem of Cow Parsley can have vaguely purple joints or can be quite darkly coloured, it never has purple blotches like the deadly Hemlock.  The leaves of Hemlock also look a lot more complicated, perhaps being more one extra time more pinnate (divided with leaflets either side) than Cow Parsley which is 3 times pinnate.  One of the nicest ways to identify Cow Parsley, I’ve just read, is by the U-shaped groove down the leaf stalk.  At the end of the day, a plant should only be eaten if you have positively identified it, or in other words: KNOW YOUR STUFF, NEVER BLUFF.

Identification complete, we gathered a load of leaves this afternoon and transported them home in my shorts pocket.  They’re supposed to go well in salads or chopped and sprinkled over cold potatoes as their flavour is only very mildly like parsley.  We were having rice though so I chopped them up and stirred them in just before covering and steaming.

Mmmm… Cow Parsley rice:

I’m afraid it made no difference to the flavour whatsoever, the rice tasted just like… …rice.  Maybe I should try it in a salad – or on cold potatoes.  I’ll just have to convince myself we must have eaten some extra micronutrients and have learned to eat another food source for free.

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