Earlier in the year, when this plant was younger, I thought it might be Dog’s Mercury. But there was something different about it – the leaves came out more horizontally and were on short stalks. Now, in July, it’s bigger with its leaves in a circle on top of a stem about 50 cm high – like a green parasol. What’s more, it’s in flower.
I’ve never seen it before, but then I’m finding that with a lot of plants in south-east England. It grows in similar places to Dog’s Mercury; in the shade along paths in the woods. Like its much larger cousin, Indian Balsam (impatiens glandulifera), it is an old invader from Asia. Our native balsam is called ‘Touch-me-not’, a name which come from the fact that the seed pods explode when touched to propel the seeds away. It looks like there might have been some seed pods on this plant in the photo but disappointingly I neglected to touch them.
According to the PFAF the young shoots are edible if boiled with one change of water, however you have to be careful because they contain a large amount of calcium oxalate, a poison which causes sores, numbness and is the main component of kidney stones (hey, you could always inject Mallow). This poison is destroyed on cooking or drying though so, in a survival situation, bon appetit!