Coffee time


8th January 2013

There are still plenty of the old dead, skeletal remains of some of last years Apiacea around.  This the name for the Carrot family. They used to be known as Umbelliferae , as the flowers of most of this family grow in compound umbels i.e. a flattened, multi-stemmed cluster of flowers at the ends of the stems.

Dead Hogweed Heracleum sphondyllium stems

It is a massive family of plants containing over 3000 species world wide of which several have culinary uses and have been cultivated. Some of the ones which are used on a regular basis include; celery, parsley, fennel, dill, caraway, coriander, cumin, chervil, carrots, and parsnips.

In this country 70 ish species can be found growing in the wild of which just under half have edible uses.  However this family also includes two of our most toxic plants; Hemlock Conium maculatum and Hemlock Water Dropwort Oenanthe crocata.  For this reason it is a group of plants often neglected by the novice forager, perhaps sensibly, but providing you stick to the rule of not picking it without making 100% positive identification you will be missing out on some exciting wild food.

As you can see from the list of cultivated species, many members of this family contain aromatic oils giving rise to distinctive strong flavours and today’s plant Hogweed or Cow Parsnip Heracleum sphondylium is no exception.

At this time of year most of the dead Hogweed stems will have had their seeds blown or washed off by the winter winds and rain, but if you happen to find one tucked away in a sheltered spot you may be lucky and find a few large, flat, papery seeds clinging on the skeleton of the umbel.

Key tips to make sure it is Hogweed.

  • Up to 2m tall (Giant Hogweed Heracleum mantegazzianum, which you certainly don’t want to use, is upto 5m tall)
  • The stem should be hollow and ridged
  • The umbels (if intact) should be made up of less than 30 rays (stems) and less than 30cm across
  • The seeds are flat and heart shaped with 4 littles lines (oil tubes) which only extend down half the length of the seed.

These seeds taste incredibly similar to the spice cardamon, which is used extensively in Indian, Middle Eastern and Asian cuisine.  You can pretty much substitute them for cardamon in any recipe from curries to kulfi ice cream.

Like any new plant, always test your sensitivity by only using a small amount the first time you try it.  A good way to do this is to make yourself a spiced Middle Eastern style coffee. Simply make an espresso coffee in your normal way but add 1/2 teaspoon of crushed Hogweed seeds to the coffee grounds. Sweeten to taste.

Hogweed seeds

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