Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium)
Caution: Hogweed is a member of the carrot family which contains several highly poisonous species. Direct contact with the raw plant can cause phototoxic effects, so always wear gloves and long sleeves when handling.
Hogweed is very widespread, growing in meadows, hedgerows and along the edges of fields. It has large pinnate leaves covered in hairs, with terminal leaflets that look similar to maple leaves. The flowering stems can grow up to 2 metres tall and the dried, dead remains often persist throughout winter. The seeds can be collected from the heads which make an interesting spice, although extreme care must be taken not to confuse it with other umbellifers.
Now is my favourite time of year to eat hogweed as the flowering buds are just emerging. Wearing gloves pluck the buds of the stems, always leaving a few on each plant. If picked when tightly closed they have a texture similar to cauliflower. Their flavour is slightly sweet and carroty. With cauliflower cheese in mind I came up with a simple recipe for hogweed buds with stilton sauce:
For the sauce:
- 2 tbsp flour
- 2 tbsp butter
- ½ pint of milk
- 50g stilton/ blue cheese
Melt the butter over a medium heat, stir in the flour to make a smooth paste. Gradually add the milk stirring continuously. Add the cheese once the sauce is the right consistency.
- 12 Hogweed buds:
Remember to wear gloves when handling them. Cut off the leaves from the buds and set aside. Steam the buds for 3-5 mins depending on size and desired texture. Finely chop the leaf and fry in lots of butter or oil until crispy. Serve the buds with the sauce poured over, topped with the crispy leaf.
The fried leaf is similar to the crispy ‘seaweed’ that is served in Chinese restaurants, so it is also nice served on its own with soy sauce and sesame seeds.