Today’s columnist, Claire Hanley-Öpik: Nature’s bounty is delicious and free

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I love foraging. Partially because of blackberry crumble, but mostly as a frugal opportunist who hates waste.

I can’t help myself. I started as a child picking berries, but grew to include anything I could make alcohol with (sloes, crab apples, plums). The thing about looking for fruit trees is that you soon want to find more. This means you walk craning your neck, checking branches for telltale spikes indicating sharp sloes to come, or blossom that may mean hidden fruit later on.

So for half the year it’s easy to get in your recommended exercise quotient, as you peek through hedgerows and wander round parks. You can’t help but notice the nature on your doorstep as you become familiar with the foliage around you. The problem for foragers is that most fruit comes into season around the same time of year – late summer. What are you supposed to do for the rest of the year? Well this is the best time to go and find some of the early greens for soup and salads, like young nettle tips or my favourite, wild garlic.

Walk along any wooded river bank, and you may start to notice a pungent smell emanating from underfoot. Looking down, you might see clusters of long green leaves with a pompom of white flowers delicately balanced on a single stem. Early in the season, there might not be any flowers to help identify the plant (also known as ransoms), and the leaves could be confused for those of the bluebell, but crush a piece of leaf between your fingers and you will be left in no doubt.

The taste is mild, leaves and flowers can both be eaten raw in a salad. My favourite way to use this spring bounty is in a pesto. Simply take a handful of wild garlic leaves, a pinch of rock salt, a handful each of walnuts and parmesan, then crush (or blend) into a paste and add enough olive oil to loosen the mixture.

It obviously goes well with pasta, but try mixing it with mayonnaise.

Please forage responsibly – take only a small amount, leave plenty for the wildlife that depends on it and never eat something you are not certain of.

* Claire Hanley-Öpik, Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust