My first memorable encounter with ‘Hogweed’ (Heracleum sphondylium) was back in my days as a gardener, when I cut through some large specimens and got the sap on my face. Shortly after, I discovered that the sap contains toxins that burn the skin when exposed to sunlight. Needless to say, I was less than pleased with the collection of blisters that accompanied me to my friend’s wedding the next day. More recently, I discovered that the ‘weed’ is in fact edible if prepared correctly, and doesn’t taste too bad either. We’ll call it revenge.
What you’re looking for is the young shoots, as pictured above. Any larger than this, and the stems become tough and need peeling. When picking this plant, try not to touch the cut area of the stem -this plant contains toxic chemicals when raw, and needs a little cooking before it’s safe. It’s worth the wait though – the flavour is good, and you can enjoy the satisfaction of having tamed something wild.
I found a simple recipe over at Eatweeds that produced a tasty result. I can confirm that hogweed tastes great, and I’m still alive to tell the tale. Throw the stems in some salted boiling water and leave in for around a minute, then strain immediately.
Transfer to a frying pan. Add a good chunk of butter and fry the stems for a couple of minutes.
Add bouillon powder or chicken stock (or just water and a pinch of salt if you’re feeling like a purist) and simmer until the water has mostly evaporated.
Once cooked in this way, the stems are safe to eat. I added mine to some cooked pearl barley with salt and Parmesan, but you can use the cooked hogweed in whatever way you see fit. Add the young shoots to a stew, blend into soup – anything, just as long as it involves cooking for a good ten minutes. The flavour is good. I can’t compare to anything I’ve eaten before, so you’ll have to try it yourself to satisfy that curiosity.
If you’re feeling brave and want to give this a go, be sure to let me know how it went. What did you think of the flavour? Did it remind you of anything? Happy foraging!