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Wales, United Kingdom
Documenting one couple's attempts to live a more self-sufficient life.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Rose bay willow herb for lunch

I've heard that the young shoots of rose bay willow herb can be eaten, and even make an acceptable substitute for asparagus. That sounded like a bold claim to me, but I tried eating some of the leaves when they first appeared, which I think was in January. They certainly didn't taste of asparagus. In fact, they tasted of nothing very much, so I didn't bother with them again.

Then looking at some of these plants that are putting on growth spurts all over my garden...

Willow herb, shooting up all over the place

... I wondered if, like asparagus, it's the stems that should be eaten. I gathered some plants, stripping off leaves and roots for the compost heap, until I had a reasonable quantity for a meal.

Willow herb stems, ready to cook

In retrospect, perhaps I didn't need quite so many, just to taste them. I steamed them for five minutes or so, as I would asparagus, and served with mayonnaise. The best thing that can be said about that meal is that home-made mayonnaise is very nice.

The root end was woody and the growing tip bitter. There was a palatable bit in the middle, but even that was surrounded by a thick, tough skin. I can't imagine why anyone would want to eat this stuff. I guess it wasn't the stems, then, that people are referring to when they say the shoots are edible.


  1. You are so brave with this foraging stuff, I am far too timid to give it a try. I'd be terrified that I'd poison myself or have some sort of deadly allergic reaction. Perhaps there's a difference between "edible" and "palatable?"

    1. Yes, there certainly is a difference! On a related note, I always wonder about descriptions of mushrooms, which are classified as 'edible', 'inedible', and 'poisonous'. What's the difference between those last two?

    2. Inedible, as in unpleasant---but not toxic. Edible, tasty and safe ;)

      The first thing I learned when I started to forage mushrooms was 'Everything is edible, some things only once' ;) Always be 110% certain of what you put in your mouth, you don't want it to be your last!

    3. Ah, thank you! So 'inedible' doesn't actually mean unsafe.

      As for 110%, 110% of what?
      Sorry - used to teach statistics.

    4. Always be absolutely certain of what you put in your mouth, you don't want it to be your last!

  2. After trying to eat it myself a few years ago I totally agree with how you described it. It's on my list of 'I could eat that if I was starving to death but would prefer not to' foods:) On a plus note it makes a superb fire lighter if dried.

    1. My list of 'could eat if starving' is getting longer and longer! Useful info about fire lighters, thanks :-) Though as I'm currently running out of space to dry bits of leylandii for the same purpose, I'm not sure I'll bother with them this year.

  3. Thank you for trying it for us. I won't bother then! This post did make me giggle.

  4. First of all, let me congratulate you for the decision to leave a mainstream way of life. I am looking for a place to do it :).
    The willowherb shoots are not the stems. You have to dig a little and you can harvest the root, which is edible also, and the young sprouts. They are tender and have a slightly sweet taste. This has to be at spring. And later on you can use flowers, both fresh and dry, for teas, cakes decoration, salad etc.
    Keep on going, good luck,

    1. Thanks for your comment :-)

      Ah, I'll have to try the root next year, then. Those bright pink roots certainly look quite appetizing. And the flowers for tea...? I wonder if they taste like hibiscus? I'll just have to try!

    2. Actually, I should probably point out that I don't just take someone's word for it that something is edible. Just because I know that one part of the plant is OK to eat, another part might still be poisonous. No offense, Magdalene, but I don't actually know you, so I don't know how reliable your information is. I will check with other sources too before eating anything.


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