This hedgerow umbellifer is one of nature's best-kept gourmet secrets. Showcase it with this lightning-quick recipe, which is perfect for an impromptu foraged brunch.
Wild food can offer many culinary surprises but taking the crown must be common hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium): one of nature's best-kept gourmet secrets. This very common hedgerow umbellifer gets its name from the unalluring scent of its flower heads, which are thought to smell "farmyardy", or of pigs. It's also not the most attractive plant you'll ever see, with its rather inelegant leaves, but from spring until midsummer, it sends up furled, downy shoots, which many foragers will tell you are among the most delicious vegetables they have ever tasted.
Restaurants have begun to introduce common hogweed onto their menus, rebranded as "asparagus parsley", which is no huge surprise. The shoots have a flavour all of their own but are a little like the lovechild of asparagus and spinach, except with a creamier texture and deeper, richer flavour. They are a divine treat simply fried up in butter and served as a superlative side vegetable. If you have a guest or two you are trying to impress the wonders of wild food on, however, give these tarts a try. They take just a few minutes to put together and are done in the oven in around 20-25min, making them a huge win on the taste to effort ratio.
It's always advisable to be 100% sure on your ID when foraging but this is especially the case for umbellifers, as there are deadly poisonous members of the Apiaceae family (the carrots and celeries). Common hogweed's leaf shape makes it straightforward to distinguish — you can find out more in our foraging guide. The main hazard lies in in the possibility of confusing it for giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) early in the season, and these two plants have been known to hybridise. To ensure you have found common hogweed, make sure white hairs are present on the upper side of the leaf.
Giant hogweed contains photosensitising furanocoumarins in its sap, which can cause severe skin blisters when exposed to UV. Common hogweed contains lower levels of the same chemicals, so its advisable to use gloves when foraging for this plant, especially in warmer weather. For this reason, common hogweed should always be thoroughly cooked before eating. People with a known allergy to celery should also avoid eating common hogweed, or at the very least perform an allergy test, as it is in the same family and can cause a reaction.
Ingredients (makes four individual tarts):
80g freshly-picked, small common hogweed shoots
1 x 320g pack of puff pastry sheets
200g feta cheese
50g cream cheese
Chipotle chilli flakes or other chilli flakes for seasoning (optional)
1 beaten egg for glazing (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan.
- Wash your common hogweed shoots in a colander and trim to remove any coarser stems.
- Bring a pan of salted water to the boil. Add the hogweed shoots for 2mins, remove and set aside on a plate to drain.
- Put the feta and cream cheese in a large mixing bowl and blend with a fork.
- Using a hand blender, whip the mixture until smooth and easily spreadable (you can also blend the cheeses in a food processor if you prefer).
- Line a baking tray with baking parchment. Lay your puff pastry sheet on top and slice into four even quarters.
- Spread a layer of the cheese mix onto each quarter, leaving a gap of approx 1" around the edges.
-Lay the hogweed shoots on top of the cheese layer and season with black pepper and chilli flakes.
- Fold in the edges and brush with beaten egg.
- Bake in the oven for approx 20-25mins until golden and the pastry is cooked through.
Always stay safe when foraging. You need to be 100% sure of your identification, 100% sure that your foraged item is edible, and 100% sure that you are not allergic to it (it is good practice to always try a small amount of any new food you are consuming). If in doubt, leave it out!