Friday, 17 June 2011

The Spiked Star of Bethlehem

A  pleasant evening walk along the lanes around Wenvoe (Vale of Glamorgan) last night, with the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society – led by knowledgeable naturalist and Wenvoe-resident Bruce McDonald.

The main attraction was the flora in the hedgerows. The Spiked Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum pyrenacium) is rare in the UK, being found in its greatest numbers around Bath in England. It is only found in Wales along a stretch of hedgerow near Wenvoe. We saw several flowering spikes of the plant (see photo), which has been recorded on this site for over 20 years. It is also called Bath asparagus and the young shoots are edible. It is thought the Romans may have introduced it into the UK as a food plant.

Juliet (8) was more impressed with the wild strawberries (Fragaria vesca) that were growing in profusion along a length of grassy verge. Small and intensely flavoured, many were consumed. Later in the year, we may be back here blackberrying.

Among the other plants encountered were burdock (Arctium lappa), historically used to flavour drinks; yarrow (Achillea millefolium), a herbal medicine; and coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), used as a cough suppressant and to flavour sweets. There was a mallow, but you need to go to the Gower to find the Marsh Mallow of sweet-flavouring fame.

Other plants growing wild in hedgerows you might also enjoy eating around this time of year are dandelions (e.g., young leaves in salads and sandwiches), elderflowers (e.g., edible and good for wine making), raspberries, redcurrants, stinging nettles (e.g., soup), and wild rose flowers. In fact, the closer you look at old hedgerows, the more you see them as a potential food store.
Cardiff Naturalists’ Society:

Further reading: Richard Mabey, Food For Free (HarperCollins)

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