Recently, Thomas and Alistair – creators and brothers behind Isle of Skye Distillers – went out for a wee jaunt with Skye Ghillie, Mitchell Partridge. The Skye Ghillie has intimate knowledge of our Isle of Skye and so who better go out exploring with than him? While walking, Thomas and Alistair were shown a variety of different plant species that can be found in the wilderness – some edible, some not so edible – and thought it might be a good idea to create a short list of some of the botanicals found so that, next time you go out, you too can spot them!
1. Common Hogweed
Commonly known as “Cow’s Parsnip”, Common Hogweed has an appearance that’s very similar to Angelica – it’s a relatively tall plant with delicate white flowers that form the shape of an umbrella (umbelliferous appearance). Young shoots of Common Hogweed can make a nice addition to a salad. Always be wary when looking out for this plant, however, as it has a relative known as Giant Hogweed that is extremely dangerous to touch – the sap can cause severe skin burns.
Meadowsweet has a lovely sweet, aromatic smell and is quite easily identifiable because of this. Appearance-wise, it is quite tall with graceful, creamy-white/light pink flowers clustered close together in irregularly-branched ‘cymes’ – these tend to come out early summer to early autumn. It tends to favour wet habitats such as ditches, damp meadows and riverbanks.
3. Common Sorrel
The name ‘common’ really does describe this plant well as it can usually be found in any grass type environment at any time of year, save a very harsh winter or a drought over summer. Sorrel can be used as a garnish, a salad leaf, a green for soups and stews or as a sweet ingredient for cakes and sorbets. All the sorrels within the family contain oxalic acid which give a rather sharp, tart flavour similar to that of grape skin.
A popular garden plant for its gorgeous flowers, this is also found in the wild. They can be found in the form of arching shrubs or twining, wall-climbing vines with flowers that have the appearance of white/pink colour and unusual shape. While the flowers themselves may not be edible, it’s really the nectar inside that’s most coveted and has a fantastic sweet smell.
5. Bog Myrtle
Bog myrtle is a small flowering shrub that can grow up to 2 meters tall. It is found in bogs, marshes and wet heathland but because of loss of habitat, the plant has become endangered in many places. It has a woody stem with elongated green leaves and a wondrous aroma to it. Bog Myrtle can be used in the form of extracts, decoction or alcohol-based tinctures.
Sage is an evergreen shrub with dusty grey-green leaves and woody stems and purple flowers when the time comes. There are many varieties of sage, but the species used for culinary purposes as a seasoning is known as common sage, garden sage, or Salvia officinalis. Sage is prized as a seasoning for its strong aroma and earthy flavour.
Thyme can be found to have thin, woody, curling stems with very small, aromatic green leaves. The flowers, blooming June to July, are found to be small and precious, pink/purple in colour. When the plant is in full bloom that is when it’s at its most aromatic; the flavour of the leaves is only heightened by the presence of the flowers. The flavour profile tends to be a pine and peppery taste with bitter, slightly lemony and minty notes due to being part of the mint family.
So, there you have it! Something to keep your eye out for next time you want to try something new. Always be very careful though, if you really can’t identify something or you’re just not sure the best thing to do is just to leave it alone! Happy foraging.