Pignuts (conopodium majus) are a common wild flower in the tree field here. I had read about them being edible; the tubers are quite pleasant to munch on raw, with a flavour a bit like hazelnuts. When I have tried them in the past, I got a slightly unpleasant nauseous feeling, so haven’t explored eating them much.
I have a fondness for the plants. The foliage is one of the first to show new growth in early spring, and the tiny white flowers cover the field for much of the summer. Rather than repeat what so many others have written I’ll give a couple of links that are interesting:
and a few pictures from the tree field illustrating their growth:
When I was digging holes for the new spruce trees I could not avoid digging up several pignut tubers. Often they were cut in half by the spade. I guess the field is pretty thick with them now, as can be seen in the flower picture above. In the past I have sometimes given them to Dyson to eat (he knows them as ‘nuttys’) and he obviously enjoys them with no ill effects. This time he had the small, or damaged ones and any larger ones I collected in a bag for me. They were quite easy to find with my (gloved) fingers in the soil of the upturned turfs.
Most foraging guides suggest you follow the roots down from the flowering stems to the tuber, so as to be sure what you are harvesting. This would be very hard work in turf like mine! I would suggest also, that once seen, the tubers are quite distinctive and nothing like bluebells or celandine tubers, both of which are quite white in colour, rather than covered in dark brown skin. The lumpy shape of the pignut tubers is also quite distinctive.
I collected about 8 ounces of tubers once they were cleaned and trimmed. The ones I kept were generally just over an inch in diameter, although there were a few that were nearly two inches. Most of course were much smaller, and these I left in the turf (or Dyson ate!). They seem to carry on growing quite happily having been inverted, if left in situ, judging by the later emerging leaves. I believe that the plants form very small tubers in the first year of growth (about the size of a pea) and the tuber grows larger and larger year on year. I suspect some of those I gathered may have been decades old. I don’t suppose they grew very much when the sheep were grazing on them!
Gathering nuts was a by-product of an activity I was doing anyway. I will point out however that digging the turf like this is quite hard work! So although I gathered more than enough for a meal for two in a few hours, this would not compare for ease to say digging potatoes. Also, these tubers took several years to reach this size, so you would have to leave the ground for a few years to recover and regrow sizeable tubers again. They do self seed readily and grow happily without any intervention from me, so it is quite nice to feel there is a bit of a larder there should I need it.
Because the tubers are quite uneven in shape they were tricky to wash. I gave them a quick rinse in a bucket outside, them scrubbed them with a brush under the kitchen tap. I couldn’t be bothered to remove all the skins, which is quite fine, and did rub off a bit anyhow.
We tried a few tubers simply boiled or baked and ate them as an accompaniment to our main meal. They were quite pleasant, with a spongy texture not unlike parsnips, and a somewhat similar mild sweet taste. The resemblance to their rooty relatives is more obvious when cooked. S. preferred the roasted ones, so, having established that neither of us suffered the nauseous feeling induced by eating the raw tubers previously, we had the rest of the tubers roasted in a little oil. Again they passed the test and we may well have them again when I need to dig holes in the field.