Fleetneedles' Forage: Jack in the hedge

As part of our Save Our Skills year, we are looking at foraging. These post were originally published on our Facebook Page, we'd like to thank Claire Fleetneedle for allowing us to publish them here.

Wild herbs can be tamed #foraging #saveourskills

JACK IN THE HEDGE (Aliara Petiolata)

Jack in the hedge, also known as hedge garlic, garlic mustard and sauce alone, flowers from April to late July. In its first year the plant grows close to the ground with almost heart shaped leaves with pinking shear edges. In its second year the plant can grow up to 3 feet tall, the leaves become larger and more tooth edged. The white flowers grow in groups, with each flower having four petals. Underneath the flowers are leafless stems, which sometimes poke up and perforate the leaves - these are seed pods.

Contains vitamins A, C and E plus calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, omega 3 fatty acids, potassium and selenium.

Not to be eaten by people on blood thinning medication.

Antiseptic, anti-asthmatic, anti-rheumatic, blood tonic, clears internal parasites, circulatory stimulant, decongestant, digestive, diaphoretic, disinfectant, immune booster, lowers cholesterol, mild diuretic and relieves itching

Everyday Uses
Jack in the hedge is from the brassica family, its edible history stretches as far back as the Neolithic period with remnants having been found on archaeological digs at ancient sites. Even within living memory it was commonly eaten and despite a brief comeback in the London gastro restaurants of the 1990’s it seems to once again have fallen out of favour in recent years.

All of the plant is edible including the seeds. It has a very natural, mild ‘oniony garlic’ flavour with a slightly bitter but not unpleasant aftertaste. We use it to flavour homemade salad dressing, we add the young leaves, sliced, to a salad, and sometimes finely chop it and add it to mayonnaise. The plant can be cooked but I think its delicate flavours could easily be spoiled with over cooking.  Although it grows from spring to late summer, the plant becomes increasingly bitter over time so the younger shoots and leaves are the best parts to eat.

The roots can also be consumed, they have a heat similar to horseradish and can be collected in either early spring or autumn. I haven’t sampled the root yet, but plan to experiment with homemade root sauce in the autumn.

As it has proved so versatile in the kitchen I wondered if it could be used medicinally too so I trawled through my substantial herbal book collection and, other than a mention by Culpepper, I found very little. Then I looked through some of my older folk remedy books and found much more…

The plant is known to have anti asthmatic and decongestant qualities. In one folk remedy I found the roots were chopped and added to lard and used as a chest rub for bronchial conditions.  The leaves made into a tea or decoction were also administered to people with fevers in order to break their sweat and lower their temperature.

Jack in the hedge is an antiseptic and the juice is excellent applied to fresh bites, immediately relieving the itch.

Despite its flavour it is not related to the garlic family, however it bares remarkably similar attributes. Like garlic, consumption of the plant is known to lower cholesterol in the body, to thin the blood and boost the immune system. It is also known to help digestion, to assist in removing toxins and to improve circulation.

Probably due to its disinfectant qualities it was once traditionally used to make poultices for the treatment of wounds, ulcers and even gangrene. It was also used in tea form as a diuretic and internal parasite remover.

Jack in the hedge was also once used as remedy for rheumatism, arthritis and gout, internally to clear the blood and externally a warming oil made from the root was applied to the affected areas.

In addition I discovered a corn yellow dye can be made from the whole plant, and the seeds were once crushed and used as snuff… I won’t be experimenting with that any time soon though…

This is my personal experience of using Jack in the Hedge combined with information I have researched over a number of years. If you should develop an adverse reaction to any of the above please stop using the herb immediately. And always take care when identifying the plant.

Happy Hunting, Claire Fleetneedle

LIFE ON PIG ROW DISCLAIMER: We’d like to thank Claire for this wonderful piece, as she points out, this is her personal experience and common sense must prevail in homemade herbal remedies. Therefore, if you are out and about foraging and aren’t confident that what you are about to pick is edible or medicinal the best advice is to leave it where it is. In the event of an adverse reaction to any homemade herbal remedy or foraged edible food you are advised to seek out medical advice. While every care is taken in the production of these posts neither Claire Fleetneedle nor Life on Pig Row are responsible for adverse reactions. Please remember to check local by-laws before foraging and never forage on private land without permission. Please use common sense when foraging.


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