Do you remember when you were a child tasting the horrid bitterness that dandelions left on your fingers, a taste that lingered and demanded an emergency Polo mint or gobstopper to wash it away? Strangely, the plants only develop this characteristic fully as they grow older, so the tender young leaves sprouting now are exquisite as a salad leaf and leave only the tiniest tang of bitterness as an aftertaste. They grow just about everywhere, and are easy to pick. Or you could, of course, go to a supermarket and spend money on a plastic bag of chlorinescented mixed leaves, which often include the very same dandelion.
The blossom smells deliciously sweet and slightly of coconut. The tea it makes is almost fluorescent yellow in colour and carries the seductive scent of the flower. Gorse bushes flower until at least the end of May so there’s plenty of time to pick them. The flowers can also be dried and stored for use later in the year. Infuse the leaves for about two minutes with boiling water in a teapot. Add honey if you have a sweet tooth but be careful not to put in too much in case it masks the gorse’s flavour completely.
Hawthorn bushes are bursting with young vivid green sprigs of new growth just now, and these bushy young leaves are perfect as a garnish. When chopped finely, they taste and look almost identical to flat-leaved parsley. Hawthorn is one of the most common plants in typical country hedges but be careful not to spike your fingers on the bushes’ long thorns as you pick. The leaves are also indispensable if you are keen to enliven a flagging dinner party with a game: guess the ingredient in the salad.