Sometimes you can miss what later seems easy and obvious; which is why I was so pleased when I picked up my good friend John Rensten’s book – The Edible City and found a recipe for deep fried leaves. The instructions were laughably simple, pick early leaves, put some oil in a pan, fry, cool and season. So off I scarpered into the woods and started picking.
The joy of foraging tree leaves is that IDing is relatively easy so the whole family can join in. They might not always want to but they can. Also, you can pick bags full of leaves in no time at all.
What’s more, if you collect leaves off trees that have suckered, you could be helping the tree rather than taking away from it. A tree will sucker either when it is under stress, sustained an injury or, in the case of a fruit tree, when it has not grafted properly. The result is loads of spindly twigs shooting out the tree competing with the main trunk for resources, therefore harvesting from here will help the tree.
Aim to collect the leaves as soon as they are fully grown and are still paper thin. At this stage the tannins haven’t developed fully and so they are far less astringent. Before you pick just any old leave check their toxicity on a site like plants for a future will help. Stay away from elder, ivy, poison ivy and western poison oak for example. Also, many fruits such as plum and apple can be high in poisonous cyanide. Beech and birch were my favourites and two that I would highly recommend concentrating on them at least to begin with.
When cooking, just shove a little fat in the pan and get it sizzling hot. Drop the leaves in and cook until crispy. I seasoned with smoked sea salt, John favours chili flakes.