Jeremy Hastings: Sun shine and flowers - it is that time again when Islay comes into bloom. Orchids, Forget-me--not, Buttercups, Ramsoms, Pignut, Brooklime, Wild Mint, Scurvy grass and Sorrel and now the wonderful Flag Iris too. Gannets dive off the shore and Terns feed closer by. The noise of summer is upon us and wee birds such as Grasshopper and Sedge Warblers, Whitethroats and Corncrakes all add to the meadow cacophany! Lapwing and Curlew call and fly around their territories and gulls circle high above with Raven and other sky hunters. On the ground the plants enjoy the warmth and long days:
Pignut - Conopodium majus - thanks to my friend Marcus.
The roots of pignut have been an occasional source of food over the centuries but has never really represented anything other than a curiosity. There is also a Greater Pignut [Bunium bulbocastanum] which also has edible an root. The taste of both is generally decribed as having a chestnut-like or nutty flavour, and are generally roasted or boiled, but have been eaten raw.
A member of the Umbelliferae [Parsley family] pignut is a small-ish plant, frequently only a foot or so high, although it may reach about 18 inches in height. Compared to other members of the parsley family the species is slender and delicate. The white flowers are tiny, and the leaves are a bit reminiscent of the dill plant. Habitat-wise pignut is found in open woodland or its margins, in grassland and hedgerows.
The edible root is found several inches down, and usually horizontally set back from the stem, but not always as the pictures here show. The particular ground was quite stony and the lateral roots were stunted; the root pictured left actually forming at the base of the stem. Root size varies. The one pictured left is about a half inch in diameter, the larger one about 1Â½ inches across. The root is covered with a skin which is easily peeled away with the tip of a sharp knife.
I have tried them raw or cooked both are excellent and children love the challenge of digging for them, not as easy as it looks. The Pignut is related to the carrot and has been dug for on Islay since time begun!
Other relevant Islay Wildlife and Birding Information Resources:
- Jeremy's News Blog
- Previous Islay nature reports By Jeremy Hastings
- Islay Seasonwatch by Teresa Morris
- Islay Birds blog by Ian Brook
- Islay Birder blog by John Armitage