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Foraging and Eating Wild Alexanders

Alexanders are an edible wild plant that you can find growing from February to June. Pick the tender young stems and steam them for a unique flavour experience. They taste like a combination of asparagus, celery, and elderflower

In early spring Alexanders are the biggest and boldest plants in hedgerows across Britain. If you’re looking for them and they grow in your area then you really can’t miss them. They grow up to three feet tall and spread outwards with their thick stems and green leaves. Each stem is topped by an umbel of yellow-green flowers that attract insects and bees from far and wide.

Most people will drive by alexanders and see them as just another unnamed plant. However, you’re here because you’re interested in the wild food that grows all around you. They’re fairly easy to ID and so relatively safe for a newbie forager to try. As for their flavour, the young stems are tender, have a texture similar to asparagus, and taste like floral-celery.

Forage for and prepare Alexanders, a wild food found near the seaside in early spring. Pick the tender young stems and steam them for a unique flavour experience #wildfood #lovelygreens #foraging
Steamed and buttered alexander stems

Alexanders were brought by the Romans

Interestingly, alexanders are a type of ancient cultivated food that the Romans brought to Britain. The same goes for ground elder, a notorious weed, and more conventional vegetables and herbs such as radishes, cabbage, rosemary, mint, and coriander (cilantro). The story goes that after the Romans left, alexanders were grown in monasteries and eventually established themselves in the wild. The practice of growing them as a garden vegetable died out ages ago. However, you will often find Alexanders growing at old churches and the ruins of former monastic sites.

Considering this, I was delighted to find them growing outside Old Ballaugh Church here on the Isle of Man. I suspect that it’s taken up residence as a wild plant rather than the remnants of ancient cultivation. I wonder though. The Romans never made it to the Island but alexanders are not a native British plant.

Forage for and prepare Alexanders, a wild food found near the seaside in early spring. Pick the tender young stems and steam them for a unique flavour experience #wildfood #lovelygreens #foraging
Alexanders growing at the gate of an old church

Alexander Profile

  • A tall green edible perennial
  • Appears in hedgerows, woodlands, and along roadsides
  • Grows February to June
  • Prefers areas close to the sea
  • Green shiny leaves
  • Stems similar to celery, especially wild celery
  • Yellow-green umbel flowers 1.5-2.5″ (4-6cm) across
  • Every part is edible including stems, leaves, and flowers
Forage for and prepare Alexanders, a wild food found near the seaside in early spring. Pick the tender young stems and steam them for a unique flavour experience #wildfood #lovelygreens #foraging
Alexanders can grow up to three feet tall and grow in hedgerows and along roads

Foraging for Alexanders

In spring hedgerows are bursting with the strong shoots of this tasty wild vegetable. It’s mainly the stems that you’ll want to eat so look for tender off-shoots near the top of the plant. Pick a few from each plant avoiding taking the thick main stem. It’s tougher and not as nice to eat, plus picking it can damage the plant.

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The UK law goes that you may forage wild stems, leaves and flowers as long the plants are not harmed. You are not permitted to dig up any roots without the landowner’s permission.

That means if you see Alexanders growing on public land, feel free to take some home. In fact, a local farmer commented on my Facebook page that he considers Alexanders an invasive plant that he’s always trying to get rid of. I’m not sure if he’ll try cooking some of it himself but apparently his sheep love it.

Forage for and prepare Alexanders, a wild food found near the seaside in early spring. Pick the tender young stems and steam them for a unique flavour experience #wildfood #lovelygreens #foraging
Chopping the flower tops off

Alexanders have a floral flavour

I’m a newbie to eating alexanders so the photos in this piece are of my first try. They have a wonderful scent that reminds me of elderflowers and that carries on to its flavour.

For my first meal with Alexanders I simply cut the stems into segments and steamed them for eight minutes. Once dressed in a bit of butter and sea salt they are both a delicious and unique vegetable. You can also eat the leaves I hear but I’ve not tried that yet. Young leaves can be eaten raw but larger ones should be steamed or blanched.

Forage for and prepare Alexanders, a wild food found near the seaside in early spring. Pick the tender young stems and steam them for a unique flavour experience #wildfood #lovelygreens #foraging
Steaming the alexander stems

A unique flavour in a hedgerow near you

Other sources say that the taste can be like asparagus, celery or even parsley. I found that they have a similar texture to asparagus. As for flavour, they’re more like earthy celery mixed with elderflower. It’s really unlike anything I’ve tasted before.

It’s always a bit unnerving trying a particular wild food for the first time but Alexanders are really quite easy to identify – especially at this time of the year when there are less larger plants to mistake it with. So go out for a walk, take in the sweet scents of spring and come home with some free foraged greens.

Forage for and prepare Alexanders, a wild food found near the seaside in early spring. Pick the tender young stems and steam them for a unique flavour experience #wildfood #lovelygreens #foraging
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Forage for and prepare Alexanders, a wild food found near the seaside in early spring. Pick the tender young stems and steam them for a unique flavour experience #wildfood #lovelygreens #foraging
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15 Comments

  1. Alexanders are taking over the verges round here (near the Suffolk coast), really invasive and driving out the cow parsley and other wild flowers. So having read your write-up, Tanya, I decided to try some. I picked young stems and steamed them, together with some asparagus and sprouting broccoli I had in the fridge. They smelt pretty unpleasant when cooking, and the flavour when cooked was, frankly, to my palate, nasty! Incredibly astringent. Like celery, maybe – the greenest, strongest celery – but mixed with fennel and grass clippings. Obviously my tastebuds need re-educating!

    1. Oh dear 😂 If you pick them young the flavour is milder and not so astringent. Saying that, you might not like them at all! Also, with older plants, you can use the pollen from the flowers from a celery-like seasoning.

  2. You can't drive anywhere in Cornwall without passing Alexanders growing on the roadside verges;they love to grow in coastal areas. I love the yellow/greenish colours of the flowers and to see them is a sign for me that spring has arrived!

  3. Interesting…I've never heard of this but I will be sure to keep an eye out for it….maybe not today though as the rain is torrential and the winds very strong!! :-(

  4. Sunnybrook Farm – perhaps that is why I am having trouble finding any Alexanders round here as Boadicea chased off the Romans in Essex!!!! Seriously, I am going off to our local monastry at the weekend to have a look for these. We are a bit short on green stuff at the moment! xxx

    1. Essex should be warm enough for them to grow (see comment above) but they also like to be near the sea. But I can't imagine you're all that far away from it Fran so maybe ask if anyone knows them in your area :)

    1. I think you'd probably recognise them if they grew near you Pat. They're originally a Mediterranean plant so only grow in areas that don't get very cold in the winter – ruling Yorkshire out!

      I'm to meet D and K next Monday in Castletown – I hope the weather is fine so we can sit out on the quay :)

    1. It's amazing how a formerly cultivated vegetable becomes a little known 'weed'. It's tasty though and is available in a time in the year where there isn't a wide selection of conventional greens growing in the garden.

  5. I wonder if you can eat other parts of the plant – the leaves look very appetising. I think you can also candy the stems, not sure how you would go about that.

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