How to identify British wildflowers

Nick Moyle and Rich Hood 3 June 2021

The British countryside is awash with flowers at this time of year, and there’s no better way to acquaint yourself with nature by spending a bit of time studying them and learning their flowery ways

To help train your eye in the art of wildflower-spotting, here are a few commonly spotted favourites of ours to look out for. Some of the plants we have listed can be prepared and cooked in dishes or turned into tasty beverages but be absolutely certain that you have correctly identified the plant before trying anything fancy.

Use common sense when out and about—don’t go traipsing over private property and seek permission first if you feel the need to pick and try any of the serving suggestions mentioned below. Happy hunting!

Pyramidal orchid - Anacamptis pyramidalis

You’ll spy this handsome pink pasture dweller in chalky fields and roadside verges from June onwards. It’s easily identified thanks to the bright pinky-purple flower structure that forms a pyramid shape atop a slender green stem.

Bees and butterflies absolutely love it, but don’t be too hasty to stick your nose too close expecting a pleasant scent—it gives off a rather musky whiff, said to be reminiscent of “old fox”.

Wild Garlic - Allium ursinum

Wild garlic

Wild Garlic (also known as Ramsons) produces delicate, spiky flowers which festoon shady hedgerows and forest floors from mid-spring. It’s an easy plant to identify, but you’ll most probably smell its garlicky pong long before you see it.

For an easy introduction to the joys of wild food cookery add a handful of washed wild garlic leaves and a sprinkling of flowers to a salad to add a subtle garlic flavour.

Gorse Flower - Ulex europaeus

Gorse flower

The gorse flower is the only permanently flowering plant in the UK. You’ll tend to find it inhabiting areas where soil has been disturbed, so search on commons, heathland and scrub ground.

It can be quite a painful business separating the flowers from this prickly plant but plunging a teaspoon or two of dried gorse flowers into a cup of boiling water will reward you with a lovely, coconut-scented tea.

Sweet Woodruff - Galium odoratum

A small, delicate plant that carpets damp areas of woodland with star-shaped leaves. In springtime, tiny starry flowers appear that smell of freshly mown hay.

Sweet woodruff flowers can be made into a syrup which is used as a flavouring accompaniment for Berliner Weisse, a sour German beer.

Wood Forget-Me-Not - Myosotis sylvatica

The clustering, sky-blue flowers of the forget-me-not can be seen from April onwards in damp woodland, roadsides and hedgerows.

The plant has been long considered as a symbol of love, although its pre-19th century name was the slightly less romantic sounding “scorpion grass”. 

Meadowsweet - Filipendula ulmaria

Meadowsweet

You’ll find this wispy-haired member of the rose family growing in hedgerows, on cliff tops and in damp meadows. Meadowsweet is an easy one to spot, thanks to the white frothy blooms that billow forth from tall reddish stems. Its sweet, almond-like scent is also a dead giveaway.

 For a subtly flavoured, straw-coloured tea, dry its flowers on a warm windowsill and infuse a teaspoon or two in boiling water for 10 minutes.

Lime Flower - Tilia cordata

Lime flower

You’ll need to keep your eyes to the skies to spot the white, sweet-scented flower of the Lime (or Linden) tree, which can often be found in established parks and country estates.

Lime flowers have long been used in traditional medicine and are thought to bring a sense of calm and wellbeing to the imbiber. Try it for yourself by steeping two teaspoons of dried lime flowers in boiling water for 10 minutes.

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