This foraging adventure is a good lesson to stay open-minded to what you might be able to find when looking for wild plants. While reading through the ‘Forager Handbook’ by Miles Irving, which is essential reading if you want to discover just how many common plants are actually edible, I came across a plant called Indian Balsam (Impatiens grandiflora). This invasive species has come all the way from the Himalayas and made its escape from gardens into the wild. This has been helped no doubt by the plant’s production of explosive seed pods, that when touched unfurl like a spring, shooting seeds in all directions. As an added bonus the seeds are edible. Given the plant’s exotic name, I had simply assumed I’d be unlikely to find it in my locality. It turns out this assumption was misguided. While walking with a friend I came across a pretty, hooded flower growing by a river. I assumed it might be something poisonous and just took a photo, since I know a few hooded flowers that belong to deadly plants such as Monk’s Hood (Aconitum napellus) which can prove toxic just from picking the leaves!
When I later identified the plant in the photo I realised it was Indian Balsam, and the following evening I headed back to the river to see the pods in action and find out what the seeds tasted like. As you can see from the video, the pods didn’t disappoint, with the ripe ones exploding at the slightest touch. The seeds themselves were fairly unimpressive, tasting bland whether in their less-ripe cream or dark ripened forms. Any ideas I had about this being an exotic rarity where totally quashed when I later visited a park in Hereford, and found the entire riverbank was overgrown for miles with almost nothing but Indian Balsam.
So next time you are near a riverbank lookout for the pretty hooded flowers and bizarre exploding seed pods and see what you think of the taste. Apparently, the seeds can be toasted too, which might bring out some more flavour!