Before I really became serious about foraging, I used to regularly come across a small plant with feathery leaves and fragrant, yellow flowerheads along path and field edges that I was convinced was chamomile.
As I started to learn more about wild plants I realised that the genuine wild chamomiles, Common Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), German Chamomile (Matricaria recutia) and Corn Chamomile (Anthemis arvensis), all have daisy-like, white petals surrounding the yellow flowerheads. By contrast, the plant I was finding didn’t ever develop white petals, and when properly identified revealed itself to be the intriguingly named Pineappleweed (Matricaria discoidea).
Pineappleweed is well deserving of its moniker; crush a flowerhead between your fingertips and you’ll be rewarded with a fruity smell somewhere between pineapple and ripe apple. Both the leaves and flowerheads can be eaten raw, but take care to only eat the unripe, slightly green flowerheads. When they get ripe, yellow and fluffy the taste and texture aren’t very appealing. They flower from March to September, so there is a large window in which to enjoy this plant.
Culinary suggestions from Miles Irving include cooking the unripe flowerheads with fruit or infusing them into water and using it to make a fruity summer jelly. You could also use the flowerheads fresh or dry to infuse into near-boiling water to make a tasty and medicinal herbal tea. Like its chamomile relatives, Pineappleweed has been shown in a 2006 Estonian study1 to have medicinal properties, with a slight sedative effect along with anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties, making it great for winding down and for digestive issues such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Pineappleweed grows throughout the British Isles practically anywhere where there is fertile, disturbed ground; along the sides of fields, the edges of paths and roadsides. This is impressive when you consider that the plant was introduced in the 19th Century and escaped from Kew Gardens, spreading across the land to achieve its current ubiquitous status. As with all wild foods, be careful of eating roadside and path edge specimens that may have been subject to dog urine and a high uptake of harmful pollutants (heavy metals, herbicides etc) from the soil.