12 May 2015

What's in season in May

By May, Spring is in full swing. The trees are in leaf, and all sorts of seedlings are pushing up through the soil. The garden and countryside are awash in verdant greens. In the veg plot, as with all spring months, May is more about sowing and planting out than harvesting. As the risk of frost disappears, tender plants such as courgettes, tomatoes and runner beans can be planted outside. With long days and often plentiful sun and rain, plants seem to put on an amazing amount of growth. In terms of what can be harvested in May, or gleaned from hedgerows, it is often about young leaves for salads.

From the veg plot

Quick-growing salad leaves, sown in March, can usually be harvested in May. Mustards, young pak choi and spinach are all fast-growing, and often taste better when picked young in spring than in the height of summer. Seed companies often sell salad seed mixes which are a good option, especially for those with limited space. Even a pot or two grown on a balcony will yield enough leaves to perk up a shop-bought lettuce. Lettuce grows a bit slower, but you should be able to harvest cut-and-come-again varieties by the end of May. Radishes grow more quickly than most other food crops, and if picked young both the root and the peppery leaves can be added to the salad bowl. If you planted crops like beetroot, turnips, kale or chard early in the Spring, these should be thinned out in May. The thinnings can also be added to the salad bowl. 

Garlic scapes can be harvested in May. These are the immature flower heads of hard-necked garlic varieties. They should be picked off to ensure that the garlic plant puts its energy into bulb rather than flower development. They can sometimes be found in specialist grocers. I find them pretty punchy raw, but their flavour mellows when cooked, and they can be used much as you would wild garlic leaves.

While most maincrops are a month or two off, there are a few tasty treats available in May. English asparagus should be available throughout May. I have managed to harvest the odd artichoke in May, particularly after a mild winter, and a good greengrocer might well sell young artichokes from southern Europe. Although one rarely sees purple-spouting broccoli in the shops in May, late varieties should still be picking in the veg plot. If you planted broad beans last November, you should be able to harvest the first of these in May. I prefer young broad beans, when both the pod and the beans themselves can be eaten. 

Food for free

May is a pretty good month for foraging. Wild garlic/ramson leaves should still be about, at least during the first half of the month. The starry white flower heads are also edible and make a fine addition to the salad bowl. Towards the end of May, wild garlic starts to die back. At the beginning of May, you might still find some spring mushrooms, morels or St George’s mushrooms. Out walking at the weekend we found a single morel that was way past its best. Morels can be hard to find, so this was both exciting and disappointing.

Various wild leaves can be picked during May which can provide variety to a green salad. Young hawthorn leaves have pleasant nutty flavour. Dandelion leaves, lesser celandine and wild cress are also worth picking for the salad bowl.

At the seashore, samphire and sea beet can be picked. I often seem to find them on nature reserves, from which they shouldn’t really be harvested. Samphire will often be sold when in season by fishmongers.

Towards the middle of May (at least in the South East), elderflowers start to appear. Elderflowers have a pleasant gooseberry-like, a bit like sauvignon blanc. They can be used to flavour sorbets, cakes, cordials, or used to make wine or elderflower ‘champagne’. 


As with all the spring months, May is not a great month for fruit. The main UK-grown option is field rhubarb. Towards the end of May the first of the polytunnel-grown English strawberries will be available.

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