Foraging.

Person Author: Helen Fowler Calender July 26, 2012 Posted Tags: , Comment 1 Comment

Many of us are or have been foragers at one time or another, often without realising that what we are doing. Picking brambles for a pie or jam, collecting danelion leaves or chickweed for the pet rabbit, fishing at the coast. Any these activities make you one of a growing number of Foragers. This search for wild edible plants and foods has a huge following in America, with many organised events and ‘foraging’ hikes. It is now gaining more popularity in Britain.  Many years ago I lived on a large mixed farm, there was lots of different habitat’s and I spent many hour foraging and learning what could be eaten. Some of my foraged foods were delicious and a lovely suprise, others I would never eat again! Some folks look upon wild foods with suspicion and think it is strange that anyone would want to eat them, but many of our cultivated fruits and vegetables came from these wild plants and years ago many so called weeds were eaten regularly. Many a family supplimented their table with foods harvested from the countryside.

So what can we find out there. Many food plants can be found in any back garden or allotment. Fat hen, purslane, chickweed, dandelion and sorrel are common and of course nettles. The young leaves are best, and can be lightly steamed, added to sauces, or mixed in with salads, I wouldn’t recommend eating nettles raw, for obvious reasons. Woodlands are a rich source of fruits and berries, and sometimes nuts. I have picked elderberries, brambles, wild plums, sloe’s, mirabelles, raspberries and hazelnuts, and on the woodland edge near me I also find bilberries, the smaller cousin of the blueberry.  Many of my harvests go into winemaking or jams. I also collect wild crab apples and rowen berries to make into jelly preserves that go well with meats. The wild garlic or ramsons is common to many woodland floors in spring, it is the young leaves that are best, but the whole plant can be eaten. Pesto made with wild garlic leaves is lovely.

Another rich source of wild foods is the coast. I remember our family going ‘winkling’ on the rocks at low tide, my dad then cooked the shellfish on a little camping stove right there on the beach. My dad never went anywhere without a fishing rod, and caught many fish from piers or even the beach, while I would go ‘shrimping’ in the tideline. Most of the seaweeds found along our coast are edible, some common ones are, dulce, irish moss, carrageen and green laver. Also samphire can be found along more marshy edges of tidal river mouths, this is classed as a delicacy and served in many high end restaurants.

One classic wild food is mushrooms. Although I have been foraging for mushrooms myself, it is not something for the beginner. Many fungi are deadly and it can be difficult to tell one from the other, so If you are keen to look for edible fungi, find a course, a group or someone expert in identifying this food group.

While foraging can be both fun and fruitful, Safety, must be uppermost in your mind. Only collect from clean safe areas, if the land is privately owned, ask permission. Only take what you will use, leave some for the birds. If there is lots, you can take more. Dont dig up plants, just use their leaves, seeds and berries. Only pick what you know to be edible, learn about the plants and berries, do research. There is a wealth of information out there, books, internet and even facebook groups. I always take a little camera to record a picture of an unknown edible, that I can reserch later. I always carry a little lidded container and a couple of bags to collect a harvest, it’s very flustrating to find a patch of wild raspberries and not have anything to put them in.

So when your complaining that the bad weather has damaged your veg plot, and it’s only the weeds that are growing, get your own back and eat the weeds!

One Response to “Foraging.”

  • Eilidh:

    Wild raspberries! Oh, the memories! And each little fruit subtly different in flavour from the next. Then the jam – oh, the jam! And the amazing results of adding a few wild – or even cultivated – raspberries to an apple pie made in the traditional British way: no cinnamon or other spices to cloud the taste of the fruit, just thick slices of Bramley apples scattered generously with sugar yet leaving a deliciously tart edge between layers of buttery short crust. Wonderful just as it is, but add a few wild or cultivated raspberries and the sweetly melted apple slices become stained a delightfully pretty pink, and the heady aromas of the hot fruits mingle in a way that allows each to complement the other whilst still remaining tantalisingly distinct. Perfect!

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