I've long been a fan of farmers' markets & local producers. But when it comes to food, in the last few years I've come to learn about the amazing abundance of wild foods that are growing all around us. Foraging is becoming increasingly popular as a way to connect seasonally with British foods.
I remember making nettle soup as a child using the small leaves picked very bravely to avoid the stings! There are many other wild plants that could be thought of as foods such as;
- Dandelion - leaves and flowers
- Blackberries & raspberries
- Many varieties of mushroom
- Nettles,wild garlic & other herbs
- Wild currants
When you start foraging, there are a few key guidelines you want to follow to ensure you protect your health and ensure the wild foods continue to propagate year after year.
1. Look around you. Start to pay attention to the weeds, herbs and other plants that grow in your area.
2. Try a course on foraging locally, this is a great way to start so that you can head out with confidence. Courses in Yorkshire are run by Taste the Wild http://www.tastethewild.co.uk/location.html and Lisa Cutcliffe http://www.eduliswildfood.co.uk/ as well as many others.
3. Get some resources. Pick up two or three books on your local ecosystem's wild foods. It's ideal to have a book with pictures that show you close up details of different parts of the plant -- the stem, leaves, fruit and/or bloom. These will help you positively identify what you're looking at.
4. Learn to identify with confidence. It's very important to identify the poisonous plants you are likely to encounter. It's also important to take note of the plants that have edible or medicinal versions and poisonous versions. Do not eat anything you cannot identify as safe. If in doubt don't consume it. Non-edible look-alikes can fool you. Shapes of leaves can be a helpful guide.
5. Respect nature. Be sure you check what plants are endangered in your area. It's not just bad for the environment, it's also illegal. Pick responsibly, only as much as you need and never take ALL the plants of any one kind in a given patch.
6. Stay away from roadsides. One of the best things about wild foods is how nutrient packed they are. Don't let that dose of goodness be tainted by pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, or anything else.
7. Propogate! You can help propogate plants, especially those that may be endangered by starting to sow their seeds, helping the plant regenerate itself. You can also buy wild plants and herbs from garden centres and nurseries.I've started growing more wild plants in my garden such as Sweet Cicely which grows in abundance near the riverside (I would never pick wild as it is very similar to the very deadly Hemlock & poisonous Fool's Parsley!). It's a natural sweetener for stewed fruit which reduces the need for added sugar.
I hope you're inspired by this article to look into your local wild foods & I'd really like to know what you find. Please share your comments below about your favourite wild foods and how you use them.
References: www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/feb/03/foraging-healthy-sustainable-bristol-city-council-ban, Food for Free - Richard Mabey 2007, Guide to harvesting and enjoying the best wild foods www.meghantelpner.com, Foraging, Sara Brouette.