I moved out of London a few years ago, and the first time I saw wild garlic was actually in a food market! Being a foodie, I bought some for my omelettes. Then the same weekend I was walking in the woods and saw them growing wild. I never picked any as I wanted to be sure before I picked this stuff!
Fast forward a few years and I signed up for a foraging adventure with an expert Carina with Thrive in the Wild in Surrey. It was such an incredible time that I was hooked! There is a lot to take in and I have only just started to check out some plants that I had learnt last year ( 3 cornered leeks & Dandelion I missed harvesting them last year)
During this crazy season that we all find ourselves in, budgets are low or a lot of us are being creative about how to make foods stretch! Not only is there so much wild food out there but it makes good use of a great walk and often wild food has a lot of nutrients as often untampered from conventional farming.
The benefits of wild foods are huge, but I’d say the main ones are:
Wild food is full of minerals, antioxidants and nutrients and flavours that are not present in mass market shop supplied ingredients ( Don't get me wrong I’m very grateful that we have access to fresh food and supplies!) The taste of some of this wild stuff is just remarkable!
It connects us to nature and the very act of walking around and paying the plant life around us some attention does something to us, menatlly and physically. in Japan they have a term called ‘Shinrin- yoku' which is the essence of forest bathing. Just like sunbathing when we can feel the positive effects of the sun, this applies to spending time in a forest where we are refreshed and often healed from the stresses of modern life.
It's free! This is a biggy, accessing food that is readily available is such a bonus especially if it is going to waste.
Most hedgerows and plant edibles are often found in wild woodlands and often in plenty of supply. ( Just be careful to pay attention to the sustainability notes below.)
Eating seasonally, most foragers know the seasons of which plants come out in different seasons, on my first forage walk, I remember very vividly last Spring of how I learnt that a lot of herbs are of a spicy, peppery nature this was due to the cleansing qualities that removes the sluggishness from the winter. The very nature of Spring herbs often helped blood circulation. ( Don't forget wildlife benefits from these cycles too!) Just remember these herbs feed wild life too, so you will notice that berries usually come in Autumn when we are getting ready for the winter so need fattening up to get warm and have ample energy supplies! Nature is so beautiful and clever and I’m sure this is what our ancestors did!
5 Tips to start a simple forage
1) I highly recommend going on a forage walk with experts, so one can learn how to identify the non edibles as well as the edibles, it also is also good to learn about recipes and often there's some interesting folklore stories too!
2) Ideally, it is always better to forage in a woods or forest, the main reason being if picking herbs and plants from the road side you will never know if weeds have been sprayed, often our fluffy friends do their business in those areas so not ideal! Always ask permission if the location or land as often they belong to nearby farms or landowners.
3) Always only take what you need, and never take more than a 3rd of what is there. If you harvest flowers, think of the bees! With nettles only pick the tops as the lower leaves are great for the butterflies! Questions to ask is is there enough to leave some for other wildlife such as bees? Is there some to reproduce from seed? These are in fact foods for others too and thinking about sustainability means there's never a depletion of natural plants and flora, it is wise to never take more than you need and use it if you have picked it! I find it a creative process to think up new recipes from my forages and this reduces any waste.
4) Identifying the herbs are key and it is always worth identifying the toxic plants too so you will not get them mixed up! Being safe and knowing what to look for and have certain checks in place is an important part of foraging! On my first guided forage, ( Carina from Thrive in the Wild) I found the level of detail was excellent, from identifying the shapes of leaves and stems, to whether a leaf is furry or glossy, any experienced forager would tell you that one uses the five senses and touch, smell taste they all play a crucial part in the identifying of edibles. Did you know that the 3 cornered leek is named after its 3 cornered stem? If you chop the stem down you will see that the stem is in a small triangle shaped with 3 sides! Nature is a mystery and I love the new discoveries I make on every walk, there's plenty to learn and taste!
5) Start with the simple stuff - plants such as nettles, dandelions and cleavers are plants that you probably remember from when you are a child. You just didn't know they can be eaten! I recently found out even the humble daisy can be eaten.
I have recently made the most yummy Elderflower & Rose Champagne!
Am delighted at this as I am feeling grown up that this is my first alcoholic beverage!
The process is relatively simple and the best part is that I didn't have to buy any special equipment or ingredients to start the process! The blend is beautiful, slightly floral, slightly citrus, fizzy and dry. Even my husband was working out the savings in prosecco ( not that I consume that much of it!) but still, you get the gist, nature will provide the ingredients and we just provide the time and a bit of dedication!
This is sure a great one to bring to a dinner party ‘Oh look, this is my 2020 blended fizz! It feels so good to be able to make your own.
Of course it’s not real Champagne but Elderflower fizz has been called this for centuries so I’m not about to change that. There's a decadence to this beverage and the abundance of wild Elderflowers makes it an easy one to start with. I got my recipe from the fabulous book 'Booze for free' by Andy Hamilton.
The alcoholic is minimal in the early stages, how ever can age reasonably well and the only word of caution ( it's a big one) is that it is highly fizzy once the fermenting gets going so in the first few weeks it is vital to ‘burp’ ( release the gas bubbles) regularly!
Any fizzy maker will advise of that ‘burping warning’ as exploding glass bottles are not fun! Never mind the wasted efforts of wasted fizz!
It's summer and I have to date, foraged wild garlic, 3 cornered leeks, Dandelions ( vinegar, omelette and syrup) Elderflowers, wild Dog Rose petals and I made dandelion syrup ( this is my best discovery this year it’s become a favorite not only is it good with waffles and pancakes but my 6 year old likes putting a dollop of this vegan ‘honey’ in warm milk and for vegans it’s a great alternative to honey...just don't call it honey! Dandelions are so versatile I have made vinegar and not attempted the coffee yet, which uses dandelion roots.
Dandelion Recipe - I modified this recipe from Taste Botanical and have to say it’s simple, yummy and unique, not to mention the nutritional parts of dandelions have made quite a few jars! ( They do other amazing flower recipes too!) A great vegan alternative to honey!
100 Dandelion heads
Pinch out the yellow Dandelion petals and put in a bowl of water ( helps get rid of bugs). Avoid the green bit as can be bitter.
Once the petals are all washed then put it in a pan of 500ml water. Simmer for a few minutes then turn off heat, once cooled let it sit in the fridge overnight.
Next day strain solution and boil with 300g sugar ( no lid) simmer on medium for 30 minutes ( no lid) till the solution is runny like honey. Bottle in sterilized jam jars and use like honey on pancakes or waffles. I love it on toast like honey!
Have fun! X