Prepared by Jon Tyler / www.wildforwoods.co.uk
There is a vast array of wild foods out there to choose from. Including hundreds of edible plants (fruits, nuts, leaves, flowers, shoots, buds, stems and roots). There are also fungi, algae seaweeds), shell-fish and even a couple of lichens for the truly adventurous! Faced with this mass of possibilities it can be a bit daunting to know just where to begin.
It makes sense to start off with really easy things such as; stinging-nettles, berries, nuts and herbs. Everyone who has ever encountered a stinging-nettle can recognise them and as a back up, if it stings it’s a nettle! Start with teas, infusions, jams and jellies. Try supplementing or substituting existing ingredients i.e. nettles for spinach. This way you can ease gradually into wild foods and there is no need to have to find large amounts, or go through difficult preparations.
Where to find wild foods
The best place to start is in your own garden; even a fairly small garden will have something to try out. You can take your time to identify what you have properly and you know it has not been sprayed with chemicals. Local hedgerows offer a wide variety of tasty treats including; flowers, leaves, berries and nuts. Pick away from ground level; above your knee to avoid areas where spraying may have taken place or routes that are frequented by dog walkers. Public open spaces, (that are not designated nature reserves) can be surprisingly abundant; as long as you are not digging up plants or taking everything in sight, there is usually little objection.
How to recognise
This is the most difficult aspect of wild food foraging because you are wholly reliant on your judgement and skill. This comes down to competence (just how good are your identification skills?) and confidence (how much do you trust your judgement?). You need to have both; no-one wants to have a bad experience because it will put you off and undermine your enjoyment. Equally you need to be confident that when you have positively identified a plant, it is what you think it is. It’s quite easy to make yourself feel unwell just because you are not sure.
Get a plant identification book as well as a wild food guide. Phone apps are increasingly accurate, but don’t rely on them alone; go on a course led by an experienced forager or a plant identification walk. Work your way in gradually and if you are not sure don’t eat it.
When to harvest
Make sure that what you intend to pick is at its best; there are no use by dates on wild foods so be fussy and pick only the best of what’s available. Don’t be tempted to take produce too young; you need to be able to identify it with certainty. Berries and nuts need to be ripe or they may cause upset. Equally as important old material may have been around for days or even weeks; look for withered or brown leaves, insect damage, discolouration or mould. Reject anything that does not look fresh and appetising.
Why is it worth it?
- Wild foods add variety to your diet with new flavours and textures; some unexpected, some delightful, others just different.
- Sharpens identification skills and gives a new appreciation to plants that we might otherwise take for granted.
- Gives an excuse to get out and enjoy the wonders of the natural world without having to go half way across the world.
- Turns an ordinary walk down the lane into the extraordinary; you never know what you might find!
- Re-discover seasonality and local distinctiveness. Wild foods all have a particular season and certain species only grow in particular places under certain conditions; fungi especially.
Tools of the trade
- Wild food guide book
- Sharp kitchen scissors
- Work gloves/ gardening gloves
- Branched or hooked stick
- Paper bags and plastic tubs
- Notebook and pen
Note: Do not eat any wild foods unless you are 100% certain about your identification.