Foraging or gathering wild food is very much in vogue today; the menus of restaurants feature wild ingredients and celebrity chefs appear on the television foraging.
Wild food is in reach for everyone. Hedgerows on quiet country lanes or footpaths are great foraging plants; you may even have some wild food growing in your garden.
You can make fantastic meals and drinks featuring wild ingredients; you’ll enjoy them and save a few pennies too.
A forager’s feast – a foraging guide
Nearly everyone has picked a Blackberry, even if only as a child.
Besides Blackberry and Apple Crumble, you can make syrups, cordials, jams, jellies, sorbet, puddings, pies, tarts, chutney, vinegar (for salads, marinades or drinks), Ale or Ketchup! Look online to find recipes.
Many people make Sloe Gin. Following the same principles of wild fruit, with shop-bought spirit and sugar you can make Blackberry Whisky or Vodka and many similar drinks.
During World War II, when imports of food were cut, women and children were sent into the Countryside to gather Rosehips – the fruit of wild roses. These have a staggering 17 times the Vitamin C of oranges and were made into syrup. Remembering that children have used the seeds of rosehips as itching powder, you must follow a recipe carefully to remove the irritating seed hairs.
Elderberries are common in the hedgerows. Cooked on their own they do not have the nicest flavour but work well with other berries in jams, jellies and puddings. Where they do come into their own is in wine making and in a cordial. Elderberries are a super-berry, rich in Antioxidants and Vitamin C.
As well as wild fruit being ready to harvest in the autumn, it is also the time for gathering wild nuts. The main types of nuts used as food ingredients are Hazelnuts, Walnuts and Sweet (NOT Horse) Chestnuts. Nuts are extremely nutritious and versatile; they can be used in all courses of a meal. Among my favourites are Chestnut Soup, Curried Nut Roast and roasted hazelnuts in crumble topping.
Compared to our European neighbours, the British are mainly mycophiles (scared of fungi). On the continent it is normal in many areas to gather and eat wild mushrooms, whereas in Britain everyone is concerned for your welfare if you go mushroom foraging. Yes, there are some deadly species out there, but there are also some truly delicious fungi that are superb eating.
Be safe when foraging for wild food
Safety is very important; never put a plant or mushroom in your mouth unless absolutely 100% certain of its identification and edibility. Start with species that you know already, are very easy to identify or have no “nasty” look-a-likes. The use of identification books, wild food guides or attending courses is highly recommended, but if you are sensible it is great fun and extremely addictive. You never know what you will find whilst foraging!
Where can you forage?
On rights of way you can gather wild food for your own use provided you do not uproot, remove or destroy a plant; you should seek permission if you wish to leave the right of way. Be aware that some communal or nationally owned areas may have rules or by-laws about foraging e.g. Nature Reserves, MOD property or National Trust land.
Dorset Tea™ would like to thank James Feaver of Hedgerow Harvest for this post. Learn more about foraging by joining James on his Hedgerow Harvest foraging courses.