DISCOVER NATURE'S LARDER; FORAGING FOR FOOD AND WELLBEING -
How often do you hear about researchers ‘discovering’ amazing groups or tribes of people who live to great ages, with low incidence of diseases such as heart problems and cancer? Often this is put down to a magical ingredient such as olive oil, seaweed, tofu, herbal waters or goji berries.
And of course, marketing companies are happy to sell you this magical ingredient for a premium.
What isn’t talked about is that these groups are often societies who value foraging and it isn’t just one magical plant that contributes to their superior health, but many. Ethnobotanists have recorded that some cultural groups have knowledge about hundreds of wild plants and mushrooms that they add to their diet for food and medicine (Turner et al., 2011). It has also been estimated that there are around 20,000 edible plants that have been used by humans throughout history.
Standing by the supermarket shelves, you can count around 10 species that are cultivated to provide our main salad ingredients. Imagine instead if you had the knowledge to go out and choose from hundreds of different plants of a whole spectrum of variety, flavour and plant compounds to create a super salad dish.
Salads have never been less boring.
It isn’t just your physical health that could benefit. Getting outside and into the green has been shown to be beneficial to mental health and wellbeing too. Simply put, it makes people happy. Foraging for wild plants that enhance your diet is empowering and incredibly satisfying.
Foraging isn’t limited to green leaves either: flowers, fruits, nuts and seeds all pop up throughout the seasons and can be turned into delicious recipes. From elderflower fritters to hawthorn fruit leather, jelly ear gummies to wild spiced curries (yes, there are spices growing in a field near you), nature is the best ‘supermarket’ (see below for recipe links).
To build the knowledge and confidence to start, find a local forager (the Association of Foragers is a good place to find one) [https://foragers-association.org/] to learn what to eat and what to avoid. Many foragers are doing free online forage ‘walks’ over zoom and youtube during times of lockdown. Community gardens are often excellent places to start too, many ‘weeds’ are edible and these communities are hot pots of knowledge, and there are more being set up every day.
My top tips are to start out simple and build knowledge slowly. Get thoroughly acquainted with common local plants such blackberries and nettles which you can produce hundreds of recipes from. I have also learnt about new plants and discovered some of my best recipes simply from chatting to other foragers I see out on walks.
Before you know it, you will be part of the great foraging tribe.
It is important to familiarise yourself with law and safety in foraging, never pick and eat anything you are not 100% sure of its identification.
Nancy J. Turner, Łukasz Jakub Łuczaj, Paola Migliorini , Andrea Pieroni, Angelo Leandro Dreon, Linda Enrica Sacchetti & Maurizio G. Paoletti, (2011). Edible and Tended Wild Plants, Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Agroecology, Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences, 30:1-2, 198-225, DOI: 10.1080/07352689.2011.554492
Recipe & useful links
Hawthorn Fruit Leather from Handmade Apothecary:
Elderflower fritters from Handmade Apothecary:
Jelly ear gummy recipe from Hipsters and Hobos: https://www.hipstersandhobos.com/recipes/fungi-chocolate-robed-jelly-ears
Wild spiced curry guide:
A useful compendium of useful uses, recipes and ID at: www.eatweeds.co.uk
Fergus the Forager creates brilliant recipes:
A small selection of wild greens that can be foraged in spring including, from left to right: Three cornered leek, chickweed (top) and dandelion (bottom), ramsons, nettle (top) and cleavers (bottom) nettle, and crow garlic. Image taken from The Handmade Apothecary (Kyle Books, 2017) © Kyle Books, 2020.