“Anyone who spends a little time learning to find and use wild food will soon understand what I mean:
this is not an aspirational lifestyle choice, but a return to an ancient way of life that is part of who we are.”
Donning gloves to pick nettles I can do. But battling through a forest of Japanese Knotweed, and pulling rushes out of a little swampy lake? I was a little hesitant about what we’d be eating (and wondering if I should have brought an emergency supply of ‘normal’ food!) But I was with Britian’s foraging expert, so I decided to stop thinking and just enjoy the journey.
A few weeks ago I went on a wild food weekend in Kent.
What is wild food? Wild food is food that you forage from the natural environment – eating wild plants that grow around you. Although you might imagine this resulting in lots of grassy-tasting salads, in reality, you can cook with wild food just like any storebought vegetable – with delicious results.
Why would you want to eat wild food? Wild food is organic, seasonal and local. Our ancestors ate a huge variety of plants because they ate what grew around them… in our modern diets, we eat a much smaller range of foods (do you find yourself buying the same produce every week? Iceberg lettuce, carrots and tomatoes, anyone?) Eating wild foods introduces a wide range of nutrients into your diet.
I also love foraging for wild food because it’s a forgotten skill. Foraging for food is something that humans were designed to do – our ancestors found food all around them instinctively. But today, we’re never taught how to identify the edible plants around us, or what to do with them.
And so, when I learned about a wild food weekend with the UK’s foraging expert, Miles Irving, I just had to sign up.
Over the past two years, I’ve written a bit about foraging for food and herbs. I tend to stick to really common, well-known plants so I can feel confident in identification. I’ve made nettle soup, nettle tea and nettle pesto. I’ve also made a cleansing cleavers detox infusion and a big batch of bright pink sloe gin.
This weekend, we got a bit more adventerous.
Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica) – Japanese Knotweed is an invasive species here in the UK – there is a whole industry dedicated to destroying this plant! Miles quipped that if we could just convince everyone to eat it instead, we’d take care of the invasion problem and save money on our grocery bills!
This weekend we cooked down the knotweed shoots with some sugar (like rhubarb), poured it into pastry shells, and had little knotweed tarts with ice cream for dessert. Yum.
Here’s a little lizard we found along the path. Much to my relief (and yours…and his!), we did not eat him.
Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) – According to Wikipedia, Alexanders was brought North by the Romans to use as food on their travels. This plant was along every roadside in Kent! Huge amounts of it. We steamed it to eat as a vegetable. Apparently you can also lacto-ferment it (like super veg!) into an Alexander Pickle.
And of course we picked my very favorite foraged food, nettles. Here’s a big bag of them waiting to be chopped up.
And a picture of a small part of the feast. There was So Much Food. Venison, Alexanders, wild salad, beets & ground ivy (which is this big bowl), shredded carrots with nettles and chopped up rushes, a few more things I’m forgetting, and knotweed tart with ice cream for dessert.
And a lovely jug of sloe blossom cordial to wash it down with. Yum.
Stay tuned for my report on the second day of the wild food weekend, which was all about the seashore.
And finally, if you want to try wild food yourself, remember these four rules for foraging.
So – do you want to try wild food? I’m sure half of you are out the door, and half of you are thinking …um… what?! So what are your questions & concerns about foraging wild food? I’ll answer them in a future post.