Wild Food Foraging Course
Last weekend we ventured out on a wild food foraging course in West Sussex. Even in early Feb, we were able to find over 20 plants in a short walk. They were everywhere: grass verges, hedges, around trees, river banks and fields. We were guided by foraging expert Robin Harford and learnt all about plant origins and how to use them in recipes or create new variations of meals and drinks.
Stedham was a great location for the course. A tiny picturesque village with a small river running through it. We started in the grounds of a church, with 8 of us gathered in the hollow of a 2,500 year old yew tree. Robin gave us an intro on foraging, the nature disconnect and how we only use a tiny portion of wild plants compared to what is available. Most people will use about 20 plants over a year when we have approximately 400 growing around us.
He talked about how hunter-gatherers have much more honed senses to detect plants. It’s not just like picking berries. Some plants only have a short window of perhaps 2 weeks in which you can eat them before they are past their best or gone till next year. Nature is also much more individual than we realise. You may have to pick 4 or 5 different batches of the same plant to get the one that tastes good. A tribal shaman may find two biologically identical trees but will only mark one out as being right for using for medicine. That’s a level of nature most of us aren’t exposed to.
Robin touched on food security in the UK and how we are becoming increasingly dependent on other nations and big corporations for food. Rather than relying on single sources of food (like Tesco) it seems sensible to discover what free wild food is around us. It’s amazing thinking about how much you would drive past on the way to a supermarket to buy a small pack of herbs or salad leaves. An interesting point is that during the quiet months when little fruit & veg grows, there are plenty of wild plants available. Nature provides, you just need to know where to look.
Good foragers use all senses to identify plants. We were encouraged us to get our hands dirty – pick plants, smell them, grind them and taste them. The walk lasted about 2 ½ hours. We didn’t walk that far – maybe a mile in all. On the way we picked out about 20 wild plants including daisy greens, lesser celandine, wild garlic, dock leaves, mugwort, bamboo, white dead nettle and red campion. These can be used in all different ways – salads, sautéed like veggies, relishes, sauces, soup bases, teas, dried and ground into coffee substitutes.
Wild plants are also a good way to boost nutrients in your diet. Robin is a big fan of nettles – he says they should be our national emblem. When fasting he also uses a nettle drink to reduce hunger. Other plants can help heal wounds, boost immunity and improve digestion.
We’re looking forward to putting this course into practice and will be keeping an eye out on walks for some tasty greens. Just got to remember the no.1 rule of foraging: be 150% sure you know what the plant is. Take it home, identify it properly, taste test. There a few toxic plants out there you want to avoid and some even sprout up in between the leaves of edible ones.
If you’re interested in doing a foraging course I would really recommend Robin at EatWeeds. He was very entertaining and he touched on quite a few topics that we found interesting: the use of wild plants in history and different cultures, food security, the nature disconnect many people (especially kids) have, the health and fitness benefits of being outdoors taking long walks. He also throws in a free copy of his recipe book which was a nice touch. We’d like to go again in the summer to see the contrast in what wild plants are available.
Do you ever forage for wild plants? Got any tips or favourite recipes?