Will's Wild Food Diary

 Wild food diary

Fresh, organic and free! Of all things bushcrafty, nothing gets me more excited than a foraging adventure.

From time to time, I update this page with a different wild food that is in season- gradually building up an online reference on some of the foraging delights available to us.

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Disclaimer: There's loads of good stuff to eat out there and much of it is very easy to identify. Unfortunatly, there are also some plants and fungi that can make you seriously ill or worse. This diary is a brief overview intended to inspire and not a substitute for a good field guide and teacher. I will endeavour to point out any obvious poisionous look alikes but ultimately foraging is the individual's responsibility. Unless you are 100 percent confident you know what something is then leave it alone! Please also be aware that, as with any food, different people can have different reactions. It is wise to try just a small amount first.

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  1. This plant only just squeezes into the wild food category but is one that I’ve come to really appreciate over the last few years.

    Mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris) is likely a plant you have walked past at some point but perhaps never taken much notice of. It usually starts to make an appearance in mid-spring but really comes into its glory around mid July into early autumn. Where it can grow to a couple of metres high. P1020109

    Prior to the adoption of hops it was sometimes used to flavour ale. I cannot vouch for what that flavour would have been but on last year’s van trip through France and Spain we certainly found its aromatic qualities helped P1010022with the cheap red wine. For this kind of flavouring it is best to pick the plant when the leaves are still quite young and fresh such as in the photo opposite.

    For the last 5 years however my main focus with this plant has been making smudge sticks. These bundles of dried herbs were used for ceremonial purposes and for energetic purification by the Native Americans, a wise people with deep connection to the land. In the south western pacific area of north America they used the native white sage and this is what has gained popularity in recent times over here.

    It has always seemed a bit odd to me that we should be using such a far away plant from a completely different culture- especially considering it is often not harvested in a sustainable manner. So this is why I started experimenting with mugwort.

    Although I've not found historical proof, I think the Druids of this land- our very own ancient shamans would have created smudge sticks from the plants around them. Certainly mugwort is recorded as one of their sacred herbs so it’s not a hard stretch of the imagination to think that they would have burnt this plant with it’s sweet and pungent aroma. Possibly inhaling it too- I can concur that burning this shortly before bed time creates some very deep and lucid dreams- the ability to consciously observe and control your dreams and a very interesting source for creative inspiration. I have also heard of others who gather the leaves and put them inside a pillow with similar effects

    IMG_0020 2Making a smudge stick of Mugwort is pretty simple. Pick the whole plant- ideally mid July to late September when the flowers are out. Fold the plant up until it is about 30 cm long, then bind it very tightly together and dry it well. You might need to combine a couple of plants to get a nice thick stick. I use hemp string for binding but any natural fibre like a strong cotton would work. 

    Be aware though that it can crumble a bit as it’s burning so it's sensible to keep this as an outside activity and dip it in some water and leave it outside after use- I have known it to smoulder away unnoticed which would obviously be very dangerous if you were to take it back inside and store it away. Incidentally, mugwort is the herb of choice for the technique of moxibustion in Chinese medicine, the herb is burnt over various accupressure points to release stagnant energy and restore balance.


    Foraging considerations: Mugwort is a tall slender plant with leaves that look somewhat similar to a cannabis plant although no relation. If you rub the leaves lightly there should be a slightly sticky residue from the high level of natural oils and there should be a smell somewhat similar to lavender – again no relation. The stalk is usually a dark red colour with a slight groove and the undersides of the leaves are white with a fine downy texture. It can often be found growing along footpaths and colonising waste ground freely.P1010284

  2. watercress cornwall 1I will remember the floods of winter 2012 for a sad, if self-centred, reason. They washed my favourite Dorset watercress bed clean away.

    Since then, there have been fleeting moments of watercress wonder such as the babbling Cornish brook above. But it is only recently that I have found the time to go looking for a regular supply nearer to home.

    This one is on the river Avon as it makes it's final dash to the ocean but I’m saying no more- if you put in a bit of time and effort this is not an uncommon plant to find growing in our streams and rivers- just prepare for a bit of wadingwatercress will

    Wild watercress has a long season from spring to early winter and is identical to commercially produced plants so I will not go into a lengthy description except to say it will often grow taller and a bit more unruly having no-one to pamper it like it's civilised cousin. 

    If all this sounds too good to be true there is one unfortunate drawback- although easily surmountable. It goes by the name of Fasciola Hepatica. A catchy thing to to roll off the toungue if you want to impress people with your latin. Unfortunatly however, its basic translation is liver fluke. This organism has a complex life cycle, one part of which involves waiting around on plants (usually in muddy water) for an unsuspecting animal (humans included) to consume it, where upon it sets up home in the liver causing all sorts of gratuitous damage.

    Revolting I know but in reality all this means is that you can’t eat it raw. I always source my watercress from plants that are growing clear of the water in fast flowing streams, typically chalk or gravel bottomed, and as such am 99.9 percent sure it poses no threat- however, this is not a risk I take lightly so I always lightly cook it as a precaution. watercress close up

    Fortunately, watercress makes one of the tastiest soups out there so this is no great hardship and I feel a thick fresh organic watercress soup must be at least as nutritious as some limp, plastic wrapped, chemically laced offering from the supermarket. 

  3. Perhaps it's time to publish a survivalist guide to vampire evasion as this will be the third wild garlic I've covered in theHedge garlic 2 last few years- the other two being ramson and crow garlic.

    This time around I thought I'd chat about probably one of the most common of them all- the hedge garlic (Alliaria petiolata).

    It's often present all winter but in the last few weeks it's started to stretch towards the light and make itself known. The photo to the right was taken in April so it's still got a way to go. *

    I should say at this point that, strictly speaking, this plant belongs to the brassica family and not the alliums like the other garlics. Nevertheless, it has an undeniable garlic taste- all be it with a distinct fire that can take some getting used to- another name is garlic mustard which is a pretty accurate description I reckon. **

    It’s rather puzzling why a humble cabbage should have such flavorsome ambitions but it may well have figured out a long time ago that grazing animals generally don’t like garlic. Unfortunately however, it didn’t take into consideration the human palate- this plant has been used as a flavouring for millenia, with remains turning up in archaelogical digs in the Baltic dating back to 4000 BC.

    Other than a quick stir fry, I prefer to eat this plant raw- a few leaves chopped finely and added to a dressing really perks up a mixed salad while I'll  often pick a few and pop them in a sandwich as I’m out and about.

    Hedge Garlic drawingWhether it's hedgerow, forest edge or even urban parks or flower beds it's not hard to find once you have 'your eye in'. Compare this to the rather contrary ransom or the secretive crow garlic and this becomes a handy plant to know.

    As with the true garlics, smell is a useful id point- just crush a leaf between your fingers. Other things to look out for include the kidney shaped leaf with rounded, almost frilly, teeth- the sketch to the left was drawn by someone on one of my walks a while go and I couldn't resist a shot. 

    * Hedge garlic is a biennial. In the first year, plants appear as a rosette of green leaves close to the ground and are quite easy to miss. In the second year the plant shoots up, often reaching over 60 cm tall if conditions are right- although it's fairly bitter when it's this size.

    * Other colloquial names are 'jack by the hedge' and 'sauce alone.'


  4. Wild Marjoram 2
    One of the things I love about foraging is the chance to visit the same places year upon year and catch up with the plants like they are old friends. One such example, is the wild marjoram alongside a track that leads to my favourite wild camping spot on the Dorset coast.

    Over the last few years I’ve added it to various beach cooking creations including a delicious limpet stew on a survival quest last year. On a recent trip though I decided toWild marjoram try a variation on a River cottage marjoram scone recipe. I used flour and oats half and half, the last remenants of wild garlic stalks from the valley behind the beach, olive oil and a splash of sea water (the wild equivilant of a ‘pinch’ of salt). I cooked them slowly over the fire and then dipped them in more olive oil before devouring them with an appetite that only outside living can arouse.

    Wild marjoram (Origanum vulgare) works in just about any dish but has a particular penchant for those Mediterranean staples of tomatoes, onions and garlic. It also dries very well, I strip off both the leaves and flower for adding to hearty soups and stews right through the winter.

    Foraging considerations.

    Wild marjoram can be found between early summer and early autumn and seems to have a particular liking for old chalkland. If you’re a keen gardener you probably won’t have any difficulty recognizing this one with it’s pointed oval leaves and pink flower on a long stem- the cultivated marjorams are very similar in appearance.

    Smell is another useful ID point and, if you are familiar with it from cooking, it's sometimes known as oregano, that can also be enough. The aromatic smell comes from the rich volatile oils and if you rub a flower between your fingers you’ll notice a slightly sticky residue.

    Marjoram driedAnd, of course, one of the best characteristics of this plant is it is a perennial grower- find your spot and it should look after you for years to come. 

  5. Lime blossom branchIt's a fickle forage,sometimes only flowering for a week or two a year, but all this warm weather means the scent of common lime blossom (Tilia europaea) is hanging heavy in the air right now. 

    Lime blossom honey 2I've kept it simple this summer, drying a batch out to keep for night time herbal infusions- lime blossom has a mildly sedative effect and was administered in the field hospitals of the second world war for this reason. It is possibly one of the finest herbal teas, gold in colour with a smooth perfume. It's particularly popular in France where they call it tilleul and have elevated it practically to an art form.

    The second batch has gone into a honey infusion, possibly my favourite way of preserving flowers. See the elderflower and honeysuckle posts for more details on this super simple approach but, to summarise, a good runny honey is wonderful for drawing out the goodness in the plant, preserving it long into the winter and adding a potent anitbacterial kick to the proceedings.

    Foraging considerations.

    The lime tree in question is completly unrelated to the lime fruit that you see in the shops. The young spring leaves do have a slightly citrusy taste which perhaps gives rise to its common name but I'll write about this tasty snack another time.

    Lime blossom hatThe small leaved lime was a dominant tree in the forests that formed in the UK after the last Ice Age, sadly though it is now relatively unusual in the U.K. However, c
    ommon lime is widely planted, especially in parks and city streets, making this a great one for the urban forager- no need to worry about dogs either.


  6. At some point in the past you've probably reached out to this plant and plucked a plump dark berry from it. But did you know the tender spring greenery makes for a slightly fruity, super medicinal, spring forage?bramble leaves

    I'm talking about bramble- the rough and ready rogue of the plant world. Popped straight in the mouth the leaves are a bit bitter but a decent handful infused in hot water for 5 minutes, perhaps with a drizzle of local honey, yields a fruity herbal tea that is packed with vitamin C and antioxidants.

    Bramble (Rubus fruticosa) is also a member of the rosaceae family (rose family) which gives it strong astringent qualities. In other words, it dries and tightens- chew a leaf and you'll probably notice the saliva in your mouth starting to dry up. This makes it a handy treatment for conditions such as mouth ulcers, bleeding gums or sore throats- it dries and tightens what is basically an open wound, thereby accelerating the healing process.

    This astringency also makes it useful for many digestive/ intestinal tract issues. Indeed, legend has it that during the American civil war in the 1800's, 'bramble truces' were a fairly common occurence. Dysentry was rife amongst both sides and so the warring factions would lay down their weapons to pick bramble leaves for their sick comrades- before continuing to kill each other. Bizarre species we are indeed.

    bramble leaf teaForaging considerations.

    Bramble is a notorious micro-hybridiser which means there are over 100 species in this country alone. Nevertheless, the basic characteristics tend to be the same, straggling long stems, thorns and a generally greeny red tinge. It's possible, at this time of year, that bramble could be mistaken for wild raspberry or one of the wild roses but these are also forageable and have very similiar medicinal qualities.

    The leaves are in their prime right now as they start to spread to the sun. Drink fresh or gently dry and store them in an airtight container away from direct light. They'll last until next spring and can be enjoyed as a herbal tea or utilised as a medicine should the need arise. As with all foraging, please do so with consideration for the plant, much better to spread out the picking than strip a whole plant bare.