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 a kind of seasonal diary to 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 fairly 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 an indepth field guide and/ or skilled 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. 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.

     

  2. 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.

  3. crow garlic 1There are many positives to this time of year.

    One of them is the low undergrowth that allows crow garlic (Alium vineali) to stretch to the light- it's actually present for much of the year but usually smothered by it's brasher wayside relatives as they clamour for the sunshine.

    Crow garlic bears a very similar appearance and taste to cultivated chives (including the flower later in the year) and, while my research is inconclusive, I wonder if it is simply the wild ancestor of this plant.

    It's a versatile little herb and can be added to almost any savoury dish- for best results chop it finely as it can be a bit tough. In the past, I've enjoyed it in omlettes, humous and salads but last week, when it was cold and wet and strong winds blew across the land, I cooked it into a potato and chickpea stew- warm and nourishing comfort food with a potent little kick.

    crow garlic, pot and chickpea stewThere are a few types of garlic growing wild in the UK and all have similar wonderful health boosting properties (see wild garlic post). They all come out by late winter, which strikes me as an insightful example of Mother Nature's awsome intelligence. Our hunter gatherer ancestors would have spent the last few months living on meat and anything they had been able to preserve from the autumn. By late winter, their digestive systems would have been crying out for a decent cleanse, balance and boost and garlic would have been the perfect plant for this- generously provided at exactly the right time.

     Foraging considerations:

    Look for chive like plants growing under hedgerows and alongside country lanes- it favours sunny spots and can often be found in large clumps on protected south facing banks. As the photo at the top of this post testifies, undisturbed corners of grave yards can also be worth a look. The plant should be a dull matt green in colour and hollow and tubular in shape but the most definitive ID point is the strong garlic/ onion smell.

    In a couple of months, crow garlic will quietly sink beneath the spring vegetation. However, if you find a good patch now, make a mental note of the location and, with a bit of rummaging, it will provide good foraging until early summer.

     

     

     

     

     

  4. The winter frosts creep in and the excited mushroom forays of autumn become another sweet, leaf rustling, memory.

    Blewit sunrise

    Thankfully though, The hardy Wood blewit (Lepista nuda) is quite happy with a bit of cold and should keep going for another month or so.

    One of the keys to succesful foraging is building a mental map of where to go for certain foods in certain seasons. When it comes to wood blewits- which seem to like old grassland almost as much as woodland- my location of choice is a nearby urban cemetry nestled amongst old pine trees. It's a fascinating place with lots of forgotten wild corners and a ban on dogs which is useful.

    Another key seems to be serendipity and this year I added extra shading to the mental map when I stumbled across a lovely patch of wood blewits nestled on some nearby sea cliffs. The sun was just rising and it was one of those magical foraging moments to savour.

    Blewit frying panBrunch a few hours later was equally memorable- I chose to simply fry them in olive oil and garlic, sprinkle them with Purbeck marjoram and then serve on toast. Blewits have a substantial meaty texture and a classic earthy mushroom taste. Their solidity also means they dry well- just slice thinly and pop near a radiator or in an airing cupboard.

    Some foraging considerations.

    The relative scarcity of other fungi at this time of year can be a helpful starting point when learning to identify the wood blewit. From above, it tends to be a rather understated beige with just a hint of lillac. Take a peak underneath though and the lillacy blue stem and gills should really stand out. Blewits in grass

    Other key aspects include a perfumed, slightly sweet smell when fresh, a rolled over rim and tightly packed gills. As I mention in every post, do your own research to gain confidence in identification. I have chosen to cover this fungi as I feel it is fairly common and can be identified fairly easily but it does need practice as there are a couple of webcap fungi that are considered poisonous and that bear a passing resemblance- the rare and garish Violet webcap (Cortinarius violaceus) and the more common Bruising webcap (Cortinarius purpurascens).

    I should mention that the colour of the wood blewit also fades with age so, to be on the safe side, it is best to only go for the young specimens where the colour is distinctive. As with any mushroom a spore print can also be really useful when it comes to identification. I simply place, gills down, on a white piece of paper or card, pop a glass over the top and leave overnight. Both the blewits have pale pink spores- the webcaps mentioned above have rusty coloured spores.

    Finally, it's worth just mentioning that the wood blewit has a brother, the equally tasty field blewit, but I'll save that for another post.

  5. Sloe Berries close upAs autumn gathers momentum, many of our hedgerow berries are starting to fade. Not so though for the shiny purple sloe (Prunus spinosa) which is just coming into its own down here.

    Gin is probably the word most foragers think of when these dark purple berries are mentioned. And with good reason, for the sweet but tangy flavour of a well matured bottle makes for probably the finest of the hedgerow liquers.

    There are various recipes online so I will not elaborate, but it is well worth trying if you are into these sorts of things. I like to replace the sugar for local runny honey, firstly, because it's tasty and secondly, because it makes my 'medicinal' justifications sound a bit more credible. Last year I also made sloe whisky which tastes almost as good- unfortunately though the wonderful red colour that hangs so tantalisingly in the clear gin is somewhat lost in the dark whisky.

    Sloe ginI always try and leave such concoctions at least a year to really mellow but a few months is enough for it to be passable- the trick is to get into a system of sipping on last year's creation while you're making this year's batch to replace it. For those with real patience, foraging expert, John Wright from River cottage admiringly recounts a 14 year old sloe gin that tasted like a fine madeiran port.

    Once the bottle is empty, and this applies to any spirit that I make, I like to take the fruit and add it to flapjacks or fruit cake. It imparts a wonderful warming zing and I'm sure it would work with all sorts of other sweet recipes too.

    Of course, there are other tasty applications for the humble sloe. They are generally extremelySloe juice tart when eaten raw however cooking releases the sugars in the fruit. I won't go as far to say they become completely sweet but, added to stewed apples or apple crumble, they are really rather good. A similar process seems to happen after freezing and, in previous years, I've eaten them straight off the branch after a few hard frosts.

    A couple of years ago I found a bag of frozen sloes that had sat forgotten in the freezer for about nine months. I simmered them very gently on the stove and then mashed them through a sieve. With a little honey to mellow them out, they made a deliciously rich and fruity drink.

    Foraging considerations.

    Sloe berry,leaf,thornSloes are the berries of out native blackthorn tree, it's a shrubby kind of tree, growing to a maximum of 3-4 metres and often found in hedgerows. On the Purbeck coast it perches itself along the cliff tops for miles and miles.

    Look at the oval, lightly toothed leaves and the horizontal markings on the trunk and you might well be reminded of a more familiar garden or orchard tree. The Latin name Prunus is the other clue as it belongs to the same family as plum and cherry trees (and ultimately the Roseacea family). Indeed it's likely that some of our modern cultivated varieties of plum originate from the blackthorn.

    In case you're wondering, the spinosa part of blackthorn's Latin name comes from the fierce armour of large right angled thorns. It's for this reason that you need to take care- gloves make things easier if you are picking large amounts. I have heard of the scratches getting infected due to an algae that can live on the spines. I think this may be down to personal sensitivity as I have never experienced this but I suspect a bit of tea tree oil or antiseptic would help clear things up.

    Lastly, in common with most plums and cherries, there is a large stone in the middle of sloe berries so, unless you enjoy a trip to the dentist, take care.


  6. Lycium berry close up

    It's a funny thing foraging. Time and again, my best finds happen when I'm not really looking. A good reflection on life perhaps but I got very excited last week.I was wandering along the cliffs collecting sea beet when I came across a plant that I've been wanting to meet for a while now- Lycium (Lycium barbarum)- bearer of the orangey red goji berry.

    The name goji might well ring a bell as it has been much touted in recent years for it's health benefits. It originates from China but has been naturalised in this country since the 1730's when the Duke of Argyle had it shipped over to plant on his estate. It was wrongly labelled as a tea plant and one of its colloquial, and rather wordy names, is still Duke of Argyle's tea plant. The birds decided it was rather tasty, flew far and wide, and the rest is history.

    There has been some controversy over various claims made about this berry in recent years, one of the most interesting being the Chinese man who lived for 252 years because he took extracts of it daily (along with other herbs and lots of chi kung). I suspect this might be a littled exagerrated but chinese medicine has a long and well thought out history so I believe there must be some truth in one of goji's translations: 'drive away old age berries.'

    lycium elderberry syrup porridgeI don't want to get embroiled in the various claims and contradictions so I'll stick to a few safe and proven health benefits. Like virtually any edible wild fruit, it is rich in antioxidants and vitamin C which in turn reduces inflammation and enhances the immune system. It is also considered to be a good source of beta-carotene, this enhances the body's production of vitamin A which, amongst other things, aids healthy vision, preventing cataracts and maintaining cell growth (carrots are another good source revealing some truth in the old saying that carrots help you see in the dark). Finally, there is also evidence that gojis serve to stabilise the capillaries, veins and arteries which thereby aids circulation and benefits cold hands and feet (interestingly, the hawthorn berry is reputed to have a similar benefit).


    The taste is wonderfully sweet with a slight astringency and reminds me somewhat of Lycium juicepersimmon. They are a popular ingredient in chinese cuisine and are used in both sweet and savoury dishes. My exploits so far have included scattering the berries fresh on morning porridge with a good helping of elderberry syrup and adding to home grown carrots and wilding apple juice. I think I will dry my next batch in the airing cupboard ready for winter use. 

    Foraging considerations.

    Lycium is generally restricted to the south of the UK and has a particular preference for the coast- probably due to the milder temperatures.

    Care needs to be taken with this plant as it belongs to the Solonacae family which contains some rather poisonous members including the infamous deadly nightshade. That said, tomatoes, potatoes and aubergine are also sub-members of this family so we need to see things in context.

    Deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna) has purple-black berries so that makes things simple. Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara) on the other Lycium leafhand has quite similar red/ orange berries. It is not as poisonous as deadly nightshade but is certainly not something you want to make a mistake with.* The main difference, to my mind, is the leaf shape. Lycium has thin elongated oval shaped leaves (lancolate) while bittersweet has much wider oval leaves that are more distinctly pointed at the end with small lobes at the base, in addition they are a darker shade of green. Lycium also has small sporadic thorns while bittersweet does not. As always, take time to study a new plant and only pick if you are one hundred percent confident.

    Finally, one of my favourite things about lycium is one of its rather macho colloquial names- wolf berry. I don't know how many you have to eat to start howling at the moon or stripping off and single handedly winning high school basketball matches (ignore the latter if you're not an 80's kid) but I'll let you know.

     
    * Deadly nightshade and bittersweet are both used homeopathically. It also seems deadly nightshade, or atropine which is derived from this plant, is used in some conventional heart medicines. In all cases though, this is in miniscule quantities.