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 seasonal diary of some of the foraging delights available to us.

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Disclaimer: there's lots of good wild stuff to eat, and much of it is fairly easy to identify. Unfortunately, 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 in-depth 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 per cent confident you know what something is, leave it alone! Also, please 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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Category: Cleavers/ Goosegrass

  1. A sticky situation

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    Here's one that might bring back some memories...cleavers (Galium Aparine), sometimes know as goosegrass or sticky willy*, was the plant of choice in my day for throwing at your mates, as it would stick fantastically to hair and most clothing. Extra points were awarded for doing it without your buddy realising, so he walked around all day with it hanging off his back, or perhaps to that girl that you secretly fancied but, out ocleavers3f pubescent emotional paralysis, thought the best way to express it was through being a little sh*t! 

    Those days are a distant memory, thankfully, but I’ve enjoyed reacquainting myself with this plant over more recent years. It's not one you can chew on raw, unless you’re fond of green velcro, but it takes very little preparation to create a tasty spring veg.

    My favourite way is to add it to a freshly-made juice with a few other spring greens and a couple of carrots or apples to sweeten things up. It offers a prodigious amount of liquid, and indeed, for a quick shot of goodness, you can actually pick a large handful of it and wring it fresh into a glass. Another simple way is to soak it in warm water – ideally not too hot, so as to preserve more of the cleavers5goodness – a coffee plunger works particularly well for this. You can also try this using cold water over night, the taste is mild but it's a good way to start the day. Or, of course, like virtually any other spring green you can just chop it up and add it to whatever you are cooking – soup, stir fry, casserole – you can’t go too wrong.

    Cleavers is considered an abundant source of vitamin C, and would no doubt have been much appreciated by our ancestors when other sources of goodness were in short supply in late winter. It is also considered a cleansing herb, used medicinally for treating lymphatic disorders, as well as urinary infections – possibly due to its mild diuretic qualities. Of course, always consult a good qualified herbalist if you want to principally use it for medicinal purposes.


    Foraging considerations

    Cleavers first makes an appearance in late winter (in the SW of the UK), it's not much more than a little green shoot, but pretty quickly, as the warmth and light increase, it will creep and straggle through the hedgerow and up any neighbouring plants – that’s where its tiny velcro hooks are so effective. It's a fairly common plant to spot across much of the UK, wherever there’s a sunny, wild pocket. Leaves are a simple oblanceloate shape (oblong with a sharper end) and usually in whorls (circles) of six to eight.

    It is worth being aware there is another quite common plant in the same family that can look simlar. Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) is a darker green but grows in the same kind of habitats. The easy way to differentiate between the two is to look for the telltale little hooks on cleavers – they are all up the stem and over the leaves. Sweet woodruff, by contrast, is smooth and will not stick to anything. (Sweet woodruff does have a history of medicinal use, but I have not experimented with it from an edible point of view **.)

    By mid-summer cleavers starts to bear tiny greenish-white flowers, and with this comes a bitter and coarse taste. I have read of people using the tiny round seed pods (perhaps even more sticky) of late summer as a coffee substitute by roasting and grinding, but have not tried that myself – curiously though, it’s in the same family as coffee (Rubiaceae).

    Unless you’re weeding it out of your garden, it is best to bring a pair of scissors and trim what you need; even a fairly gentle tug has a tendency to uproot the whole plant which, of course, is not in the spirit of foraging.

    cleavers6One final idea for the bushcrafters here…if you wake up in the woods or on the hills and need something to filter your fresh coffee (a wild sleep is so much better with a decent coffee to start the day), then a clump of cleavers moulded into a bowl shape does a pretty passable job. It could also be used wherever else a sieve is needed and in the past was used in this way to filter out fresh milk.

    * Typically for common plants steeped in folklore, there is a wealth of different namescleavers0 for this plant. 

    ** There are other members of the galium family growing in the wild. As far as my research can tell, none of them are poisonous, but information is rather scant. To be safe, stick with cleavers and its telltale sticky hooks.