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: Pennywort

  1. Wonderwall

    Posted on

    Pennywort Devon wallOne of the most interesting foraging challenges in the UK is to find a reasonable supply of greens in the cold winter months. Thankfully wall pennywort (Umbilicus rupestris) grows most of the year in the south of the UK, and is a frequent green browse of mine. In fact, it’s often easier to find at this time of year, as other foliage dies back.

    It’s an incredibly hardy plant that has very shallow roots and can grow in the smallest nooks and crannies, where there is often very little moisture or even light. Hence it’s propensity for old walls – particularly the old stone ones that are so common down here in the SW – the photo at the top is Dartmoor, in case you're wondering.

    Pennywort and TofuAlong with a lovely thirst-quenching succulence comes a subtly-sweet flavour quite similar to peas. I’ve never tried cooking with it, as I suspect its delicate nature would be rather easily lost. Instead, I like to add it to a general salad or have fun with it as a side salad all of it's own.

    Another way to preserve that lovely flavour and texture is to pickle it in apple cider vinegar. Simply fill a sterilised jar with the leaves, cover with the vinegar, pop the lid on, and leave it somewhere dark for a couple of months. The jar pictured below was a bit of an experiment: a mixture of wild garlic seeds and pennywort. You can’t try this combination in the winter, as the wild garlic seeds are an early-summer thing, but they go really well together, the sweetness of the pennywort moderating the stronger pungent garlic flavour. 

    Pennywort and wild garlic vinegar

    Foraging considerations

    This is a pretty easy plant to find with no obvious lookalikes. If you are in the far north of England or in Scotland you might struggle in the deep winter, but look for rosettes of round succulent leaves with an indent in the middle – this is where the ‘umbilicus’ part of its botanical name comes from, as well as its more colloquial name of navelwort.

    It commonly grows on old walls where there are just enough indentations and cracks to get a foothold. Earthy banks along the edges of woodlands are another good bet. In winter it’s best to look for walls/banks etc. with a southern facing orientation. Though in summer these leaves can look a bit bleached and sorry for themselves. In which case, look for the more northern-facing walls or places where there is a reasonable amount of shade.

    From around May to September, the yellowish spike of tiny flowers can be useful for locating the plant, especially if there is a lot of other growth. Like many other plants, the taste can be a little bitter when it is flowering, but it is still completly edible. At the very least, it is a good way of selecting a spot to come back to at another point in the cycle.

    Finally, take care with the roots. They are very shallow, and a sharp pull can easily dislodge the whole plant. Much better to pinch the leaf off with your finger nails, towards the base of the plant, and take just one or two leaves from a rosette so the plant can easily re-generate – the stems are perfectly good to eat too.