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: Elderflower

  1. Elderflower power

    Posted on

    There are a few wild foods out there that have cunningly managed to find their way on to the supermarket shelf. elder tree and willElderflower (Sambucus nigra) is one of them, with teas, yoghurts, wines and cordials all readily available. But I shall forgive its treacherous ways, as its heady scent and flamboyant spray of white flowers are a joyous site at this time of year.

    They seem to be frothing all over the Purbeck hills at the moment, and a trip out there last weekend, with the delightful Kimberley, yielded a big bag of fresh blooms. Upon our arrival home, and hungry from a long walk, we whipped up a thick elderflower pancake (a slightly healthier version of the famous battered elderflower). It was just a simple pancake recipe, with a dozen big heads of elderflower and a tablespoon of honey added, but the result was delicious with a fresh floral flavour lingering on the taste buds.

    elderflower pancakeThe next day I continued my kitchen adventures with some elderflower gin. This was a first for me, so it’ll be a few months before I can venture an opinion, but it simply involved filling a jar two-thirds full of elderflowers, putting a good dollop of locally made Dorset honey in there, and then topping it up with gin. I’ll shake it every few days for the next few weeks to get everything mixed, and then store it until autumn – I love making spirits from seasonal fruits and flowers, it’s like bottling the joys of a particular season to savour at a later time. (Jan 2014 update: a very good concoction that I have shared with a few different groups now and will probably become an annual tradition).

    It’s seems honey has a natural affinity with the elderflower – elderflower honey
    enhancing the soft floral tones – so the next logical step was to make some elderflower honey. Honey is a good medium for harnessing the power of herbs and summer flowers as, when placed in the sunlight for a few weeks, it draws out the nutrients of whatever plant is placed in it and becomes infused with those flavours. A good quality honey also has significant antibacterial qualities so, harnessed with Elderflowers’ herbal reputation as a ‘fever breaker', this will be great medicine for any bugs next winter.

    My final treatment with the remaining flowers was to dry them off on the car dashboard for a few days and store in a jam jar – elderflower makes a fresh and soothing tea, with the herbal benefits outlined above.

    'What about cordial?', you may be asking. Well, I probably won’t get round to making it this year, as I’m not keen on the large amounts of sugar involved. This may not be a logical stance considering I have been frying the flowers and mixing them with alcohol so, if you have never tried it before, it is worth getting a recipe off the internet. It's easy to make, and an iconic taste of summer that every wild foodie should experience. Incidentally, the Italian-liqueur Sambuca contains elderflower as a main ingredient and is named after the tree's latin genus – Sambucus.

    Foraging considerations:
    There are a few other white blooms that could be mistaken for elder but, as long as you get some simple tree ID right, there shouldn’t be a problem – as always, look online or consult a field guide for help. Key points for the elder are a shrubby short tree with soft corky bark and pinnate green leaves with, some would say, a slightly unpleasant 'mousey' smell.Elder leaf

    The exact timing of the flowers seems to vary from year to year, but roughly around the end of May till the end of June is a good time to go looking in the south and south-west of the UK. Avoid picking when damp, as the flowers get soggy and smell strange. Also avoid washing before use, as it disperses a lot of the flavour. There are enough trees around, so be a bit fussy and pick the finest white blooms you can find – these are fresher and less likely to have bugs – a quick shake over some grass or undergrowth should disperse any hangers-on. Flowers picked now will mean no berries in the autumn, so best to take a few blooms from different trees to minimise your impact.