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: Wild garlic

  1. Wild garlic – just follow your nose

    Posted on

    garlic n me

    Today I walked out with my good friend Tess and gathered the first spring greens of the year – handfuls of super nutritious, ultra delicious wild garlic (Allium ursinum).

    It has to be one of my favourite forages and can often be smelt from quite a distance. A few years ago, and a bit later in the season, I was walking along the Purbeck ridge, above Corfe Castle, when I was stopped in my tracks by a waft of garlic drifting up from the woodlands, hundreds of metres away in the valley. It was a magical moment to literally follow my nose and stumble across a green ocean billowing through the woodland as far as the eye could see. 

    wild garlic woodsNot only is wild garlic tasty, there are many health benefits too. It's rich in vitamins and anti-oxidants and is a very good cleanser of the blood, helping to increase circulation and so strengthen the heart. It's also very beneficial for the digestive system – helping to balance the gut flora and potentially bringing some relief to conditions such as IBS, Chrone's disease and gastroenteritis.

    Finally, the whole plant has strong antibacterial and antifungal qualities and can be applied as a poultice to cuts and boils to speed up the healing process and to tooth abscesses to reduce infection

    I admittedly picked this garlic, also known as ramsoms, from a very sheltered south-facing woodland. But over the next few weeks and months we can expect it to really burst forth in many broadleaved woodlands around the country (down here it has a marked preference for chalky/calcareous soils).

    One of the best things is it's long harvesting season, and the uses are only limited by the imagination. First come the green leaves which are  great in a salad, stir fry or omlette – I've even frozen them and, although they come out looking a bit sad, they go fine in a soup. This is followed by thewild garlic soup delicate white flowers which are perhaps even more potent and give a really fun splash of taste and colour to a salad. Then finally, we are left with the round green seeds. Pickled in a good vinegar, they are great on winter salads or in a cheese sarnie! I also use the vinegar when cooking home-made baked beans which makes things pretty interesting.

    As for our first harvest? We sat in front of a blazing fire at the local pub and ate them with a bowl of chips and a locally brewed ale!

    More on pickling: By around June in the UK, the garlic frenzy is subsiding for the year. However, there is one last forage to be made as the green seed heads (before they 'pop') are now ready for a good pickling (thanks Lucie Cowles for this one). Simply fill a jar full of them, pour a good quality vinegar (I use apple cider) over the top and leave for a few months. They’re fantastic in pretty much any savoury dish and make a potent addition to the winter-bug arsenal. You can do the same with the stems – as long as they look reasonably fresh, just snip them up and add them to the mix.

    Foraging considerations: The smell of garlic should be a distinct enough ID point. However, it's worth mentioning that, early in the season, it could potentially be mistaken for lords &

    DSC_0783ladies (Arum maticulatum). Although it often grows alongside wild garlic, you'd have to be pretty careless to mistake the two – lords and ladies has a rounded 'v' shape at it's base, is thicker and often (although not always) has spots. The opposite photo shows a comparison, with the lords and ladies on the left. It's a pretty poisonous plant but, by all accounts, tastes like battery acid and burns the lips, so if you are unlucky enough to have a nibble, your senses should tell you to spit it out before it's ingested (recorded poisonings have nearly always been from children eating the red berries). Much less common but very poisonous, so worth a mention, is escaped lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) Autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale). Neither of these smell of garlic, so again a careful forager should be fine. As always, if in doubt- leave it out.

    2021 update: Since writing this almost a decade ago, I've noticed a common theme on wild-food forums is the divide between the 'haves' and the 'have nots'. There will be some people posting pictures of great oceans of the stuff, and then others lamenting that they look year after year and can't find any. To this I would say, it really pays to try and get your habitat right. Wild garlic generally likes free draining land, for me that is around the chalk woodlands of Dorset and Wiltshire or the granity woodlands on the edge of Devon's moors. You can sometimes find it in the open, but generally it favours the shade, and when you do find it there tends to be great swathes.