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.

Mugwort – dream on

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This plant only just squeezes into the wild-food category, but it's one that I’ve come to really appreciate over the last few years.

Mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris) is likely a plant you have walked past at some point but perhaps never taken much notice of. It usually starts to make an appearance in mid-spring but really comes into its glory around mid-July into early autumn. P1020109

Prior to the adoption of hops it was sometimes used to flavour ale. I cannot vouch for what that flavour would have been like, but on last-year’s van trip through France and Spain, we certainly found its aromatic qualities helped P1010022with the cheap red wine. For this kind of flavouring, it is best to pick the plant when the leaves are still quite young and fresh, such as in the photo opposite.

For the last few years however, my main focus with this plant has been making smudge sticks. These bundles of dried herbs were used for ceremonial purposes and for energetic purification by the Native Americans, a wise people with deep connection to the land. In the south western pacific area of north America, they used the native white sage and this is what has gained popularity in recent times over here.

It has always seemed a bit odd to me that we should be using such a far-away plant from a completely different culture – especially considering it is often not harvested in a sustainable or sacred manner. So this is why I started experimenting with mugwort.

Although I've not found historical proof, I think the Druids of this land – our very own ancient shamans would have created smudge sticks from the plants around them. Certainly mugwort is recorded as one of their sacred herbs, so it’s not a hard stretch of the imagination to think that they would have burnt this plant, with it’s sweet and pungent aroma. Possibly inhaling it too, I can concur that burning this shortly before bed time creates some very deep and lucid dreams – the ability to consciously observe and direct your dreams, and a very interesting source for creative inspiration. I have also heard of others who gather the leaves and put them inside a pillow, with similar effects

IMG_0020 2Making a smudge stick of mugwort is pretty simple. Cut the whole plant towards the base – ideally July to late September when the flowers are out. Fold the plant up until it is about 30 cm long, then bind it very tightly together, and dry it well. You might need to combine a couple of plants to get a nice thick stick. I use hemp string for binding, but any natural fibre like a strong cotton would work. 

Be aware though that it can crumble a bit as it’s burning, so it's sensible to keep this as an outside activity, and dip it in some water and leave it outside after use – I have known it to smoulder away unnoticed, which would obviously be very dangerous if you were to take it back inside and store it away. Incidentally, mugwort is the herb of choice for the technique of moxibustion in Chinese medicine, the herb is burnt over various accupressure points to release stagnant energy and restore balance.


Foraging considerations

Mugwort is a tall, slender plant with leaves (growing up to about 2 metres) that look somewhat similar to a cannabis plant, although no relation. If you rub the leaves lightly, there should be a slightly sticky residue from the high level of natural oils and a smell somewhat similar to lavender – again no relation. The stalk is usually a dark-red colour with a slight groove, and the undersides of the leaves are white with a downy texture. It can often be found growing along footpaths and colonising waste ground freely.P1010284

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