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

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Disclaimer: There's loads of good stuff to eat out there and much of it is fairly easy to identify. Unfortunatly, 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 indepth 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 percent confident you know what something is then leave it alone! Please also be aware that, as with any food, different people can have different reactions. It is wise to try just a small amount first.

A Sticky situation

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cleavers1

Here is 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 at school 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 with just cold water overnight, 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 it’s mild diuretic qualities. Of course always consult a good qualified herbalist if you want to principally use it for medicinal purposes.

Foraging considerations:

cleavers2When it 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 or up any neighbouring plants- that’s where its tiny velcro hooks are so effective. It is 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 6 to 8.

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 key way to differentiate the two is to look for the tell tale 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 deent 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- in the past it 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 although I have never knowingly found them in the UK. As far as my research can tell, none of them are poisinous but information is rather scant. To be safe stick with cleavers and its tell tale sticky hooks.

 

 

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