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.

Mallow magic

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Wandering up the zig-zag path which leads from beach to home, I sometimes stretch over the fence and nibble the seed pods of common mallow. They have a mallow and searefreshing and slightly nutty flavour, but it was only last week that I got round to experimenting with the thick glutinous leaves.  

A bit daft that I haven’t done so before, as common mallow (Malva syIvestris) fits all my favourite foraging criteria: healthy, tasty and abundant – it scatters itself all along the cliffs here.

So, after a quick forage for the juicest leaves, I got busy in the kitchen. First, I tried them raw but found them rather tough – though the edible flower petals are softer and would add an interesting splash of colour to a summer salad. Next, I thought I would try a stir fry. I got a bit distracted, left them a few minutes too long and, to my surprise, they turned really crunchy. With a sprinkle of salt, they were a delicious crisp like snack, although I suspect much of the nutritional value was somewhat negated by this method.

Feeling quite adventurous by this stage, I had a quick look online and decided to make a popular Middle Eastern dish called molukhia soup. It uses a mallow that is a little different to common mallow but has very similar mucilaginous qualities. From what I can understand, common mallow also thrives in many of these countries and is sometimes used as a substitute anyway. In fact, during the siege of Jerusalem in the 1948 Israeli-Arab conflict, food supplies were cut off and near-famine conditions prevailed. However, mallow, which grew in abundance, was chopped up and fried as patties and helped the population survive.

bowl of mallow soupThere’s lots of recipes online, but the basic ingredients in my dish were shredded mallow leaves, chick peas, lentils, tomatoes, garlic, onion, paprika, cardammon and olive oil. I put some in a pot and took it to Smiley-Angie’s beach hut where we dined while watching the sunset over Christchurch harbour – just to have a bit of fun with the Middle Eastern theme, we had pitta bread and houmus on the side with a dessert of dried apricots. mallow and beach hut

From a medicinal view point, most of mallow’s virtues arise from its high mucilage content, around 7% in the leaves. This is what creates the velvety texture and also makes it very soothing for colds, dry coughs and gastrointestinal upsets such as IBS and stomach ulcers. It was also once a common external remedy for rashes, dry skin, cuts and insect bites – the leaf was soaked in warm water and then wrapped around the skin.

I’m so impressed with it that I am currently drying some leaves on a window sill for later use.

Foraging considerations: This plant is easy to identify, although it’s just about conceivable thatP1010260-2, from a distance, it might be mistaken for poisonous foxglove. It grows up to two metres tall and has thick, hairy, crinkled leaves on long stalks. At this time of year the five petalled pinky/mauve flowers are also a good ID point. There are a few other less-common varieties of mallow that you also might come across, but all are edible.

If you live by the sea, on the south coast at least, head for the cliff tops and beach edges, otherwise waste ground and field edges are common hosts. It’s usually a perennial, so once you have located a patch, remember it for next year. Pick the most vibrant green leaves you can find, and do it fairly soon as, once the summer is in full swing, they will start to look a bit sorry for themselves – in the Middle East it is considered a winter plant. The soft nature of the leaves means they can pick up a lot of dust and pollution, so factor that in if you are picking near roads. Because it grows so tall, it is easy to pick leaves beyond dog-pee level. The leaves also wilt very quickly, so don’t leave them hanging around the kitchen too long.

In case you’re wondering, the common mallow is a relative of the marsh mallow, which is now a rare plant in this country due to habitat destruction. It’s roots were once used to make a kind of herbal sweet – before someone realised that a concoction of refined sugar, gelatine and E-numbers could be passed off as the same thing!


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  1. Tess

    Hey Will, Have you tried samphire? It's delicious and apparently there's lots at Studland? Tess P.S. Great blog :)

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