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.

Feeling dandy

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DandelionThere’s been a slightly alcoholic theme to my last couple of blogs, so I thought it was time to return to what really excites me about foraging: the opportunity toDandelion- Hengistbury head eat fresh, nutrient-rich food that nourishes the body and mind. And what better plant to kick that off than the vibrant yellow dandelion?

The first couple of pictures are of a forage in the meadows near Hengistbury Head last weekend. The dandelion is a plant most of us can recognise, but not so many people realise that it’s a real powerhouse of minerals and vitamins and was widely respected in the past for its many medicinal virtues; the botanical name is Taraxacum officinale which, roughly translated from its Greek origin, means ‘The official remedy for disorders’.

Perhaps its most well-known use is as a mild diuretic. This word can have negative connotations, but a natural diuretic in moderation is very helpful for eliminating toxins through the kidneys, thereby benefiting over all body function. It can also be beneficial for high blood pressure, bloating and fluid retention. Furthermore, while pharmaceutical equivalents or caffeine products deplete the body of potassium, dandelion is rich in the stuff.

The whole plant is edible. The flowers are best picked when the sun is shining as they close up in low light and lose their sweetness.

Last year I picked a jar full on the summer solstice and gave it the vinegar treatment. I’ve touched on this method before, but I'll go into more detail now. A good quality vinegar is very effective at leaching out the nutrients from whatever plant is placed in it (I like organic apple cider vinegar, as it has a slightly fruity tone and many health benefits). After a month or so of soaking it can then be strained and used sparingly over salads, pastas, soups or whatever takes your fancy. As well as containing the essential goodness of the plant, the vinegar has a positive alkalising effect on the digestive system.

Dandelion oilThis year, I’ve also been experimenting with some dandelion olive oil, an almost identical process to the vinegar but using olive oil – I put a small pebble from the beach into the top of the jar to weigh it all down and prevent any flowers from being exposed to the air and becoming mouldy. I reckon this will be delicious after a month or two of infusion.

The leaves are great mixed in with a green salad. To the modern palette, they can seem somewhat bitter, but this is a taste our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have taken for granted, as quite a few wild plants have this characteristic. While you may not want to munch down on a whole bowl of the stuff, it is really good to include some bitterness in the diet, as it encourages the production of acids in the stomach, which aids digestion and also stimulates bile in the liver – thereby helping to break down fats in the body.

This photo is of a green salad I picked from the garden a few weeks ago – it’s asummer salad combination of dandelion leaf, yarrow, clover, pink campion and common sorrel.  It’s best to cut out the central vein of the leaf as this contains a latex-like substance that is particularly bitter. This is a great green to know as, even in winter, there are nearly always a few leaves around. 

Finally, of course, we have the roots. Dandelion coffee is one of those mythical wild food concoctions which mainly gained popularity in the Second World War, when supplies of real coffee were low. It's even commercially available online and at specalised food stores, so there must be something to it, but it doesn't do much for me (give me acorn coffee anyday). Personally, I regard the root as more of a survival food due to the fairly tedious process of collection – if you rush the extraction, it usually ends up snapping in the soil. That said, it's quite tasty as a roasted vegetable, and a fun thing to try. Autumn is the best time to have a go, as the roots are at their fattest.

Foraging considerations: There are over 200 sub-species of dandelion in this country! Hence the second part of its formal name is sometimes listed asDandelion leaf 'agg' or 'aggregate', a kind of botanical shorthand for 'lots of things that look very similar and are too complicated to list'. They can grow up to a foot off the ground, but consistent features include a hollow stem that exudes a white fluid when cut; and shiny, hairless and serrated leaves growing in a rosette on the ground. Incidentally, the word dandelion is thought to come from the French ‘dente de lion’ – teeth of the lion, referring to the jagged nature of the leaf.

Sometimes the dandelion is mistaken for it's relative the cat's ear, but these are also edible with similar health properties, so no need to worry.



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