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.

Seaweed and eat it

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When I talk about eating seaweed, people often look at me in a slightly concerned way. Yet it’s a much loved part of oriental cuisine, and with good reasonseaweed- morning swim – it’s tasty, can be used in a diverse range of dishes and is a remarkably rich source of essential minerals, vitamins and protein.

With the recent sunny weather, I’ve had great fun stocking up on some of Dorset’s finest seaweeds to keep me going through the winter – that's me on the right heading off for an early morning forage at Dancing Ledge on the Purbeck coast last week. Normally I’ll start foraging in the spring, as this is when they start to put on their vibrant new growth, but with all the stormy weather, the sea has been a bit too murky until now.

There is not space to go into all the edible varieties here, so I’ll touch on the three main ones on my recent 'shopping list' – all of which are very common and easy to recognise.

Bladder wrack (Fucus vesiculosus)

seaweed- bladder wrackOlivey brown fronds (see photo on left) with lots of air bladders that allows them to float in the current – it’s the same seaweed that pops when you squeeze it. It has a fairly strong flavour but dries very well and can then be broken up and added to soups and stews over the winter. It also works well as a simple steamed vegetable (the air sacks give it a really succulent texture), or just add a potato or two and liquidise for a serious seaweed soup. I have seen small bags of this stuff (the equivalent of a few handfuls) on sale in health-food shops for silly prices!

Sea lettuce (Ulva lactuca) and Gutweed (Enteromorpha agg)seaweed-sea lettuce

Sea lettuce, as its name suggests, looks rather like a lettuce leaf, admittedly a soggy and slightly glowing one (see photo below). I have a favourite spot off Mudeford spit where big underwater fields of it billow gloriously in the current.

Gutweed (below left) has a similar taste. Unfortunately, its name does nothing to advance the wild food cause. However, it simply refers to the hollow tubular nature of the fronds which, as the plant photosynthesises in the sunlight, produce oxygen and float upright in the water.

seaweed- gutweedBoth these seaweeds are much loved in Japan, where they also grow, and are nutritional super foods with massive amounts of vitamins B1 and C, as well as offering over 20% in protein – by dried weight. They can be eaten fresh, but I prefer to dry and then either eat them raw by crumbling them into other dishes or stir frying and adding a dash of soya sauce. I made some wonderful savoury biscuits, while sitting around the fire last year, they involved crumbled sea lettuce, rice flour (any flour would work), soya sauce and water and were pretty darn tasty. seaweed- bannock

Foraging considerations: There are no poisonous seaweeds in this country (apart from the desmearestia species, which only grow in deep water, far from the shore). That said, some are certainly tastier than others. In my experience, it seems the darker the seaweed, the stronger the taste. The green seaweeds such as sea lettuce and gutweed tend to be milder and perhaps more suitable as a beginners’ choice with the bladder wrack perhaps being an intermediate one.

Always rinse a few times to get rid of sand or debris. Ideally I like to get in the water and pick the seaweed as it floats in the current. That way it is far less likely to contain any 'bits', plus it also feels more exciting diving down amongst the rocks to forage – a total wild food immersion you might say. Obviously, make sure you are a confident swimmer for this and know local currents and tides.Alternatively, look for decent sized rock pools at low water – of course, keep an eye on the tide.

Always make sure that you leave at least 10 cm or so above the hold-fast on the rock (a bit like a plant's root) by breaking or ideally cutting the seaweed above it. That way it will continue to grow, and your impact is minimal.

I always assess water quality before collecting any seaweed, but around the South-West I generally pick with confidence. That said, I always wait for decent periods of dry weather when there is not going to be any run-off from the land, and I'd stay clear of industrial areas or old mines such as the coastal tin mines in some parts of Cornwall. If collecting near a harbour mouth, it's also sensible to wait for an incoming tide – in order to minimise any polution that may be coming down the river (of course, if you believe pollution to be a significant issue then better to stay away from that area altogether).

seaweed carFinally, I have found one of the most efficient ways of drying all sorts of wild food is a car – with a window slightly open to prevent moisture building up. Seaweed is noteable for bestowing an interesting ‘seaside’ scent which you won’t get from your average Halfords air freshener. On the plus side, it dissipates after a couple of months and makes an excellent theft deterrent in the meantime.

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