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.

In a nut shell

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One of the things I love about bushcraft is the glimpses it can offer of the ancient people who once roamed this land.hazel nut

I was vividly reminded of this on a recent visit to the British Museum. As I entered the long corridor of British prehistory, something stopped me dead in my tracks. Sitting nonchalantly alongside some early hand axes was a case full of broken and charred hazelnut shells – remnants of a meal eaten around ten thousand years ago by some of the earliest people to return after the great ice receded and the forests reclaimed the land.

I stood looking at that case of discarded shells for quite a while. And in those mesmerising minutes, as the modern city manically whirled around me, I felt a visceral connection to those ancient people. A realisation that, in the moment when I reach out to a hazel tree (Corylus avellana) and pluck a nut from its branches, a fragile portal opens up between this world and a world long forgotten. For in that brief moment, we share an experience that bridges the millenia and brings us together. 

hazel leafAnd now, as another summer comes to completion, it's time again... It's always a gamble between waiting for the nut to fully ripen, and risking the squirrels taking them all, or picking them when they are still quite young. Sadly, I cannot emulate the foraging skills of a creature that lives full-time in the woods, so I hedge my bets: picking them while they are fresh now, but making a mental note to keep an eye open over the next couple of months for any trees overlooked by the squirrels.

In their early stages, they lack the richness of the ripened versions but have an appeal of their own, offering a fresh fruity crunchiness. The first two pictures are from a tree nestled in an old hedgerow near Wimborne last week. Unfortunately, they will not ripen after picking, but this means I can justify eating them on the spot – at this time of year, the shell is often soft enough to break in your hands. Otherwise, continuing the way of the ancients, a couple of rocks do the job. If I can find a few ripe ones, come late September or October, I’ll save them and roast them up on the embers of a winter fire – there are all sorts of recipes online, but, as with a lot of wild food, I like to savour things as simply as possible.

Foraging considerations: This is an easy one to identify, the hazel nuts resemble the shape of the shelled ones you would typically see in the shops, although usually a bit smaller (most of the commercially sold ones are from cultivated varieties). At the moment, they are a pale-green colour, but they will get browner as the season progresses.

Hazel is one of the most common trees in the UK. It grows to 5 or 6 metres tall, with a smoothish grey-brown bark, and a rounded leaf with pointed tip. It grows in old hedgerows, and often as a neglected coppiced understorey in the woods. In this habitat it can appear more like a shrub than what many people consider to be a tree. 

Those deep in the woods are unlikely to produce nuts though – even in a tree that is producing a good harvest, it’s common to get a few blanks where the shell is hollow. Mother Nature's way of preventing complacency perhaps.

Incidentally, in Celtic mythology there is much legend behind the hazel. The nut was esteemed by the Druids, as it was considered to bestow great powers of wisdom. The old saying ‘in a nutshell’, meaning to condense important information into its essence, is thought to stem from this.

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