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.

Berry tasty

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hawberries- close upHedgerow Hallelujah! It’s early autumn and the land is bursting with wild-food goodness!

Last week, I was experimenting with the, often overlooked, hawthorn berry (Crataegus monogyna).

Some of you may remember my post in late March regarding the rather tasty leaves and flower buds of the hawthorn tree. Well, a summer of growth later and now it’s the turn of the berries. Generally they are not considered a wild-food treat due to the large stone and rather starchy flesh, but this year I thought I would overcome that by making haw leather.Hawberries and me

And so last week I headed out to a favourite hawthorn patch near Wareham in Dorset. I regularly ride past this hedgerow on my way to work, and it feels like an old friend now. Its early spring blossom warms my heart and, as the months pass, I watch the hard green berries form and gradually ripen until, before I know it, they hang dark red and heavy in the early autumn air.

There’s a great section in Ray Mear’s Wild Food Britain series where he and Gordon Hillman make the leather the true bushcrafty way (see link at the bottom of this post – it makes for fascinating viewing). I tried this approach last year and found it messy and hard work, so this year I utilised a few modern luxuries and stewed it very gently for twenty minutes in a saucepan, with a tiny bit of water, before mashing and straining through a sieve. It was then simply a matter of spreading very thinly onto trays and drying – I used a combo of a car, a shed and the oven on a very low heat.

The resulting nutritious and tasty fruit leather was cut into strips that potentially can last for Hawthorn berries- panyears. I don’t have a pic to hand, but the one below is some hawthorn and wilding apple leather I subsequently made just a couple of days ago with Ruth and her posh dehydrator. hawberry and crab apple leather

From a medicinal point of view the hawthorn has many positive uses. Its main application is as a heart strengthener and balancer – making it a gentle tonic for both high and low blood pressure (it’s been highly endorsed for this purpose by Commission E – the branch of the German government that studies and approves herbal treatments). There is also evidence to suggest it is effective in breaking down calcium and cholesterol deposits in the arteries, making it helpful for arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is also rich in Vitamin C and anti-oxidants.

hawthorn leafForaging considerations: There are some seriously poisonous red berries out there, so, as always, be sure you know what you are picking.The hawthorn is a sub-species of the apple tree (which in turn is part of the rose/ rosaceae genus). If you look closely at a berry you may notice it somewhat resembles a red apple in the texture and markings on the skin – the taste is also reminiscent of a starchy over-ripe apple. It is a very common tree of hedgerow and woodland, normally not growing more than 6 metres, with a small and simply-lobed leaf (the hawthorn post from March has some more detail). 

At this time of year, there tends not to be as many thorns as earlier in the season. Any still present, grow at a 45 degree angle away from the trunk. The advantage of this is you can run your hand along a branch and collect a good handful of berries with very few prickles – I picked around a kilo in twenty minutes and didn't worry about a few stalks and leaves ending up in the mix as they were strained out anyway. It's also worth being a bit fussy as the trees vary in the quality and amount of berries they produce. 

Autumn spirit

Finally, a fun thing I like to do at this time of year is to make an autumnal spirit to warm up the cold winter months. Last year I used brandy, this year I’m using whisky – mainly because the neighbours gave me a big bottle for looking after their cat! Here’s the start of it: hawberries and elderberries. I’ll add some blackberries, rose hips and sloes soon and then, come the depths of winter, test it out on some suck…um, friends.

Ray Mears and Hawthorn- hawthorn berries are about a minute into this section:



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