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.

Sea beet – how terribly vulgar

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Sea beet- HengistburyIt's mid-winter, but on the coast one of my favourite nutrient rich greens is still braving the elements – sea beet (Beta vulgaris maritima). 
It's a regular feature of the cliffs and harbours around Dorset and much of the SW coastline (generally if a plant has vulgaris in its botanical name it means its common – hence snobby Victorians refering to the masses as 'vulgar').
And we have a lot to thank this humble plant for, as it is the ancient ancestor to popular garden veg such as perpetual spinach, chard and beetroot. Even sugar beet, which supplies the UK with around 50 percent of its raw sugar, has its origins in this unassuming plant. 
The leaves can be eaten raw, but I find them quiteSea beet,chanterelle,bean in creamy cheese tough.* However, a few minutes light steaming and they're transformed into a succulent veg – very similar to a rich, full-bodied spinach. And like spinach, the culinary applications are virtually limitless. The pic to the right was tonights meal – sea beet, winter-chanterelle mushrooms and kidney beans in a light cream-cheese sauce.
Foraging considerations.
Some books will tell you this plant doesn't grow through the winter, but I find it year round in the SW of the UK. The top pic is on the edge of Christchurch harbour a few weeks ago. 
The leaves vary quite a bit in size, from around 5 cm in length up to 20 cm, but once you've 'got your eye in', they have a pretty distinct appearance – they are a dark glossy green in colour with a thick succulent texture, and they always grow from a central rosette. In summer, sea beet produces tiny flowers in tall dense spikes, which can further aid identification (these are also edible). It's presence close to the sea is another helpful ID point.
sea beet leafI must finally mention that Sea beet contains oxalic acid which can inhibit the body's ability to absorb calcium and other minerals, and in frequent large amounts may contribute to kidney stones. For someone eating a balanced diet, there should not be cause for alarm, as most green vegetables contain oxalic acid**. The fact that sea beet is uncultivated and has a fairly strong taste, suggests it probably has quite a high amount, but from the research I have done across various sources, unless you are eating it very frequently and in large helpings it should not be an issue – let us not overlook the fact that this humble little green is incredibly rich in essentials such as folic acid, potassium, magnesium and vitamin C and K.
* Cooking also helps to break down oxalic acid.
** Some medical professionals advise, as a precautionary measure, avoiding all vegetables with oxalic acid if you suffer from kidney disorders, gout or rhematoid arthritis.

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