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 kind of seasonal diary to some of the foraging delights available to us.

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Disclaimer: There's loads of good stuff to eat out there and much of it is fairly easy to identify. Unfortunatly, 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 indepth 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 percent confident you know what something is then leave it alone! Please also be aware that, as with any food, different people can have different reactions. It is wise to try just a small amount first.

Come Pine with me

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A recent walk in the white winter forest got me pondering- what wild food can I forage when everything isPine snow buried in snow? Looking around, the first thing I saw was pine needles.

I've been wanting to experiment more with these health packed little beauties since making my first cup of 'woodsmans tea' some years ago. This is basically pine needles steeped in hot water and was a drink once consumed by the Native Americans and intrepid explorers of the boreal forests. The taste varies depending on species but, generally, it has a citrusy, slightly tangy taste and is very refreshing. Bruise them up a bit for extra flavour.

Pine teaThe Native Americans, masters of herbal medicine, used pine needles (and resin) to treat, amongst other things, illnesses of the mucous membranes and respiratory system- take a good sniff on a bunch of crushed needles and you may notice an opening of the sinuses and lungs. European herbalists also utilised them as a powerful flu and cold buster. Undoubtedly this is partly due to their very high vitamin C content but in 2010 researchers, in America again, made the breakthrough discovery that pine needles also contain significant amounts of shikimic acid. In simple terms, shikimic acid prevents flu from reproducing, thus reducing symptoms and duration, and is a key ingredient in Tamiflu- an antiviral drug used in the treatment of swine, bird and seasonal influenza. The research was mainly focused on white pine and some spruces but it is presumed other pines contain it in varying amounts and research is continuing with a view to extracting it commerically.

For my research of a more culinary nature, I sourced needles from a couple of different trees, the first was a young scots pine in the New forest and the second was a maritime pine from the nearby park. 
My first concoction was needle vinegar, I have sung the virtues of vinegar already (see dandelion post) so I will simply say that a good quality vinegar, as well as being Pine vinegarhealthy and balancing in its own right, is an extremly effective way of drawing out the nutrients from whatever plant is soaked in it. I will leave this concoction to do it's work for a month or so before adding to dishes for an extra vitamin C kick- according to my sources, it should end up with a taste similar to balsamic vinegar which, if that's true, will be a great compliment to the stash of various dried mushrooms from last autumn. 
Pine needle and honey rum was my second experimentation and I think it may be rather unique. There are a number of recipes on line for pine needle vodka (unsurprisingly a russian recipe in origin), but since I had a small amount of rum left over from making rowan berry rum, I decided to exchange this for the vodka- plus a couple of good dollops of local Dorset honey. I'll leave this a few months to 'mull' but I remain hopeful that it will bring me fame and fortune. Along with the vinegar, I'll update this post when a verdict is passed. (Jan 2014: both turned out well, the vinegar does indeed have a balsamicy taste and the pine needle rum gives an interesting, slightly medicinal kick- I shared some of it with Claire's hen party last summer. I've since made it with gin too, this has a 'cleaner' taste and is my preference over the two). 
Foraging considerations:
Do not consume yew leaves- they bear a superficial resemblence to pine but are deadly poisinous. Pines are generally easy to Pine- close upidentify, look for spaced out bundles of between 1 and 6 long thin needles (see pic right) coming out of the same place on the branch. In contrast, yews have small flat needles that run continously up a branch. The smell test is also useful here, yew does not have the citrusy smell of pine. You can be extra safe by making sure there are cones- most have dropped by winter but it's usually possible to find one or two trees with a few hanging on *. 
Also, common sense here, never actually swallow pine needles as they are too tough and prickly to digest- the emphasis is on harnessing the goodness within them.
Flavour varies quite a lot, there's around 6 fairly common pines within the UK with dozens more planted as ornament **. A good way to decide if it is worth picking is to take a needle or two and chew for about 20 seconds. This is actually an ultra simple and effective way to utilise the goodness of the needles without any preperation- spit them out of course! 

It is also worth briefly mentioning that, as a wild food source, pine trees have a lot to offer. The seeds are edible and packed with protein as is the yellow pollen of early summer while the inner bark was sometimes ground up by the Native Americans to make into flour. There are also some interesting recipes online for needle flavoured honey, needle infused olive oil and needle cordial.

* There is some discussion whether pine needles may be harmful to unborn babies. This is a nutrient source that has been utilised by humans for millennia without any recorded problems. However, it is known that some pines contain a toxin called isocupressic acid. This is poisinous to livestock and there are occasions when pregnant cattle have eaten large amounts of the needles and aborted. There are so many other sources of food out there that, if you are pregnant, it is probably best to be ultra cautious and avoid.
** Pines (Pinus) are actually members of a genus called Pineaceae, this includes the likes of spruce, fir, conifir and larch. As far as I can find out, any needles from these trees can be used but, as with all foraging, only do so if you are 100% confident with your ID skills.





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