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.

Put a hoof in it

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A good plant family for any keen forager to get to grips with is the mint (lamiaceae).

Its relatives, cultivated and wild, number many hundreds in the UK and one common and reasonably tasty example isGround ivy-under the hedge
ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea). Thought to originate from the Mediterranean and western Asia, it has a long history of human use and, amongst a few other plants, was popular in medieval times for flavouring and clarifying ale, hence one of its colloquial names: ale hoof. The 'hoof' bit probably comes, with a bit of imagination, from its roughly hoof-shaped leaf.

Ground ivy and Baloo 2The young leaves added in moderation to a salad give an interesting bite. But it’s best use is probably as a simple infusion in hot water – providing a sharp and refreshing drink. A little bit of honey compliments it nicely. While the Chinese, who use it in various herbal medicines, add liquorice to it. 

Traditionally, many members of the mint family are excellent cooling and calming herbs. Amongst other things, they have a reputation for aiding digestion after a meal and easing inflammation of the mucous membranes.  Ground ivy, in particular, is an anticatarrhal, a decongestant and an expectorant – which basically means it helps to thin the mucus and expel it from the body. Similar to pine needles, which we covered a few posts back, if you take a deep inhalation of the crushed leaves you may notice a cooling and opening of the sinuses. 

Foraging considerations.

Ground ivy is very common in the UK. Look for sunny banks and woodland edges on most soils. At this time of year, the purple flowers also catch the eye.

One very helpful skill, when it comes to identifying wild plants, is learning to recognise the common features of different Ground ivy springheadfamilies (keen gardeners are often at an advantage here). I always tell people if you can work out the family you are three quarters of the way there – it means only having to flick through a section of your field guide rather than the whole lot!*  

A very common characteristic of the lamiaceae family is a square and usually hollow stem with stalked leaves that are opposite to one another and often slightly hairy. They are also usually rich in volatile oils which gives them their strong slightly sharp smell – if you have some common mint or peppermint growing in the garden, pick a bit and have a look. Or even basil, rosemary, lavender or marjoram, which are all relatives that have been brought into common cultivation. 

There are no obvious poisonous lookalikes, indeed, as far as I can find out there are no poisionous members of the mint family – which is not the same as saying that they all taste good!

Traditionally, May is considered peak time for picking ground ivy for medicinal uses, however our cold spring this year actually means the plant is at it’s peak about now. Nevertheless, for a simple infusion, ground ivy can easily be found from mid-spring right through to late autumn. Alternatively, it can be picked and dried to last all year. 

Incidentally, this is not related to ivy, which is generally considered poisonous.

* Good wild plant guides often come with a key which can be really useful for those with patience!

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