Please note that many of these articles were originally written for the old GB Wildlife site in between 2008 – 2010 and organisations may have changed since then.
Wildlife Blogs – Wild Food Foraging
My life changed after I started foraging for wild food seriously; shopping for groceries used to be a chore. Now it’s like I have a wild, exotic food market on my doorstep, with free organic produce that comes with fully compostable packaging, but no best before dates or cooking instructions! I first discovered the amazing variety of wild food plants on a survival course in 2003, Cordon Bleu cookery it wasn’t, but I couldn’t wait to get home and use the plants with olive oil, lemon juice spices and seasonings. I was delighted to find that with a bit of know how, wild plants can taste every bit as good as shop bought produce, and are jam-packed with nutrients and natural goodness.
I forage most days, sometimes it’s just a handful of nettles or dandelions from the garden, otherwise I’ll walk across the common or down by the river, or maybe go for a bike ride along the country lanes and villages around Cambridge. This daily practice keeps me in step with the year and I’ve learnt to see the subtle beauty of constantly changing seasons. I’ve also developed an appreciation of seasonality in food since I began foraging, as many wild foods are only at their best for a couple of short weeks. Gorging on a glut of wild cherries for a fortnight is as exciting as Christmas for me! Even stinging nettles which are visible for most of the year have a relatively short period when they’re at their tastiest and most nutritious. I used to drive to more distant forage sites, but I find and see more by travelling less and moving slower. Last weekend for example I set off on a bike ride in search of elderberries, but half way to my destination, I’d already collected a good haul of blackberries and hawthorn berries. I’d say there are around 40 wild foods growing in a 10 mile radius from where I live.
Foraging for food does take longer than a trip to the supermarket, but it’s quality time. I try to use wild foods as accent flavours combined with readily available ingredients which cuts down on the time needed to collect enough plants for a meal. I also want my foraging activities to be sustainable and in tune with the environment.
Cooking with wild food can be a challenge, I’ll often go out expecting to find a particular plant and have an idea how I’m going to cook it, but it very often happens that something else appears instead, so I have to rethink my menu! It’s easy to get carried away with the abundance and pick more than you need. People often ask why I don’t make wild food dishes to sell in shops and restaurants, but so much of the pleasure of wild food is in the finding and collecting.
The whole process of going out to look for food is both relaxing and energising. Some of my most creative ideas occur when I’m quietly picking fruit or wandering down a woodland path enjoying the sunshine (or rain!) and soaking up the fresh air. Little nature treats are common: a heron takes flight from the opposite side of the river bank, a fox slinks across my path in the woods.
Being outside so frequently over the past few years I can’t help but notice the effect on plants and wildlife brought about by climate change. The dawn chorus is definitely quieter in the city than it used to be even 5 years ago, plants which used to disappear for the winter remain in leaf even through the coldest months. Species of insect have good and bad years which seem more extreme – this year I’ve seen hardly any cockchafers but soldier beetles seem to be thriving! Seeing these effects close up have had a more drastic effect on my own efforts to lead a greener life than all the news items and eco-advice in the media.
Jacky Sutton-Adam teaches foraging and wild food cookery in Cambridgeshire. To find out more please go to her twitter feed.