Foraging has a calming influence – simply being outdoors, crunching through red and gold autumn leaves in the fresh air calms down our stress response and is a great skill to share with our children and dogs!
Today the supermarket aisles are the obvious place for us go to forage for our food. In this way we have lost so much. When we pick berries, nuts, fungi, seeds, flowers and herbs from nature, it’s the first step to unravelling our disconnection from it. We are truly eating ‘local’, we know it’s mode of life, where it was born, it’s best in season moment and in turn we value and honour it’s journey to our plate. It is always a fascinating surprise at how much of the so called ‘weeds’ are edible and medicinal.
To start your own foraging journey, you don't need any special equipment, except perhaps secateurs and a good reference book. Just wear stout footwear and thick gardening gloves because the hedgerow is a thorny place and take a basket or small back pack for collecting your haul with a few smaller freezer bags for keep the fruits, seeds and leaves separate. Ideally choose a dry day to do your pick!
There are a few rules you need to be aware of before you get going;
Be 100% sure you are certain of identity and edibility. Download an app for instant online identification. I use Picture This for plant identification.
When eating something new, it is always worth eating a small amount first.
Only pick 20% from each find. Leave the rest to the birds, animals, nature and other foragers.
Avoid gathering fruits, leaves, flowers close to busy roads. And of course generally forage above the height at which an Alsatian could cock its leg!
Give everything a thorough wash and pick-over when you get home.
October is actually an excellent time to forage. Fungi seem to appear over night, (be absolutely certain of what you are picking with mushrooms, see pic below. These look edible but in fact are poisonous). Keep an eye out for sharp little crab apples which should be grabbed whenever you can. They may be small and sour, but you can make some amazing recipes with the fruit of the crab apple tree. They have an exceptionally high pectin and acid content which makes them ideal for setting fruit jams and jellies. They also have an excellent, tart and tangy apple flavour and I like to add them to my morning juice.
And then there are rosehips, with their glowing, crimson skins. These grow wildly and abundantly, generally, their flavour gets better as the season progresses. Once cooked, strained and sweetened, rosehips release a gorgeous, deep, honeyed flavour, and make a wonderful syrup and a beautiful hedgerow jelly. They contain a huge amount of Vitamin C and make a great skin oil for stretch marks.
Sloes are also having their moment of the year. These little black blueberry shaped berries are bitter to eat raw but great for adding to our rich plummy
Winter Gin or Vodka; Make it now for drinking next Christmas.
1kg mix of sloes, damsons and haw berries, washed, 500g sugar and 1 litre gin or vodka. Prick each fruit several times with a pin, then transfer to a large, clean Kilner jar. Add the sugar, pour in the alcohol, seal and leave in a cool place away from direct sunlight. Every week or two, turn the jar on its head, then back again. After six months, strain the liquid through muslin, then bottle and seal tightly. Leave for six months. It will be even better after two years – or more – provided you have the patience.
But don’t throw the fruit away… they have more to give… make them into Recycled Boozy Fruit Chocolates; Melt dark 75% cocoa chocolate, add orange zest and using a cocktail stick dip the drunk soaked fruit into the melted chocolate. Set aside on a tray covered in cling film. Refrigerate until set then pop them into a jam jar. They make a gorgeous edible Christmas pressie.
Join me at our next Wild Ivy Retreat event, ‘Earth’s Wisdom’ on Sunday 7th November in Puttenham for more nurturing in nature foraging experiences, lunch, nature craft and mindful moments. www.wildivyretreats.com