Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Wild pickings

Sunday morning, I went on a group walk with a countryside ranger to learn a little about wild foods that grow locally, and how to pick and store them. There were about a dozen people. Fathers with sons, couples and people like me on their own some. The session lasted two hours. We walked round in one big circle. First we were shown a beech tree of which the young tender leaves were edible and could be used for a liqueur called Noyau. A liqueur traditionally made with brandy flavoured with nut kernels. There is a classic British recipe called Beech Leaf Noyau.
Then we were taken to a marshy part of the field and were shown this sight. On first glance it looked like little baby owls perched on the stick, but closer inspection showed otherwise. It was actually a plant called reedmace, a natural fibre that is often used for starting fire in the woods.
Hawthorn tree – young hawthorn leaves can be used salads.
I was rather surprised at the versatility of the dandelions too. I would really like to try some in a cooked dish, but there are not many places where I live that is free from the pee of the walked dog, so me actually cooking with them may actually take a while, but do watch this space.
Wild Garlic mustard, also called Jack-by-the-hedge.
Sweet Cicely has an aniseedy taste. The dried seeds are used in baking. We were introduced to mugwort, yarrow and were given a rather quick lesson into how to tap a Silver birch tree for its sap to make recipes such as birch syrup. For me the most interesting thing was learning that cleavers, also known as goose grass were edible. Finally it was the turn of the stinging nettle. We were all made welcome to pick the stinging nettle if we wished, but i don't think anyone actually did (no gloves!). The countryside ranger also demonstrated making nettle tea. Simply pour hot water over some fresh leaves and allow to steep, before removing. If you add a slice of lemon to the hot liquid, the green colour should turn a faint pink.

Then it was back to our starting point for some non-alcoholic ginger wine, which was lovely and light compared to one I had last year, which was alcoholic. I purchased mine from a bakery in the Barras for a couple of pounds. It was powerful stuff: thick, syrupy and sweet. I really liked it and wanted to go back for some more, but never did. We also got to try some 'plum cordial' and 'Nettle and potato soup' which was warmly received by all as it started to cloud over.
We were also shown a selection of books on foraging and cooking with wild weeds.

I have to admit this walking around re-energised me, so when I got back home, I spend about a couple of hours in the garden, putting in the Brassica plants I had picked up from an independent garden centre. These were: all year round cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and broccoli. D came down and helped me put some netting over these, so that the bigger birds, namely the collared doves, and common pigeons could not munch on them. My next concern was the slimy slugs. I better start saving those egg shells, which were actually going into the compost bin. Now I have other ideas for them.


  1. this sounds so interesting, i love learning about wild foods. i use a lot in my own cooking, i was recently working on a recipe for dandelion cupcakes...they turned out very well!

  2. Thank you Clare.
    Lets keeps learning!
    Ooh I am intrigued by your dandelion cupcakes. It so wonderful to create recipe 'out of the box'.

  3. Little Messy Missy,
    I have yet to try some.

  4. I want to go on one of these foraging day courses so badly it hurts, maybe this year I'll do a mushroom one in the autumn.

    I normally cook dandelion flowers from my garden, and it is a weed I tolerate in certain areas of the garden. They are very nice fried in a batter.

    Clare's dandelion cupcakes are intreaguing, how about posting a recipe? please :)

    That tip on turning the nettle tea pink is a cute one I won't mine trying, I drank alot when I was preggers helps to strengthen the womb they say and is even more benificial with the leaves of your blackberry bush.

  5. Kella,
    This was my first foraging with a crowd. I am pleased I did it, but It didn't cover everything i wanted to know, so more exploring and learning of a personal kind and lots of reading.

    I recommend you check with your local council. Some have these events on and they are sometimes free.

    I love your idea of frying dandelions in batter, I must try that is that inc. the flowerhead too or just the stem and leaves?

    Yes, I look forward to the recipe too.

    I'll keep in mind your experience of drinking nettle and blackbery bush, when my time comes (hopefully) :D

  6. Just the flowers I use when frying in batter. I have tried the leaves young and blanched (grown with out light) but really am not a fan of bitter tasting salad leaves. Back in 2007 I grew fantastic raddichio but OMGoodness the bitterness was horrible, tried all the remedies of soaking in water etc to leach out some of the bitterness but eh eh, yuck! too bitter.

    I will contact my council re the classes, I only know of the classes put on by certain NGO conservation groups. I can see how a one on one class would appeal, as you can really then garner info on things that are of particular interest to yourself.

    When that time comes ;) feel free to bend my ear I have some great reading material.

  7. Thanks Kella,
    Before I had my allotment plot, I actually grew some radicchio and like you found it extremely bitter. A couple of days ago, I actually tried blanhed dandelion leaf, bitter - reminded me of radicchio too. Wouldn't mind trying the flowerheads though.

    When you contact the council - contact Land Services, or the people who manage council allotments and parks, they should have a better idea of whats on in your locality. Fingers crossed you find something that the girls can get involved with too.
    Thank you, will keep in mind!!!

  8. Thanks will try those departments, now how do you know I would want to involve my girls. When ever i enquire about including my girls in stuff like this I am always disappointed in the refusal on the grounds of health and safety but there is always a chance they will say yes so I always ask.

  9. Interesting stuff, I'd like to know what I could do with goosegrass/cleavers that would taste good!

  10. Kella,
    The one I signed up to was child friendly - so hopefully the one where you are will be too!

    Thanks Kathy/Cathy - sorry can't remember spelling of your name :(
    Mmm If I come across a recipe,,i'll let you know. The countryside ranger did say, but I honestly can't remember now.

  11. That sounds like a fun day out and it sounds like you learned tons too. A very enjoyable post Mangocheeks :)

  12. Thanks Jacqueline.
    I learned some things, but I still want to learn so much more.


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