05 October 2015 by Dumisani Nyathi
Seven years ago I went on a short foraging walk close to my home in Brixton, of all places. Who would’ve thought there was a kingdom of plants to be had for the taking in London? I certainly didn’t expect to find so much on my doorstep!
That day really changed my perspective on food and helped me understand my relationship with nature. I’ve always loved the idea of being able to pick food from the wild. It feels more natural than going to a supermarket and picking up the same carrots and bland tomatoes each week. Foraging has also taught me to consider plants which are usually regarded as weeds and irritants in a new light.
In fact, I’ve come to think that we’re all foragers, to some extent. From that first taste of honeysuckle as a child, to picking blackberries from the hedgerow on your way home from work. Both are amazing, and nothing tastes as sweet or fragrant.
I’ve had some great successes, using the things I’ve found to create many delicious recipes. Did you know that mallow can be used in curry? It has a great gelatinous residue which is similar to okra and tastes like spinach. Perhaps we should be calling it ‘spinkra’?
Foraged items aren’t just for food. Many plants with medicinal qualities can be found growing in your local hedgerows. An equal measure of yarrow, mint and elderflowers will give you a cold remedy that will send your supermarket bought blend running for the hills!
But I have had my fair share of failures. I wish I’d known more before I shelled and roasted 200 acorns, only to find them inedible due to worms and disease. I’d also like to know the magic formula for avoiding mould when creating elderflower champagne and rosehip syrup - something I’m still struggling with.
Seven years on, I’m still the foraging champion in my circle of friends – and proud of it! I can no longer justify paying £3.99 for 500 grams of blackberries when I know I can get 5 kilograms for free! And neither should you. Get out foraging – I can’t recommend it enough.
Of course, you have to be careful when you’re foraging. Never pick or eat anything unless you know for certain what it is. It’s also best to leave things growing close to the ground due to dogs and wildlife being able to reach them. Being careful means I have yet to explore the fascinating world of mushrooms. That’s just too much of a life and death situation, which I’m not entirely confident with yet.
If you’re keen but don’t know where to start, join a nature walk, like I did. You could buy a good book, or read the many blogs and tutorials available free online. Start with some basics: if you can identify an apple, then you can pick a crab apple, which is miniscule in comparison. Blackberries are easy to spot, as are rosehips.
There’s nothing that can beat the feeling of bringing food home from the wild, except maybe the super smugness which follows when you serve your friends and family sloe gin, elderflower fritters and nettle and potato soup for dinner!
When out foraging, remember to never pick or eat anything that you cannot identify with confidence. Always leave enough behind for wildlife.