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‘Similarly, taking food from your neighbour’s allotment is also not foraging – it’s theft.’

5 foraging tips

  1. Don’t snack as you go – dogs can wee a lot higher and further than you think. Wash everything thoroughly first.
  2. Sure something’s safe? The first time, tear a little off, rub it in your fingers, then dab a bit on your tongue. Wait and see if you have a reaction – numbness, stinging, etc.
  3. Newcomers should concentrate on one plant type at a time – once you can identify that, move on to the next.
  4. Don’t neglect foraging on the beach (sea vegetables such as samphire and sea kale are delicious) – find a clean one here.
  5. Finally, get yourself a good foraging book – something like Food For Free is cheap and slips easily into the smallest pocket.

Seen someone emerging from a wood with a burlap sack stuffed with wild mushrooms, pockets full of sloes and blackberries, and chewing on some sorrel? Never fear. They’re not part of some bizarre medieval re-enactment society (well, they might be) but have probably been out following the chattering classes’ latest favourite pursuit: they have been a-foraging.

WHAT IS FORAGING?

Simple. It’s gathering edible plants that are growing wild – without trespassing – and taking them home for tea. Many of us used to do it when we were kids, except then it was called ‘scrumping’ (a euphemism for stealing fruit) or ‘blackberrying’ and didn’t have a multi-million pound publishing, TV and course-running industry behind it. (Important sidebar: trapping animals for food is not foraging – it’s poaching. Similarly, taking food from your neighbour’s allotment is also not foraging – it’s theft.)

AH, ALL THAT RAY MEARS AND BEAR GRYLLS STUFF THEN

Not so much. Ray is certainly enthusiastic about the English countryside, but, like Bear, he comes from a background of nature red-in-tooth-and-claw survivalism – you know, eating roast racoon seasoned with fire ants or staving off dehydration by drinking the liquid from a dead baboon’s stomach (then making a comfy hat out of its skin).

CAN I EAT ANYTHING I FIND?

No, a thousand times no. Most plants growing wild in the countryside neither taste nice nor provide very much nutrition. Even the friendly ones can give soft stomachs brought up on fast food and ready meals a sour and gassy supermarket-cider-style bellyache. In addition – and despite its proponents’ protestations to the contrary – most wild food is horrible. It’s hard to find, it’s dirty, it’s often bitter, usually prickly and almost always deeply unsatisfying. It may also be infected with Toxocara Canis (little worms that live in dog poo). Why do you think wild animals spend all their time looking for food? It’s because they’re half starved all the time. Nature’s larder? Don’t make us laugh.

WHAT SHOULD I AVOID?

Since this stuff has been around for a long time, we’ve got the measure of most plants and fungi and named them accordingly. Thus, anything with the words ‘poison’ or ‘death’ or ‘deadly’ or ‘destroying’ or ‘sickener’ will be something to steer clear of. Oh, and anyone who suggests that insects are delicious have had their taste buds warped by too many Liberty cap mushrooms (psilocybe semilanceata) which induce mild sickness and diarrhoea, distort colours, shapes and sounds, mess with your sense of balance and grasp of reality, and make Jefferson Airplane albums sound good…

MAXIMUM BLUFFING VALUE

Botanical names provide clues to where you’ll find a plant. So, the suffix ‘montana’ means it grows in the mountains, ‘maritimus’ on the coast and ‘halimus’ in the dunes. Plants with ‘officinalis’ in their name are usually medicinal.

DO SAY ‘The key to making a good nettle puree is to use white pepper – and don’t skimp on the double cream.’

DON’T ASK ‘Can you tell me if the mushrooms we ate earlier are poisonous?’

 

Happy Bluffing!

Rob Beattie

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