Foraging walk with ForageLondon.com

Today I thought it would be a good idea to sign up to a foraging walk with www.foragelondon.co.uk in Crystal Palace. It was wet and freezing! However, our guide for the day, James Grant, was knowledgeable, friendly and enthusiastic.

I’m thinking that once I’ve documented them here, I’ll try to do a piece on each of them once I’ve gone out to find them for myself. I’m not going to include picture of everything here, as I’ll do that in each item’s post.

Crystal Palace park has a wide variety of edible and non-edible plants. We began by finding young Cleavers, which can be used in salads. I’d been looking at these in the garden for a while and wondering if that’s what they were. Now I know for sure.

  • Common Mallow was an interesting one. I’ve seen it lots, but didn’t know what it was. I’ll be looking out for it and trying its documented uses.
  • Pendulous Sedges were our next find. The edible seeds aren’t present now, but sometimes it’s useful to recognise all of the stages of a plants life.
  • There were some Gorse bushes in flower, and their bright yellow flowers are edible. They taste quite similar to peas or green beans and gorse tends to flower year round.
  • Monkey Puzzle trees were next, believe it or not. They produce giant pine nuts, which apparently are a great food source.
  • Stinging nettles and dead nettles. These are under-used classics for foraging and widely available. I’m looking forward to trying new things with them.
  • Wood Avens were by the side of the path. The roots are like a slightly weaker version of cloves. I may not use these, as I’ve never liked cloves!
    • We stopped for hot drinks and James unpacked his bag of treats. We had Burdock crisps, Haw ketchup, pickled Walnuts, and Birch sap. We also got to see and smell water mint and various dried mushrooms.
  • We came across an elder tree, hoping to find Jew’s Ear fungus (also known as Jelly Ear). Unfortunately there were none, but James had a bag of them for us to try,
  • We found some Strawberry trees, but unfortunately they fruits had all gone.
  • We came across some old stump puffballs, which are edible if you get them early enough, but these had gone over.
  • Yarrow was there, but very small and hard to find.
  • Strangely, we came across a bedragled Black Nightshade growing from a crack in a wall. From the Deadly Nightshade family, apparently these ripe black berries are edible.
  • Finally, as we were preparing to say goodbye and leave, we came across some chickweed, which was something I’d been keen to find (and it was next to some Field Pennycress too).

All in all a great day and finished on a high for me too. Coming soon, me trying to find those things locally and doing something with them…

Black Nightshade

Black Nightshade

Where do I collect from?

When it comes to berries, fruit, leaves, seeds, nuts and anything else that doesn’t involve taking a whole plant, I take from anywhere apart from private property, unless I have permission to take from the private property. EXCEPT, and this is quite important; I don’t collect from busy roadsides or anywhere where pollution may be possible. Plants will absorb a lot of pollutants and toxins, and if you eat them, you absorb the baddies too.

When it comes to whole plants, there’s the law and also a little common sense too. By law (at the time of writing), you are not allowed to remove whole plants (so roots etc can’t be taken) without the landowners permission. That much is obvious when you’re talking about private property, but what about public parks and woodland etc? Well that’s not always simple. Contrary to popular belief, sometimes they are privately owned but with public access granted. In any case, you have to use your common sense. If you’re stopping to get one pignut in a big field, I’m pretty sure no-one will care; If you find a massive patch of crow garlic, it’s probably OK to take a few bulbs for your own use; But if there’s only one or two of what you want, it’s not just that you’re taking without permission, you’re also damaging the environment. Those plants may not grow back.

Soon to come, my first video entry; I’ll be digging up some crow garlic (with permission of course).

Crow Garlic

Crow Garlic

Crow Garlic

OK, so this may be a basic one for some people, but I’d’ never heard of it until last week. So on Sunday I was looking out for it and there it was; By the side of the path in Lee Valley park. I thought it looked a bit like the pictures, so I grabbed a few blades and rubbed them in my hands. The smell of garlic was so strong. As sometimes happens, I see it everywhere now, by the side of the road near where I live. Next I’ll be thinking of where I can use it…

Apparently, this is a good time of year for it as the usual undergrowth that crowds it out is low at the moment allowing it to push through. Before long the undergrowth will be crowding it out, but if you make note of where it is, it should keep you in supplies until early summer.

Tasting similar to chives, it can be used in most savoury dishes, and like most of the garlic family it is supposed to have certain health benefits including lowering cholesterol and helping the liver to remove toxins.

The Starting Point

OK, so where to start?

How about with a confession. I’ve started this blog to chronicle my learnings and discoveries (and in some case, just reminders) that I pick up about foraging for food, and preparing it for eating and drinking. However, I’m not actually starting as a beginner. When I first started, the internet and blogging weren’t in common use (way back in 1990). I guess I could go even further back to 1986, when I started hill-walking for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. So, I learned a little about survival and foraging from joining the Army in 1990, and by the time I left in 2000 I’d become a Unit Expedition Leader and learned a little more. Since then, I’ve done a little more walking here and there: Mount Toubkal in Morocco, the highlights of Mont Blanc in the Alps, the Chianti region in Italy, and various walks in England and Wales.

So how much do I know? Not that much actually.¬†Probably more than most about about foraging, and plant and wildlife identification, but not as much as I’d like to. So here, I’ll be not only chronicling my new discoveries, but also documenting those that I already knew, but have come across again. Hopefully, this’ll help me to remember, and if it’s of any use to you too, that’s great. Please let me know.

See you soon for my first pictures and first real posts.