Monthly Archives: January 2017

Foraging the Edges of Epping Forest in Winter

I had a couple of hours spare so I thought I’d go foraging the edges of Epping Forest in Winter (late January to be precise).

Wildlife Seen

Not much to see today, but then it is absolutely freezing. The wildlife clearly has more sense than me! However, I did see a lot of Redwings on the village green, which was quite nice and not a bird that I was familiar with. I also didn’t have my camera handy, so this picture is courtesy of the RSPB website (www.rspb.org.uk).

Redwing

Trees Identified

Now this is something I’ve been trying to work on, identifying trees (especially deciduous trees in the winter). Silver Birch are pretty easy and straight forward any time of year, Elder is also fairly easy for me as I have one in the garden. Oak is quite easy, especially with all the Oak leaf litter around it. New to me was Hornbeam. Similar to Beech, but it has papery, winged fruits called ‘samara’ which contain the nuts/seeds, which in winter, hang down like brown papery decorations. Also plentiful out in Epping Forest is the good old Beech tree. Obviously, there are plenty more, but there’s only so much I can take in in one day.

Foraging for Free Food

Onto the key part of the day’s activities. Well, the sap isn’t up in the Birches yet, so they weren’t much use; the Elder is bare and didn’t even have any Jew’s Ears fungus either, however, the nuts from the Hornbeam Samara are edible, and there were still plenty of Beech nuts around too (although this is probably the last that they’ll be any good for eating).

Hornbeam Samara

The Hornbeam nuts are rock hard and tiny, so probably not much use except in dire circumstances, and with Beech nuts around, why would you bother? The Beech nuts are lovely. Opinions vary, but I think that they taste like Almonds. The Beech cast is the spiky part, inside that are the three-sided nut pods, however, the nut itself is inside that pod, so break them open first (yes, I have tried to eat the whole pod before, and while it still tastes nice, it’s a bit spiky!)

Beech Nuts and their Casts

‘Bare’ Beech nuts, ready to eat

Once prepared, the Beech nuts look a little like pine nuts (in my opinion) which got me to thinking that they could probably make a nice alternative in a wild pesto (using nettles, or wild garlic to replace the basil).

Finally, on my way home I came across some crab apples. They were the last on the tree and well past their best, however, the recent frosts had managed to get rid of some of the bitterness.

Crab Apples

So, in general, the Beech nuts were the only thing worth having on this trip, but I’ve learnt quite a lot too.

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My Standard Foraging Pack

Kit I Take When Foraging for Free Food

I was thinking about a new addition to my foraging gear/foraging pack, and I thought it might be worth sharing the rest too.

Of course, when I say my standard foraging pack, I mean my standard walking pack. After all, you wouldn’t want to come across a bumper patch of something special but not be able to take advantage of it, would you?

  • Small rucksack.
    Obviously you need something to carry your bits and pieces, and I prefer to not have my pockets stuffed full.
  • Camera/Mobile Phone.
    This is a personal choice. We all know how good the cameras are on mobile phones nowadays. However, I prefer to have a small digital camera, with optical zoom so I can catch wildlife in the distance without losing the quality that digital zoom does. I have my phone too, which I also find pretty invaluable with its identification apps.
  • Knife.
    I like to think that a clean cut will do a plant less damage than a tear, so even if I don’t have my bushcraft knife with me, I always have my little multi-tool knife (sharpened).
  • Bags.
    A few old carrier bags in my rucksack means that I can collect various things and keep them all separate in my rucksack. Ziploc bags might be better, but carrier bags are always lying around. I also appreciate that bags aren’t ideal for some mushrooms etc.; I’ve found that as long as you can open the bags in the boot of the car, or get them home within an hour or two, then it’s usually fine.
  • Walking stick/branch puller.
    I have a favourite walking pole, which has a 90 degree handle on it. Not only for walking, but the extendable nature and the handle makes an excellent puller for those goodies just out of reach.
  • Water bottle and/or flask.
    I always have a full water bottle as it’s easy to start getting dehydrated when you’re out for a few hours (even in the wind
  • Blanket.
    This one’s purely for comfort. If I want to sit down for a minute or two with my flask, and I’m not wearing waterproofs, the blanket is quite handy for keeping my dry and warm. Of course it would be handy in an emergency too.

New Items

  • And the newest item for my foraging pack, an extra bag, or bin-bag.
    Much though I hate the thought of picking up other people’s rubbish; I find that I hate the thought of leaving it behind even more.

Foraging pack

Other bits

There’s also a handful of bits and pieces I take that I would class as foraging gear; That’s just stuff I’d have on any walk. It includes: Tissues, hand wash gel, pain killers, plasters, dressing and bandage, whistle, and compass.

I’d be interested to hear if anyone has anything different in their foraging pack?

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