I was out for a walk around the Lee Valley last night, particularly looking out for Elderberries and Yarrow for some home-brewing projects I have planned. I found what I needed, but I could help also noticing the huge amounts of pink flowering Himalayan Balsam along the river’s edge just about everywhere.
Whilst it looks very pretty, it’s a controversial plant as it’s the invasive immigrant, Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera). It is highly invasive, and tends to choke up rivers quite quickly.
It does this with an amazing seed spreading system, which involves the seed heads ‘exploding’ and flinging the seeds up to seven feet away.
Exploding Seed Head
However, there is a positive aspect to this plant. Most of it is edible, and being in such abundance and widely hated, there is no reason not to collect some (carefully) and cook it up!
Himalayan Balsam Recipes
A quick internet search for “Himalayan Balsam Recipes” will turn up plenty of results for you. I won’t copy them here (unless it’s to review them after I’ve given it a try), but some of the things I’ve seen include:
I wanted to post something along the lines of a definition of foraging and what it means to me, but I am in no way an absolute authority, hence it’s more of a discussion point rather than a hard and fast definition. This is what it means to me, but I’d love to hear from readers about their opinions.
Why made me think of this
The incident that spurred this, was a night in with my wife, watching an old favourite film on the TV – Crocodile Dundee. Early on in the film, Sue is in the bush with Mick Dundee and he’s prepared a spread of “bush tucker” for her to eat. This spread included fire-roasted goanna, yams, witchety-grubs, fire ants. etc.
Sue says to Mick “What about you. Aren’t you having any?”
Mick replies “Me?” and gets a tin out of his bag.
“Well, you can live on it, but it tastes like shit.”
That had me thinking that there’s actually two types of food foraging:
Foraging for survival.
Foraging for everyday consumption.
Crow garlic dinner
Where foraging for survival is all about calorie intake regardless of flavour/texture/palatability; and foraging for consumption is about finding wild food which is pleasant on it’s own, or which adds to the palatability of everyday meals/snacks.
Foraging for survival might include such things as cat-tails rhizomes and silverweed roots for carbs/calories, ground elder, nettles, etc for teas and their nutrients.
Foraging for everyday might include things such as blackberries, raspberries, red-currants, hazelnuts, wild garlic and so on for their flavours.
You could possibly include a third option of “Foraging for the study of Ethnobotany” to the foraging definition, where Ethnobotany is the study of the human usage of plants. However, I would class this is something that sits alongside the other two options.
And this article doesn’t even go into foraging for medicinal wild plants (which I am also doing).
Which category an item fits into, can be entirely down to who is doing the eating. For example, you may find the suggestion of eating woodlice completely distasteful and categorise them as survival food; on the other hand, you may enjoy their shellfish-like taste as part of a rice, potato, or bread-based dish, in which case they fit into the other category.
Whilst it’s not really possible to look at one category without the other in this foraging definition, my main area of focus is foraging for everyday consumption. So, along the way I’m also discovering survival foods, and understanding certain aspects of Ethnobotany.