Last autumn I went to a talk on foraging by Alys Fowler, held at Writtle and hosted by Edible Essex. You may recall that the previous year I went to a similar talk by James Wong. Alys Fowler’s talk was very enjoyable and interesting. Though I forage for fruit like blackberries and apples, I am still wary of other wild food and hoped this talk would increase my awareness of what is edible in our environs.
Alys pointed out that people who forage actually see more on a walk than those who are just walking. This is an interesting point, because people who walk regularly have bigger brains than those who are sedentary. Perhaps just recognising plants as foods stimulates the brain even more. I certainly see more, or should that be observe more if I’m out with the camera looking for something interesting to photograph. The next startling remark was that wild greens contain much more Omega 3 oils than cultivated greens. Man has bred out the omega 3 oils in exchange for shelf-life. So there are good reasons to gather a few wild greens when out for a walk. The snag is that foraged greens go off quickly.
Alys showed a photo of wild rocket growing against a wall. I didn’t know it’s perennial and this makes me inclined to grow it, especially as I now have an allotment. I grow ordinary rocket in pots but it often gets munched on by flea beetles. Wild rocket is evergreen so can be overwintered under a cloche. Even more reason to grow it, if only to lift an ordinary salad. Is Iceberg the most boring salad leaf ever? Unfortunately it’s cheap, keeps well, and the rest of my family prefer it. I think it’s fine as a salad base but look forward to adding more zingy herbs.
One thing Alys didn’t talk much about is the legalities of foraging (though this is covered in her book). There was vague mention of seeking permission from the land owner, but no discussion as to how to go about this. I haven’t a clue who owns which fields around me, nor am I up to speed on land protected by SSI status. At one point Alys mentioned picking Chaenomeles quince in a car park, and another, more significantly, of picking walnuts on a housing estate where fence bars had been prised apart to allow access. I don’t suppose it matters of you only take a little and the produce would otherwise go to waste, but when does foraging become pilfering? Someone used to pilfer all the apples off the trees I planted on my old allotment and it upset me. As I was listening to Alys I realised that most of my foraging could be done in my garden and allotment, when it came to greens. That way I was relatively certain about there not being any additions from dogs (not so sure on the allotments because some dog owners need training). I recognised sow thistle on my allotment and thought perhaps it could stay if it was edible. (It didn’t because it grew old and coarse.) I will look more favourably on the dandelions in the garden, though.
Being an impecunious author I was tight fisted and didn’t buy the books there and then, partly because last year if I’d waited I could have got Wong’s book far cheaper than the £20 I paid for it (£8 was the lowest I’ve seen it) and partly because the family were nagging me for suggestions for Xmas and these books seemed like a good idea. I did receive them for Xmas, am delighted with both of them, and went on to buy Miles Irving’s book on foraging. I’m astounded at how many of our wayside weeds are edible and hope to get round to posting alimentary adventures more frequently.