Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Edible treasures: foraging for food

Forget plastic packaging – foraging can be sustainable and fun, writes Sophie Haydock

July 17, 2011
5 min read

Their names won’t exactly make your taste buds tingle: chicken of the woods, hairy bittercress, beefsteak fungus, giant puffball, shaggy ink cap, white dead nettle and jelly ears (which are shaped like a human ear). But give them half a chance, and their unconventional flavours will certainly earn your respect – and a special place at your table.

Foraging is the age-old process of gathering food from nature. Almost the whole year round, in woodland, fields, on hedgerows and oozing from cracks in trees, you can find a surprising range of wild fungi, leaves, fruit, nuts and berries.

It wasn’t long ago that gathering wild food was a normal part of British culture. During the second world war, rosehips were commercially gathered because of their high vitamin C content. Now we’re seeing a ‘real food’ renaissance, including a resurgence in the number of allotment holders, people growing their own food at home, and more and more people interested in foraging and wild food.

1 Get to know your inner hunter‑gatherer

Foraging for your dinner will make you see the world with new eyes. The inner hunter-gatherer is alive and kicking when you collect food directly from the earth. Grubbing under hedgerows, rummaging among fallen leaves, and using your instincts and knowledge of how the earth, weather and seasons interconnect to find a tasty morsel can be very rewarding.

2 Start nearby

Wild food is not just for people with access to countryside – even in cemented cities, it appears in the most unexpected locations: edible greens poking from the edge of car parks; morels soldiering up through wood-chipped soil beds, even pavement mushrooms defiantly bursting through the tarmac. And the scraggly weeds in your garden could actually be an edible treasure trove – look out for things like goose grass, dandelions, nettles and wild garlic.

3 Follow the seasons

Spring is the start of the wild food year. It is the time to look for ramsons (an edible green that tastes mildly of garlic) and to keep an eye out for oyster mushrooms and morels, which are the ‘holy grail’ of the foraging world. It is also when young leaves from certain trees, such as beech and common lime, are edible. In summer, the highlight is St George’s mushroom, as well as mousserons (fairy ring mushrooms) and chicken of the woods: a bright-yellow bracket fungus that oozes like lava out of trees. In autumn there are hundreds of wild mushrooms, and mountains of fruit, nuts and berries to be found. In winter, there’s less on offer, but you can find things such as chanterelles, which can take freezing and defrosting.

4 Forage sustainably

Environmentalists warn that hundreds of varieties of wild mushroom could be wiped out if the popularity of foraging continues. So never pick more than you need (it’s illegal in the UK to forage for commercial gain, under the 1968 Theft Act). One key foraging philosophy is if you see something once, keep walking – if you see it again, it’s okay to stop and pick it. Always cut mushrooms at the base rather than ripping them up, which damages the underground web of mycelium.

5 Identify wild food thoroughly

Hospital admissions for people with suspected mushroom poisoning doubled last year, as foraging became more popular, so get a good identification guide and follow it methodically. If you confuse the leaves of Fat Hen with Good King Henry, it’s not a disaster, as they’re both edible. But there are around ten deadly wild mushrooms in the UK, and others can make you feel very unwell. Even things listed as edible can affect some people – 10 per cent of the population has a violent allergic reaction to chicken of the woods fungi for example. Always start off by trying just a small amount.

6 Make it social

In France, Spain and many countries in eastern Europe foraging is still the norm, especially when it comes to mushrooms. In autumn, whole families go to the local woods to pick mushrooms to last the year. Why not get some friends together, and make finding and eating wild foods a social activity?

7 Banish the bland

It’s worth remembering that wild food tastes totally different to domesticated varieties. Watercress from the supermarket is bland in comparison with its wild-grown sister; and while authentic wild strawberries may be about an eighth of the size of their supermarket cousins, their taste really packs a punch. So find recipes online that bring out the flavours. Try www.eatweeds.co.uk

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going

A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism

Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase

Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields

Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton

Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi

A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain

Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank

Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded

West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens

Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age

Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today

The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics

Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.

Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair

A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook


121