Wild food

Today is Wild Foods Day. My fellow blogger Gerry at ScienceLens tells us about learning to live off the land. Gerry’s enthusiasm for blackberries rings true to me, here in Britain, celebrating the Month of the Bramble.

Thoughts about wild food lead to Richard Mabey, the ‘father of modern foraging’. Now Robin Harford encourages us to eat weeds.

In childhood, books inspired me with talk of ‘roots and berries’. The berries presumably included the lovely blackberries and the roots may have included dandelion roots. But dandelions are diuretic: they make you pee. In fact the dandelion (Taraxacum spp.) is a good example of a weed which can be medicinal (diuretics are important drugs) or tasty depending on how you handle it. Gather it right, prepare it right, and you get nice food or wine. But the dandelion has to be foraged carefully. It often grows on roadsides, where traffic bathes it in fumes and dogs bathe it in pee.

One of the best wild foods I’ve eaten was the marsh samphire (Salicornia europaea). I’m biased because I ate it after my teacher helped us to gather it during a school Biology field trip. That may not have been the only experience to turn me into a field biologist but it certainly helped! Now Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (aka Fearlessly Eatitall) invites us to ‘join the samphire brigade’. If it’s from a saltmarsh without pollution, yes please!

Not all wild foods are good to eat. I’m still not really convinced about eating the stinging nettle (Urtica dioica L.). If you wear gloves to gather young nettles, rinse them well and cook them, they taste like good spinach. But they’re a right faff to prepare and they have a furry texture like peach skins. Perhaps I should try smooth nettle soup when the season comes around.

Even without pollution, not all plants are safe to eat. I wrote how I avoid wild mushrooms. There are many other toxic plants too. So forage carefully and take expert advice. Also, forage responsibly. Sami Grover at TreeHugger warns that foraging may not always be sustainable.

As well as the plants, wild foods in Britain include edible wild meats. Scroll past this paragraph and the next one if you wish. I got flamed on Exposing the Big Game but Jim Robertson, that blog’s owner, has good manners. I myself don’t shoot. People here on Science on the Land have been supportive when I’ve blogged about the shooting other people do. I’ve written here, so far, about woodcock (Scolopax rusticola), rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus), red deer (Cervus elaphus), roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) and fallow deer (Dama dama).

It’s ironic that I haven’t really liked most of the game I’ve eaten! Maybe if you grew up enjoying the gamey taste of well-hung meat, it tastes good to you. To me it’s not a culinary treat. Somebody on The Archers said that rabbit tastes like old socks which just about sums it up! Soak the raw meat in cold water overnight, rinse well, then cook with plenty of bacon, onions and stock, and you end up with something barely edible.

The truth is that foraging for nature’s bounty isn’t like a trip to Waitrose. But there’s good food out there.

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About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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9 Responses to Wild food

  1. Sciencelens says:

    Great post! So much useful info & references – I will definitely follow up on some of your suggestions! (Cannot imagine nettle soup, but I’m willing to try anything once…)

  2. I was introduced to marsh samphire by a Biology tutor!

    I don’t get foraging these days, but bramble jelly, jam and syrup (dilute to drink) were regular things in my younger days. I even made my own rosehip syrup at one point – although that really is a faff.

    One place we lived had a couple of ‘wild’ plum trees – that was a great jam and pie year. But nothing as good as the garden at one of the houses we lived in as children – bramble, gooseberry, Victoria plum, brambly apple, strawberry and rhubarb! Plus a few cultivated vegs. Mother used to sell some of the fruit harvest to a local greengrocers.

  3. eqfe says:

    Game, especially rabbit is especially lean, which is why some cook it with bacon, I like it just in a post of tomato sauce, but to be honest I haven’t had it for years, since I don’t have any hunters in my life, and I have no interest in hunting myself.
    As I was hauling leaves and such for compost, I probably collected enough acorns to feed us for a year. The truth is I’ve never eaten acorns. What you are supposed to do is grind them into flour and then wash the tannins out of them so they’re edible and then they can be eaten as mush, or made into bread.
    I do like wild greens, especially purslane,, but that isn’t as plentiful in MD as it is in NJ.

  4. Pingback: Celebrating beneficial weeds on Weed Appreciation Day | Science on the Land

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