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.
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.