A Walk on the Wild Side

Ever eaten wild rose petals in salad? Rooted for pignuts for your casserole dishes? Okay then, how about gone brambling at the roadside?

In the age of endlessly rising food prices, it’s good to know there is a free and natural storecupboard full of goodies on our doorsteps, just waiting to be foraged.

Foraging is the act of searching for food or provisions. So I guess, technically, most of us forage along the supermarket shelves on a pretty regular basis. But the sort of foraging that comes for free means finding food that grows – or wanders – wild, without being farmed or cultivated commercially.

That might be leaves, nuts, or berries. It might be fungi or seaweed (though possibly not in Upper Annandale). It may even (vegetarians should look away now) have four legs and fur or feathers.

Wild food was once essential for our survival – the original hunter/gatherers were really just early editions of Ray Mears. And before the industrial revolution, the rights of ordinary people to gather food from the wild (and graze their sheep on the commons) were enshrined in law.

But just as our ancestors would probably struggle with CHIP and PIN, so we too may find it hard to gather and eat a meals-worth of wild food.

It is, however, a skill well worth relearning. Many of the plants we know as weeds are both edible and good for us. Some wild plants are even more nutritious than cultivated foods, containing more protein, essential vitamins and minerals than the things we buy in the shops.

Eating wild means eating with the seasons, and most often means eating locally too.

There are hazards – of course. Though wildcrafted foods shouldn’t have been sprayed with chemicals (unless they are on roadside verge – in which case, check your Council’s pesticide policy), they may still have picked up fairly hefty doses of pollutants from cars and industry, so it pays to pick from ‘clean’ areas.

And of course, there’s always the rogue fungi or toxic weed that could land you in hospital. Or a furious landowner who doesn’t appreciate you wildcrafting on their land.

And the biggest problem of all is knowing when to stop. Foraging within the limits of what the natural world can support is a whole skill in itself and something at which we’re notoriously bad.

But know your species, know your rights and know your limits and foraging can be a great way to put meals on the table. As well as a great skill to learn in these cash-strapped times.