Keep an eye out for Sea Buckthorn at the moment. While primarily a coastal plant, it does get planted in gardens and for landscaping often far inland. The berries are a “super food”, rich in antioxidants, vitamin C (15 x oranges), amino acids and other good things – so good you see Sea Buckthorn products sold in health food shops for internal and external uses. They have a long history of medicinal uses back to the Ancient Greeks. The plant (especially the seed oil) has many medical uses. The fruit pulp can be applied directly to the skin for for treating sunburn; healing wounds, for acne, dermatitis, dry skin, eczema, skin ulcers and more!
Harvesting the berries is an interesting challenge. John Wright describes it very amusingly in his River Cottage Handbook – Edible Seashore, suggesting you wear your loudest Hawaiian shirt that includes a lot of orange. The branches have sharp thorns, the berries are easily burst – “rubber balloons of bright orange liquid attached to a barbed wire fence”. One technique (to be used in moderation as it can be invasive), is to cut branches off, take them home to put in the freezer then knock the berries off. You can also put plastic sheet on the ground under the bush and shake it, or carefully (remembering the thorns), squeeze a cluster of berries over a bucket and catch the juice, straining it later to remove leaves / debris. You can read more on harvesting techniques here.
This all sounds like a lot of work but is worth the effort. The berries are very sour but have an amazing flavour. The fruit can be used to make pies, jams, squashes / syrups, liquors (a la sloe gin but with vodka), etc. A jam made with the berries and crab apples is one of my favourites. A forager’s Bucks Fizz put combines some juice with Elderflower Champagne and they make a great sauce to go with a Seaweed Panna Cotta.
Particularly overseas the berries are used for many different commercially sold products – juice, oil, jam, carbonated beverages, alcoholic beverages such as wine and vodka; breakfast cereals, powder, rice pops, juice powder, toffees, biscuits; candies, gums, and fruit chews; cosmetic products such as facial cream and shampoo!
Please note it is nothing to do with Common Buckthorn or the mildly poisonous Alder Buckthorn.
The fungi season has arrived a bit earlier than some years thanks to the combination of hot, dry weather in late June (it seems a long time ago) and then the cooler, wet weather since the kids broke up for the summer. On Friday, I wrote in a Hedgerow Harvest Facebook post:
If you you’re a fungi fan change your plans for the weekend and head for your favourite fungi spots. The combination of really hot weather then lots of wet days means the fungi are going crazy. Where I live we have lots of grass fields and I am picking Field Mushrooms, Fairy Ring Champignon and Scarlet Waxcaps. The fungi forums are buzzing with photos of good quantities and a wide range of species of both grassland (Parasols and Giant Puffballs) and woodland (Chanterelles, Ceps, Horn of Plenty, Chicken of The Woods, Amethyst Deceivers, False Saffron Milkcaps and many more). Of course, it’s not just the good species that are about, I’ve seen photos of some of the Amanita’s including the deadly Destroying Angel.
On Friday evening, we took the dogs for a local walk. In the grasslands we found Parasols a plenty, some visible from a few hundred metres away! In the woods we found good numbers of Chanterelles and Hedgehogs but all far to small to pick. Being the beginning of the season we had good revision lessons with a possible gone over Death Cap, Brown Roll Rim, various Brittlegills and Porcelain fungus.
On Saturday, we stayed in West Dorset but went a little further a field, finding many of the above and one tree “covered” in Oyster mushrooms, some very small Ceps (too small again), a Bay Bolete, a Red-Cracked Bolete and some Deceivers.
We couldn’t resit the call of the New Forest and headed there yesterday for a lovely walk through the open forest, heather-clad heathlands and wooded inclosures. Our first find was, at first glance, a lovely group of Ceps, but closer inspection revealed them to be the quite similar looking, Bitter Bolete. One of these in a pan will spoil all the “good stuff” so worth recognising! We soon met a couple with some nice “real” Ceps and a Scarletina Bolete. Encouraged, we soon found our first “real” one, some Chanterelles (a few pickable but “hundreds” too small), a few small Hedgehog Mushrooms, Blushers, Tawny Grisettes, Oak Milkcaps, Brown Birch Boletes, a Chicken of The Woods and many Common Yellow Brittlegills. The real find of the day was not an edible but a beech stump with a large number of pristine Lacquered Brackets. I think, there are only 307 records for these for the UK!
When we thought we had finished for the day, nearly back at the car, we found an area with lots of Ceps, many kicked over, we took a few. Finally, we got the wiff of a Stinkhorn and soon followed it to it’s source.
When you thought it was all over, this morning’s dog walk found the local Field Mushrooms have moved on to be replaced by one of my favourite’s – Horse Mushrooms.
We’ve had mushrooms as a side dish, a wonderful Risotto and there are Ceps to get in the dehydrator this afternoon. I’m looking forward to Battered parasols dipped in garlic mayo too!
There is a growing trend for foraging apps but this one is just down right dangerous. However, a few are good. In Denmark, a recent one is a comprehensive and free resource for the public to learn about and sustainably explore wild food. The initiative comprises an app in Danish and in English, a website, a curriculum for Danish schools, and foraging workshops offered by fifty rangers (“naturvejledere”) across Denmark.
Roger Phillips is one of the world’s leading mushroom specialists with over 40 years’ of expertise of studying fungi in the wild. His excellent book ‘Mushrooms’, has sold more than 2 million copies worldwide. You can get an app version of the book, but rather getting the app to tell you what the mushroom is, you are lead through an electronic version of the key from the book. Lots of mushroom books have these, people are often unaware that they are in the book or haven’t used them. They are easy to use and a really valuable tool – give them a go.
Keys are not just used for identifying mushrooms but also for wider species identification. They usually ask questions based on easily identifiable features. Dichotomous keys use questions to which there are only two answers. They can be presented as a table of questions, or as a branching tree of questions with one questions answer leading you to the next. Here is an example, okay not mushrooms, but it shows the principle.
On our mushrooms day courses and walks we teach guests how to use keys. In fact, everyone who attends takes a turn at leading an identification. You start WITHOUT YOUR BOOKS / APP – with observation about the surroundings – habitat, trees etc., then examination of the specimen – cap, spores (including colour), gills, / tubes (pores) / spines, ring, stem, colour changes, smell etc. Then you use your key, before checking the answer with pictures or descriptions in several other sources too. Does it all agree? Note you shouldn’t trust every mushroom photo caption on the web as accurate!
Yes, identifying mushrooms can be difficult. Individuals of the same species will vary with age and the weather, but a key makes the task a lot easier, far better than flicking though the pictures looking for one that looks right. Give them a go.
If you’ve walked anywhere a bit damp recently (June to September) – road verges, ditches, rivers or canals or through damp meadows, you can’t have failed to spot or smell Meadowsweet. The tall (1- 2 m) cream-coloured dense clusters of flowers have an aroma described as sweet almond, hay and honey with a hint of something medical, especially when crushed. In Tudor times, it was used as a strewing herb – thrown on the floor to be walked on and mask unpleasant smells. The original name was “mead wort” as it was used to flavour mead. Numerous herbal uses include treating colds, respiratory problems, acid indigestion, peptic ulcers, arthritis and rheumatism, skin diseases, and diarrhoea. It can also be used in many culinary ways by today’s forager.
This plant contains the chemicals used to make aspirin – after the old botanical name for Meadowsweet, Spiraea ulmaria. Unlike Aspirin, it does not have the caustic side effects on the stomach lining, however, if you are allergic to Aspirin (or havealicylate or sulphite sensitivity) you should avoid consuming it.
Meadowsweet can be used in almost any recipe that uses Elderflower. With that season coming to an end we have a replacement. Pick the flowers on a sunny morning for the maximum flavour and don’t wash them. Just give each head a good shake to remove any insects. The flowers can be dried in paper bags to retain their flavour as well as pollen and natural yeasts. Some recipes use the leaves, others the flowers or either.
While Elderflower cordial is a very popular summer drink, both homemade and commercially produced, it is not the only cordial that can be made at this time of year. We made four in recent weeks.
I’ve eaten nettles many times in dishes such as soup and curry, and drunk them in beer and tea, but Nettle Cordial has been on my to-do list for a long time. For eating you want them young, using just the tips, but the ones I picked last week had gone to seed, and I stripped the leaves from the stems wearing thick gloves. I followed Robin Harford’s recipe on his Eat Weeds web site.
It takes a few days to steep and I was amazed at the flavour, this is straight into my list of favourites.
You can read an earlier blog post on nettles here.
It’s probably too late for this year, but one to make next May. Delicate floral scents are difficult to capture into drinks, so I followed the Wild Flower Syrup recipe in John Wright’s River Cottage Handbook – Hedgerow. I’ve used this for Dandelion Syrup in the past (also very worth trying). You layer sugar and then flowers in a jug and leave overnight. Next day you add water in proportion to the amount of sugar you used (100ml water / 55g sugar) and heat until the sugar dissolves before straining and bottling. Again, very nice.
This is an old favourite, I’ve written about before (here). You expect Toilet Duck but get a lovely citrus flavour.
This was another new cordial to me. I know Pineapple Mayweed, no points for guessing what it smells of! The recipe I found online was:
1 pound pineapple weed heads
1 sliced lemon
2 pounds sugar
5 pints boiling water
Wash Pineapple Mayweed thoroughly…change water a couple of times
Mix everything together in a bucket
Cover with lid or teatowel
Leave for 4 days stiring twice a day
Pour into bottles through muslin
Best diluted 1/3 cordial to 2/3 sparkling water with a few ice cubes.
I did it in a slightly different order, covering the Mayweed in warm water, leaving it to soak, straining it, then adding the sugar / lemon and heatign it to dissolve the sugar.
It wasn’t my own favourite, but soem that tried it thought it was great.
On Saturday we were delighted to host our first Booze Walk. This was a walk to introduce people to some of the common plants that grow at our feet and the amazing concoctions that can be made with them. Yes, there was plenty of sampling and top tips. The walk was lead by Andy Hamilton who is one of THE experts on wild booze. He is the author of the best-selling Booze for Free and Brewing Britain: The Quest for the Perfect Pint, writes for The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph amongst others and frequently appears on TV and Radio talking about foraging and booze.
After the final, “Secret Drink” (I’d have to kill you), a selection of home-made drinks that the guests had brought with them appeared and were passed round for critique including from the expert. These included a Cider, Sloe Gin and a selection of vodkas (Rhubarb and Ginger, Fennel and Damson, Quince and some of my own Japanese Knotweed)!
Thanks to all that attended for being a great group and to Andy for his enthusiasm, humour, knowledge and amazing concoctions.
Thanks to all the lovely folk that joined us on our seashore foraging walk on the spectacular Jurassic Coast in Dorset last Saturday. The sun shone and we found a good range of seashore plants, seaweed and had good luck on the crustacean front. We are back again on 27th May (fully booked), for Coastal Plants on 15th July and seashore again on 23rd September. Thanks to those that sent in some of their photos.
Morels are one type of fungi that I (and lots of others) have struggled to find. They are a spring fungus and prize-eating; only truffles go for a higher price. There fairly picky about where they live and not that common. One fungi expert I know took 20 years to find his first. I’ve read so much about them, the habitats, the trees they are found with, the plants you might find with them and the soils they prefer.
I first saw some about 8 years ago, over 15 years after I started picking any wild mushrooms. A generous soul had found them and had an inkling what they were but wanted a second opinion. They were in the bottom of a hedge, I don’t recall what trees, probably Ash, but definitely on sandy soil. They were rather dry but no doubt, Morels. I returned to that spot the next spring and found … a few St George’s Mushrooms in the very same spot! Subsequent annual pilgrimages to check have all failed too.
The fungi forums and dedicated morel discussion groups (yes, really) have been buzzing for a few weeks, the mild weather bringing their arrival forward by a month or so. In them, people show their finds or tell stories of failures, others plead for help. Each set of photos I saw raised my desire to find them again.
There are two species and two main types of location to look. One likes woodchips. I’ve heard stories of people filling their car boots with these Morels from Tesco car parks, motorway service stations and business parks. Every patch of wood chip I have seen for weeks has been scoured (or scanned as I drive past). But, not a single morel to be seen.
The other species preference is for sandy soils, often over chalk. Usually its scrubby Ash woodland with disturbed soil from rabbits or badgers. Plants include Celandine, Dog’s Mercury, Wild Garlic and Bluebells. They also like golf courses and orchards. I live near chalk, so evening dog walks for a couple of weeks have been scouring likely spots, again without success.
All the failures, rather than making me give up, made me even more determined; this pursuit was turning into an obsession. If the Mrs had a pound for every time I said “woodchip” in recent weeks, she would have been rich!
A weekend away to the Cotswolds got me thinking. Limestone produces alkaline soils, like Chalk does… The first evening’s stroll looked promising, lots of Ash scrub and Wild Garlic.
On the next day’s wander, there was plenty of good looking spots, Bluebells and Wild Garlic both just starting to flower, but no morels. Our walk nearly done, we emerged onto a grassy bank with a few Primroses, “semi-garden” , fringed by a hazel hedge with an Ash tree and an Elm. The grass had recently been mown carefully avoiding the clumps of Primroses. As we stopped near a stile to check the map, I spotted a bit of white on the grass. Close inspection showed it to be a tapering, hollow stem. Could it be….? I wandered around and soon found the mown bases.
More searching and a few broken pieces of several Morels, the honeycomb-like structure of the pieces of “cap” were unmistakable. Further searching found lots more but all had by the darned mower! Curses! so very close, probably only cut a few hours before – drat!
I remembered reading if you find one, mark the spot with a stick and search up and down wind based on the prevailing direction. A bit more scouting and an intact stem, getting better. Spotting a mound of leaf litter nearer the hedge, I gently cleared it to reveal a truly beautiful sight, a very fresh looking, intact Morel about the size of my fist.
More searching found more bits and a few “babies”, each new find having it’s photo taken before picking (leaving a good proportion and the “young”). Thinking that was it, I peered over the stile and exclaimed “Oh my God”, there were about a dozen “lumps of honeycomb” beautifully golden in the bright sunlight.
I should have been better prepared – no mushroom basket, no rucksack that always has a paper bag and mushroom knife, no hat that could be brought into emergency use, just a few of those multi-purpose little black bags us responsible dog owners carry at all times! Designed with one purpose in mind, I’ve used them for carrying home an unexpected wild food bonanza on a good many occasions. Also no decent camera, just my phone. No quick fix to that (and as I now see almost every close up is out of focus – double-drat!).
Being away and already having shopped, lunch was half of the 700 grams, simply fried on toast – delicious. The remainder are heading home, there I’ll be checking out Roger Phillips’ recipe for, my memory says, a dish with chicken, cream and the Morels.
So, is the desire satisfied? Sort of, I now want to find some more!
The name doesn’t shout come and try me, sounding in the same league as a “Tom and Barbara” concoction such as Runner Bean or Parsnip wine, but, trust me, it’s darn good. I’d describe it as a bit like Ginger Beer. I’ve given it to hundreds of people over the years on my Spring Greens foraging courses and it always amazes people how good it is leading to requests of “where do I get the recipe”. If that praise has tickled (as oppose to stung) your fancy (whatever your fancy is), then here is the recipe. I’ve just got some underway and am looking forward to it being ready. I am no homebrew expert – it’s really easy to make, doesn’t require any special equipment, and (most important) is ready to drink in about a week, so give it a go – you will be pleasantly surprised. So get your gloves on, and go and pick yourself some nettles while they are nice and young.
It is taken from Roger Phillips’ excellent book “Wild Food” (every forager should have a copy).
Scale the below proportionately based on how many bottles you have!
100 nettle stalks with leaves
12 litres (2 1/2 gallons) water
1 1/2 kg (3 lb) granulated sugar
50 g (2 oz) cream of tartar
15 g (1/2 oz) yeast (I use dried baking yeast)
Boil the nettles in the water for 15 minutes.
Strain, then add the sugar and cream of tartar and stir until dissolved.
Remove from the heat and leave until tepid, then add the yeast and stir well
Cover and leave for a day
Remove the scum and decant without disturbing the sediment and bottle.
Do use strong bottles as it can get rather excited; you don’t want exploding glass bottles! I use swing top homebrew bottles, but empty, plastic, fizzy drink bottles will do the job too.
Seaweed was on the television last night as part of “Back to the Land with Kate Humble“. This series champions the UK’s most inspirational rural entrepreneurs. In last night’s episode she met a seaweed collector who left an office job in Swindon for a life working on the beach and is now running a successful business selling Welsh seaweed products to a global market.
The company is called The Pembrokeshire Beach Food Company and Jonathan gathers a range of seaweeds on the Pembrokeshire coast continuing a tradition of hundreds of years. There is reproduction of a seaweed drying hut nearby, there were many in this area once . The company uses seaweed in:
* takeaway food sold at his beach café (street food outlet) and many outdoor festivals (e.g. Laver relish on burgers / gingercake with Laver etc.)
* in products – dried flakes, seaweed salts, butter, “kelchup” (yes Kelp Ketchup!) and more – sold globally including to the Japanese (“coals to Newcastle” eat you heart out!)
I visited the café on holiday a few years ago and the Gingerbread was stunning. I did email Jonathan for the recipe, he replied:
That is a top secret recipe, but to help guide you we use extra ginger (i.e. ginger powder and fresh ginger), Welsh Stout and Welshman’s Caviar (his dried Laver product name – apparently a phrase coined by the Welsh actor Richard Burton).
You can watch the episode (if you are in the UK) here – forward to 21:12 (to 28:26).
My only criticism is I disagree with pulling seaweed directly off the rocks, I recommend cutting it.