Wild Garlic Cheese Scones made durign the Coronavirus pandemic

Foraging during the Coronavirus Pandemic

Life under Coronavirus; a very different world

Coronavirus means we find ourselves in a very different world to that of only a few weeks ago. Changes none of us could have believed have happened so quickly.

  • Access to food is not as it was, shelves in the shops have gaps and some foods are difficult to get hold of.
  • With schools closed to most, families have children to educate and entertain at home.
  • We are not able to move freely any more, no longer going where we want to when we want to.
  • Some people have time on their hands.
  • We must keep a distance from people outside of our households.
  • There is a greater awareness of healthy eating, exercise and fresh air.
  • Face to face foraging courses have been cancelled.

 

Heightened Interest in Foraging During Coronavirus

For these reasons and more, the Coronavirus restrictions mean many people are turning to the wild larder on their doorsteps and using their exercise opportunity to forage for wild food while following the social distancing rules. We are fortunate that the changes have coincided with a bountiful time in the wild larder and, so far, improved weather. This heightened interest is demonstrated by record levels of :

  • Web site / blog page hits
  • Sign-ups for mailing lists (welcome to all new readers!)
  • Activity (new members / posts / likes) in online foraging groups
  • Instructional foraging videos appearing
Lords and Ladies (left) can be confused with Sorrel (centre and right) or young Wild Garlic leaves - don't it burns your mouth / throat and you may be hospitalise
Lords and Ladies (left) can be confused with Sorrel (centre and right) or young Wild Garlic leaves – don’t it burns your mouth / throat and you may be hospitalise

Those that have foraged before, that know what can / cannot be picked and have access to suitable areas have lapped it. People such as me, with less pressures on their time than normal, have been incorporating far more wild food in their diets than ever before, enjoying tried and trusted recipes, but also getting new ideas from others and a degree of experimentation.

 

Concerns

Coronavirus means there are also many new or inexperienced foragers which in some ways is great. There are however concerns, they don’t know the “rules” on safety, sustainability and the law. On Facebook groups in the last week or two I’ve seen lots of positive things, such as first-time foraging families making and enjoying soup, but also:

  • Lords and Ladies (Wild Arum / Cuckoo Pint) in someone’s kitchen – it burns your lips / throat etc.
  • People asking about eating members of the Umbellifer (Carrot / Parsley) family which also contains deadly poisonous members such Hemlock Water Dropwort and Hemlock. Standard advice is that this family is not for beginners.
  • Someone nibbling plants said one tasted quite nice and wanted recipe ideas. It was the deadly poisonous Hemlock Water Dropwort!!!
  • Uprooted Wild Garlic – illegal without landowner’s consent – use the leaves (or buds / flowers / stems / seeds).
  • Mention of picking on a nature reserve. I don’t know the specifics; some owners don’t mind if what is picked is common, others have an outright ban on foraging on their land. Best to ask.
Hemlock Water Dropwort
Hemlock Water Dropwort is a deadly poisonous member of the Umbellifer (Carrot / Parsley) family. While it does contain edible species, both cultivated (Carrot, Celery, Parsnips etc) and wild (Alexanders, Common Hogweed etc), it is not a family for beginners to foraging.

 

While the above are issues of legality and safety, there is a lot of bad etiquette in the groups:

  • Countless uploading lots of photos of different plants – “Can I eat any of these?” The poster gives no indication of country or habitat and make no attempt at listing the features of the plant or attempting to identify it.
  • People guessing at others plant identification requests.

Hopefully, these people are learning and will:

  • Stick to plants they are 100% sure of the identification and that they can be eaten. There are lots of easy ones.
  • Learn the poisonous species first.
  • Leave a little of the raw plant to one side and tell someone what they have eaten just in case they don’t react well to it.
  • Ask for help with identification but do make some attempt to work out what it is first.
  • Not nibble wild plants without knowing their edibility.

 

Access to Foraging Spots Under Coronavirus

We should remember that under the Coronavirus restrictions not everyone has access to areas where there are foraging opportunities. We must exercise from home. One lady I was in contact with, lives in the middle of a city and her usual foraging spots are beyond walking distance. I don’t know her area but guess there must be some wild places not too far from where she lives – parks, waste ground, towpaths etc. Even if you and your family are in self-isolation, current NHS guidance allows you to spend time outdoors – “You can use your garden, if you have one. You can also leave the house to exercise – but stay at least 2 metres away from other people”. You could well have some wild foods growing in your garden – Nettles, Hairy Bittercress, Cleavers, Sorrel, Crow Garlic, Dandelions etc.

 

Stinging Nettles
Everyone can recognise a Stinging Nettle and will have them growing not too far from your house. You can use them in lots of ways some culinary (beer, cordial (amazing), soup (superb) and lots of mains), some not ( e.g. paper, rope, dye). Gathering and then making and eating some of these would entertain and educate children (but not the beer!).

Positives

Yes, the situation is terrible and very sadly, people are losing lives, but let us hope there are some positives that come out of the Coronavirus situation that we can take forwards into the future. I firmly believe that foraging can help now and after this:

  • Exercise / fresh air / relaxation / reduce stress.
  • A great activity for children – exercise and learning, both the outdoor, gathering part and then subsequent cooking and eating.
  • Make your food go further.
  • Reduce your need for supermarkets.
  • A diverse diet is good for you.
  • “Proper” cooking is better for you and your budget than ready meals / processed foods.
  • Many wild foods are very nutritious, helping boost your immune system.
  • You can eat seasonal, local, organic food – good for the planet.
  • Re-establish links with nature. The number of adults and children that cannot identify common wildflowers (e.g. a primrose) is remarkable.
Hairy Bittercress find in your garden during the Coronavirus pandemic
Hairy Bittercress can be found in almost every garden. I have it in the greenhouse, gaps between paving slabs and veg beds. A “branch” of leaves can be used as cress in a in an egg and cress sandwich, included in a salad or used in soup (if you have lots).

Resources

 Facebook Foraging Groups

 From our Blog – Spring Wild Foods / Recipes

Books

The below pages on our web site have our pick of foraging books. Links are provided for on-line ordering but please consider supporting support your local bookshop too – they may be able to post to you.