I have had a long term interest in wild food and foraging. This started in childhood with finding edible crabs and lobsters on the Gower coast of South Wales. The outdoors has always been my natural habitat with a passion for almost all aspects of natural history and its conservation. As a keen amateur botanist I have undertaken vegetation surveys of nature reserve for a number of Wildlife Trusts. I have been interested in fungi for many years and a member of the Cotswold Fungus Group and more recently the Dorset Fungus Group.
In 2008, regular requests to take people foraging lead to our Spring Greens. This sold out in no time and more were added to meet demand. The range of courses has been increased over time adding fungi, "fruit and nut" and a range of seashore courses. I now live in Dorset and work full time on foraging courses and a truffle hunting business (The English Truffle Company).
A great edible plant to track down at the moment (June – September) is Fat Hen. It is also known by many names including Lambs Quarters, White Goosefoot, Common Goosefoot, Dirty Dick, Frost Blite, Dung Weed, Mutton Tops and Pigweed. It is a summer plant found on disturbed and cultivated areas such as arable fields, vegetable gardens / allotments and manure heaps. For those that don’t welcome its presence, it is a troublesome annual weed, each plant producing up to 20,000 seeds which can last in the soil for many years. It is common in most of Britain except mountainous areas.
Fat Hen is a member of the Goosefoot genus. Many other members are edible including the salt-tolerant Oraches found on shingle beaches.
Fat Hen has been eaten as a vegetable since Stone Age times. Its seeds made up part of the last meal of Tollund Man, a bog body dating from this period found in Tollund in Denmark. It remained popular until the 16th century when spinach and cabbage replaced it in our diets. One relative, Good King Henry, was a popular garden vegetable for hundreds of years and the seeds are still sold today though is less popular than in the past. A “trendy” relative is Chenopodium quinoa that grows in South America. It’s seeds are the source of Quinoa. Today, Fat Hen is still cultivated as a food crop in some countries including India.
Fat Hen Identification
Fat Hen, and other members of the Chenopodium family are sometimes difficult to tell apart. They are very variable and can hybridise!
Fat Hen is an erect, annual, bushy herb often reaching a height of a metre or more. It usually has striped stems and has dense clusters of tiny green flowers.
They are grey green ovate or triangular leaves which are paler underneath. They are 20-60 mm long and 5-30 mm wide with a pointed tip. Bigger leaves are usually lobed or toothed. All are mealy (covered with meal (a powdery coating)).
Smell / Taste
Fat Hen smells (faintly of) and tastes a bit like cabbage.
The leaves of the toxic Black Nightshade do look rather like those of Fat Hen. The flowers are however, very different, with those of Black Nightshade being like a white version of tomato or potato flowers – in the same family!
Fat Hen Risks
If you are gathering Fat Hen from a farmer’s field, garden or allotment, do check that it hasn’t been sprayed with chemicals.
Fat Hen can contain potentially harmful levels of nitrates though cases of poisoning are rare.
Some members of this genus contain saponins (they form a lather when combined with water), however:
Quantities are usually too small for any harm.
Most are not absorbed and pass without any problem.
They are also largely broken down during cooking.
Like many foods (Sorrel, Sea Beet and lots of cultivated plants like Sprouts and Parsley), they also contain some oxalic acid. Cooking will reduce the levels of this, but people with rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones or hyperacidity should be aware that large quantities of Oxalic acid can aggravate their condition.
Fat Hen Uses
“Tops” (flower spikes, younger stems and leaves)
They can be the main ingredient for a soup, made as Nettle or Leek and Potato soups. In my opinion the flavour is like Cauliflower soup. I’ve served it to many people and it goes down well. If you’ve left the Fat Hen to grow a bit big, pass the cooked, blended soup through a sieve to catch any fibrous bits.
Young Shoots / Flower Spikes
The young shoots (less than 20 cm) and unopened flower spikes can be prepared and eaten like Asparagus shoots. If you leave them to get too big they may be a bit woody. Simmer until tender (up to 10 minutes), drain and serving with a little butter.
The young shoots / flower spikes could also go into a stir-fry.
The leaves can be eaten raw but only in in small quantities, see the notes above on risks.
They can be eaten as a vegetable, cooked like Spinach or used in place of Spinach in any recipe, for example:
Tarts / Quiches / Frittata
Curries (e.g. Sag Aloo or a Chickpea, Tomato and Spinach Curry),
Mushroom and Spinach Risotto etc.
One recipe that specifically calls for Fat Hen is Fat Hen Pesto Bake. I make this regularly in the season and thoroughly enjoy it. Vegetarian / vegan / nut-free versions can be made by altering the ingredients.
Fat Hen plants each produces tens of thousands of nutritious, but small and fiddly seeds. The close relative Quinoa is grown for its seeds. Fat Hen seeds can be ground and mixed with flour to make bread and cakes. Seeds should be soaked in water overnight and then rinsed to remove any saponins.
A selection of wild booze tipples using Spring ingredients that are about now. When I say Spring, I mean to make now then sit patiently until later in the year to drink. All three use young leaves that can easily be found – Beech, Blackthorn and Oak.
Beech Leaf Noyau / Gin
I think I first saw this in Richard Mabey’s classic Food for Free (early version not in the more recent one I have), but it is also included in Andy Hamilton’s Booze for Free. It struck me as an unusual drink with most infusions being fruit or flower. I’ve also looked at the young Beech leaves looking so edible but being not particularly excited about putting them in a salad.
Pick enough young beech leaves to half fill a large jar. Cover with a bottle (70 cl) of gin. Put in a cupboard for a couple of weeks. Make a syrup solution, dissolving 225g of sugar in 300ml of water. Strain and discard the leaves. Add the sugar solution and optionally a glass of brandy. Bottle and store for at least 3 months.
Everyone knows Sloe Gin made with the fruit of the Blackthorn. A much less known tipple uses the leaves of the Blackthorn, picked around this time of the year (April – June). These give the drink an Almond flavour.
John Wright (of River Cottage “fame”) has a recipe in his Booze book. I found this version translated from a French recipe.
– 2.5 litres of red wine
– 400mls of eau de vie (or Vodka)
– 300 grams sugar
– A handful of young Blackthorn shoots
– Place all the ingredients (in a suitable container) and leave for 4 days to infuse.
– Remove the leaves and taste. If necessary, according to taste, replace leaves and leave a further 3 days.
– Strain and bottle.
– Enjoyed chilled as an aperitif!
I’d be tempted to leave it to mature for several weeks (John suggests a year!).
Do get your id right as other members of the Prunus family (e.g. Bird Cherry) contain high levels of Cyanides!
Oak Leaf Wine
Showing my age again, I remember Hugh FW trying this in his original TV series “A cook on the Wild Side” back in 1995. The recipe he has in the book of the series differs slightly from the one in Roger Phillips’s Wild Food. Hugh uses lemons, Roger uses Oranges – take your pick! Every forager should have a copy of Roger’s excellent book, if you are remiss, a. get one, b. you can find a version of it here.
Join us for a Booze Walk
On 1st June 2019 Andy Hamilton (www.theotherandyhamilton.com) will be leading one of his famous booze foraging walks in Dorchester. Andy is a multiple award-winning author, brewer and an expert on wild food and sustainability. He is the author of the best-selling Booze for Free and Brewing Britain: The Quest for the Perfect Pint. He writes for The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph amongst others and frequently appears on TV and Radio talking about foraging and booze. You may have seen him on Autumnwatch, Countryfile, The Alan Titchmarsh Show and more. You can find more details and book places here.
“So, you’re one of those nasty foragers!” said the middle aged, well-to-do looking woman to me at a charity event while I was manning a stall promoting my foraging courses. I bit my tongue and outlined to her what most newspapers omitted to say, that foraging is a good thing and that most foragers are passionate about “nature”, they care a great deal about the environment and practice “responsible” foraging. There are also lots of sensible reasons why people forage. I won her round to my way of thinking and she left with a very different view. One down, only tens of millions of people in the UK to go…
That was a few years ago and hopefully I’ve converted quite a few more people since giving talks on foraging and wild foods to WI groups, Wildlife Trusts, Young Farmers, gardening clubs and food festivals, as well as running foraging events for cubs, scouts, young carers and Friends of a country park.
In this blog post I look at some of the reasons why people forage.
Why People Forage
In her PhD thesis, Jennifer Lane Lee at Liverpool University found that people had a myriad of reasons for foraging:
In a US study more than half of the foragers cited economic benefits as their main motivation. Foraged foods made up three times more of the diets of residents earning less than $40,000 per year than those earning more than $100,000. Moreover, for 10 percent of foragers, wild edibles accounted for 20 percent or more of their diets.
Foraged food is usually sourced locally so has less environmental impact in its transportation than many other food items.
2. Connection to the land and the changing seasons
Going foraging improves peoples understanding and appreciation of the countryside. A higher value placed on it means they are more likely to defend it from threats. You work with the seasons, understand habitats and see some great wildlife which you recognise you may be sharing resources and space with.
Foraging encourages people to know where some of our food comes from. The ancestors of many modern species can still be seen in the wild.
“A direct reminder that food is created by the earth and not Tesco”. (Survey respondent in Jennifer Lee Lane’s PhD)
“I love the feeling of rooting on the land and seasons, the satisfaction of gathering it in myself and an appreciation of the riches of the landscape I live in”. (Survey respondent in Jennifer Lee Lane’s PhD)
Foraging improves engagement / reconnection with the environment. A foraging event reaches an audience beyond that of the traditional Wildlife Trust / National Trust / Woodland Trust / RSPB / County Council etc. guided walks. Many of these groups organise wild food events appreciating the many benefits that they bring. A Washington University study said:
“Mushrooms are a wonderful way to engage the public with its natural resources and the environment. It could be an opportunity for the National Park Service to encourage a different demographic of visitors to value, understand and engage with the natural world.”
Foraging events (walks, courses and festivals) are a form of eco-tourism bringing benefits to accommodation providers (out of main season), pubs, indoor venues and so on. An example is the St David’s Seaweed Week bringing together artists, artisan food producers, chefs, conservationists and foragers.
While economic reasons were a primary reason for foraging (section 1 above), many people are not foraging out of necessity like hunter gathers of long ago or rural populations in wartime. We are doing it as it is an enjoyable way of spending time. You enjoy the whole ritual of locating, smelling, identifying, collecting then cooking and eating, the sense of achievement that goes with it.
“The actual experience of gathering, including the scratches, being outside, seeing wildlife and so on.” (Survey respondent in Jennifer Lee Lane’s PhD)
4. Love of Food
Wild foods give a wonderful range of flavours and textures, often with no direct cultivated equivalents. It is often a short time from gathering to eating so the food is still at it’s absolute best.
Whilst foraging can be done alone, it is often undertaken with family, friends or neighbours giving quality-time both in the outdoors and then in the cooking and eating. It can develop community through sharing / swapping foraged raw ingredients and finished food items. Social media foraging forums give people opportunities to ask questions and discuss, share pictures of finds and dishes and build a virtual community.
A study in the US of the social benefits of urban foraging found them “maintaining cultural practices, sharing knowledge, building community, engaging in spiritual practices, and connecting with nature”.
6. Exercise / Relaxation
Going foraging is better exercise than shopping and better for the mind! It requires walking to look for the wild food, bending down or stretching up to pick the food and gives plenty of fresh air. It is also relaxing away from screens and the pressures of life. I once heard of an eye specialist who said looking for mushrooms was very good exercise for the eyes!
“I find it very therapeutic and relaxing. I’m connected to the land”. (Survey respondent in Jennifer Lee Lane’s PhD)
“Fresh air, peace, and pleasant primitive feeling – good for the soul”. (Survey respondent in Jennifer Lee Lane’s PhD)
7. Vitamins and Nutrition
Wild foods are often very nutritious especially greens and seaweed. Many are rich in vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, anti-oxidants etc. In the World War II the nutritional opportunities of wild foods were recognised by Government. A Ministry of Food leaflet “Hedgerow Harvest” in 1943, highlighted common wild foods and their preparation as well as promoting good “etiquette”. Co-ordinated programmes gathered a number of wild foods including Rose Hips for their vitamin C to boost that available to children and nursing mothers as imported citrus fruits were not available.
Today, in our gardens or allotments, we clear ‘weeds’ to grow crops, yet many wild plants are more nutritious than their cultivated counterparts. In the below table, you can see Nettles have twice the protein of Spinach, nearly 7 times the vitamin C, more vitamin A, twice the iron and about 4 times the calcium!
Source: Cooking Weeds. V. Weise, Prospect Books 2004.
Foraging also encourages healthy eating – back to basics / not processed (& more expensive / less healthy) foods.
Most obvious benefits are the freshness of the products. (Survey respondent in Jennifer Lee Lane’s PhD)
8. Teach the Next Generation
Wild foods species and their stories are part of our national heritage and it is important to keep this alive. Stories of gathering Rose Hips, herbs, gel producing seaweeds and more as part of the war effort are part of our wild food history and deserve passing on to younger generations.
In the past wild foods were more important culturally and economically than today with wild foods like Blewitts, Bilberries (Whortleberries) and even Snails being gathered and sold in markets. In her Thesis, Jennifer Lane Lee makes a case study of Bilberry picking. The below postcard and quote is taken from the thesis.
Whortleberry gathering was formerly looked upon as an extension of the harvest, and parties of women and children from all the moorland villages took to the open moor to collect the fruit. It was so vital that children were taken out of school as Whortleberry picking was regarded “as seriously as any other form of harvest”.
In her survey, responses included:
“I feel an ancient connection to my cultural roots”.
“So the next generation recognise seasonal wild foods and the art of jam making is passed on”.
9. Environmental Concerns
Jennifer’s PhD thesis was published in 2012 with the survey data from previous years. I would imagine all of the above reasons why people forage to still be true but would think that concerns for the environment might be a greater reason why people forage today.
a. Impacts of Conventional Food Production
Today, many people know (or care?) little about what they are eating, their focus being on price. They are less interested in where it has come from and what has happened to it; has it been genetically altered? What has been sprayed on it? What was the impact on the environment of its farming, transport and production? Concerns about food miles were mentioned in responses back in 2012, but the impact of agricultural intensification and types of fishing activity are greater concerns today. Foraging is FAR less damaging than the alternatives – intensive agriculture, trawling, mechanised seaweed harvesting, even some gardening (chemicals, water usage etc).
b. Invasive Species
Certain invasive species such as Japanese Knotweed, Himalayan Balsam, Three-cornered Leek and American Signal Crayfish are all highly edible. Left unchecked they can reduce biodiversity. Traditional control of invasive plants usually relies on chemicals which can impact watercourses and non-target species. Japanese Knotweed is seen by most as a real villain. It’s control costs the UK economy around £165 million per year in control measures. Successfully eradicating Knotweed from the Olympic Park in London alone cost £70 million. In the US, Knotweed festivals have foods and other items made from it (e.g. soap) as an alternative control technique. Culinary uses include:
Food – soup, as vegetable (stir-fried, braised), in puddings (in the place of rhubarb in any recipe – crumble, fool, cobbler, ice cream, sorbet. etc.), fruit leather, muffins , jam, jelly, marmalade and bread.
Drinks – chutney, tea, vodka, cordial, beer and wine
3. Food Waste
As an example, bagged salad leaves from supermarkets are reported to represent a high proportion of food waste in the UK. They are quite expensive, and they spoil quickly after you open a bag. Foraged salad leaves from your garden or nearby can be gathered when needed. Wild food also comes without any packaging!
There are lots of reasons why people forage. For most it’s a combination of reasons. It gives the opportunity to source free, nutritious, delicious, seasonal local food with a much lower environmental impact than food produced by conventional means. It provides an enjoyable, quality time, relaxing and having good exercise be it alone or shared with friends or family, it shows children where their food comes from and connects us with the land. While foragers are often criticised in the media, as with many things, it is the behaviour of a minority that is reported or the reports have little hard evidence to support them. Foraging has so many benefits to the individual, society and the environment that are often ignored in such reports.
Earlier this week I spent a wonderful couple of days at the annual meeting of the Association of Foragers. Attendees were the majority of those that work in foraging in this country with a liberal sprinkling of overseas delegates. It was a very inspiring few days with fellow foraging teachers, suppliers, manufacturers, authors and researchers putting faces to names and sharing experiences / ideas.
One lunch was cheese and biscuits, but we are all asked to bring something we’d made with a foraged ingredient. The below is just a small part of the fantastic items that appeared:
Pickled Ask Keys
Pickled Wild Garlic Buds
Pickled Cats Tails (Reed mace hearts)
Pickled green Elderberries
Fermented Sea Kale
Japanese Knotweed Chutney
Seaweed and Cheese Biscuits
Sweet Jelly Ears
Candied Crab apples
Birch Sap Fudge
Wines (including Meadowsweet), meads and spirits (Elderberry Whisky, various gins and vermouths)
An evening meal besides casseroles included some foraged ingredients:
Twice baked potatoes – scrapped out, mixed with a filling including Three Cornered Leek and then refilled.
Sea Beet mixed with Three Cornered Leek.
A pickle that included Alexanders roots.
Wild garlic fruit (seed pods) dressing (liquidised with a little olive oil)
I missed a fungi field trip with “guru” Roger Philips, but joined an amazing day on seaweeds with phycologist Prof Christine Maggs (someone who studies seaweed (algae)). She is author of the Seasearch Guide to Seaweeds of Britain and Ireland, Green seaweeds of Britain and Ireland, and Seaweeds of the British Isles.
Besides eating seaweeds, they can and do some great things:
Act as “sea defences” absorbing colossal wave energy
They fix about 33% of all carbon dioxide
Some can offer a sustainable source of a material for producing ceramics for bone tissue engineering with 3D printing
Some have anti-bacterial properties – treat athletes foot by soaking your feet in water with a particular seaweed. Also medical applications preventing infection from implants
Some can stimulate bone growth
Some can create diabetes drugs that don’t have side-effects
They can be part of an aquaculture system – creating effluent from shellfish and creating a usable product
To most the only Ketchup is Tomato and comes from a shop, however, there are a few you can make with a wild fruit and now is the ideal time. I’ve come across Blackberry, Crab Apple and Haw (the fruit of the Hawthorn). Like their famous cousin they are pureed fruit with vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper and, optionally, some spices. They are pretty easy to make and delicious. I’ve made the Haw Ketchup one most often. This goes very well with venison, pork belly, cheese on toast, nut roast, cheese, lentil burgers or on a fried egg. A fellow forager suggested using it in place of tomato sauce on a pizza – it was great!
This is a “base” recipe from Pam Corbin’s excellent River Cottage Handbook No.2 Preserves. (By clicking this link you go to The Book Depository’s web site. At the time of writing this book as has 52% off – costing just £7.18 in hardback!). You can spice it up as you like with Cayenne Pepper, Worcester sauce, cloves, cinnamon, garlic salt, coriander etc.
Makes 1 x 300 ml bottle.
300 ml white wine or cider vinegar
170 g sugar
1/2 tsp salt
Ground black pepper to taste
Strip the haws from the stalks – the easiest way to do this is with scissors.
Rinse in cold water.
Put the haws into a pan with the vinegar and 300 ml water and simmer for about 30 minutes – the skins will split, revealing the firm, yellow flesh. Cook until the flesh is soft and the berries have become a muted red-brown. Remove from the heat.
Rub the mixture through a sieve, or pass through a food mill, to remove the largish stones and the skins.
Return the fruity mixture to the cleaned-out pan. Add the sugar and heat gently, stirring, until it dissolves. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Season with the salt, pepper and add any spices.
Pour the finished Haw Ketchup into a sterilized bottle and seal with a vinegar proof cap.
One of my favourites, a Cauliflower fungus. Always found at the base of a coniferous tree. Compared to many mushrooms the preparation is hard work with woodlice, pine needles and leaf litter all found inside. Breaking into smaller pieces and washing under a running tap is the way to clean them. They have a lovely nutty flavour, the portion of this one that came home made a great curry.
I usually see Death Caps about 2 or 3 times each year. These are responsible for most mushroom deaths in Europe. It is a member of the Amanita genus with their characteristic ring and (not shown) the swollen base (Volva). Other family members include the Destroying Angel, Fly Agaric and Blusher. While one or two of the family can be eaten, the advice of many including me is to avoid all Amanitas. If you have any interest in eating mushrooms you should learn to recognise an Amanita. The Death Cap is found with a pretty wide range of trees including Oak, Beech, Birch and Pine. The toxic component damages the liver and kidneys and can be fatal.
I wished I smelt this at the time – it apparently smells of burnt rubber. “Edibility suspect – avoid”.
If this post interests you, we have some places available on our full day fungus forays and our 3-4 hour fungus walks in The New Forest (by kind permission of The Forestry Commission) in October.
As fungi have made an early appearance this year, some foragers thoughts have turned to The New Forest and what will happen there after the events of last year. All has become clear in the last week or so and I thought I would summarise what happened last year and give the current position.
Last year (2016)
I wrote last year about the situation then, firstly here after the initial announcements and then here when things clarified. In summary, The Forestry Commission introduced a “no-picking” code for the New Forest SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) covering most of The New Forest – open forest, heathland, timber inclosures etc.
“Due to the growing concern from conservationists and very real fears from members of the community in the New Forest about the wide-scale harvesting of fungi, Forestry Commission feels it necessary to adopt a precautionary approach and can no longer support fungi picking on any scale on the New Forest Crown Lands (Site of Special Scientific Interest).”
Posters appeared in the car parks:
The message was very clear as far as the public and most media were concerned there was a ban on mushroom picking in the New Forest. However, the Association of Foragers, Radio 4 and The Times pushed for facts and eventually the much needed real clarity was given by The Commission:
I’d like to reassure you that we are not seeking to prosecute individuals that are picking for themselves – it is not illegal. … Our main aim is to tackle commercial collection of fungi, which has always been prohibited – it is an offence under the Theft Act 1968 to do so without the permission of the landowner. .. also, in the case of persistent offenders, tools such as the Stop Notice may be issued.
There was no change to any laws or by-laws at all. However, the damage was done with fully legal permitted fungus forays being verbally abused and photographed by members of the public despite permits being shown. It is alleged that the Police were called to at least one incident.
This year (2017)
On 15th August the Forestry Commission (South England Forest District) distributed a news release:
More looking, no picking – protecting New Forest fungi
Autumn is usually the height of the growth cycle for mushrooms, but with the wet and warm weather we’ve experienced this August many fungi have already started to emerge. Fungi are essential to the New Forest ecosystem, so we are appealing to people to look, but please don’t pick.
The New Forest is a SSSI and an area of special beauty, highly designated for nature conservation. It is a stronghold for many rare species of fungi, some of which are yet to be identified. Protecting the New Forest’s world-renowned habitats and balancing the needs of visitors and nature is a complex mission.
The Deputy Surveyor for the Forestry Commission South District, Bruce Rothnie, said: “We want people to get out into the Forest to enjoy the signs of autumn, we just appeal to them not to pick fungi, respecting the natural environment of the New Forest and leaving fungi for everyone to admire.”
Certain fungi are edible and enjoyed by people, however, many aren’t palatable and several are poisonous. There are a wide range of approved educational forays on offer, where people can find out more about the incredible fungi that thrive here.
We are working with organisations and experts who can identify the characteristics of the huge varieties of fungi found in the New Forest and get more people interested and involved in the conservation of our rarest fungi.
Bruce added: “We’ve already approved a limited number of licensed educational foragers in the New Forest who can help interpret and raise awareness of the huge value of fungi. We continue to work with foragers to develop sustainable solutions for people to enjoy the benefits of foraging outside of the protected New Forest area.”
The campaign has the support of many local partners including; the New Forest National Park Authority, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and the National Trust.
Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre, Chairman of the New Forest National Park Authority, said: “We are fully supportive of the Forestry Commission’s continuing work to stop fungi picking from the land that they manage in the New Forest. The New Forest Site of Special Scientific Interest is a stronghold for many rare and endangered species of fungi and it is important that we all do our bit to protect
them. By leaving fungi unpicked, we can all help conserve the Forest’s fragile ecosystem for everyone to appreciate.”
The Forestry Commission is not seeking to prosecute people that are picking small amounts of fungi for themselves (it is not illegal) we are appealing to people’s better nature and encouraging visitors to see the bigger picture. The aim is to prevent potential harm to the SSSI that is notified for its fungi.
You can support the Forestry Commission’s efforts by letting them know if you see any suspected commercial picking (which is an offence under the Theft Act 1968) by calling their 24 hour telephone line: 0300 067 4600.
There is more information on the above link and the related Q&A. This year’s posters and leaflets are changed:
Following the press release, an article appeared in The Bournemouth Echo calling for a complete ban on mushroom picking in The New Forest.
So, in summary, this year there is recognition that gathering small amounts of common fungi for personal consumption is legal (1968 Theft Act). Commercial collecting is, as it always has been, illegal and will be dealt with. Fungus forays and walks (such as ours), can continue to operate under permit and following strict guidelines. The Forest is a special place and one of the best places for fungi in Western Europe; there are rare species of fungi, protected by law and they should not be picked or damaged. The Forestry Commission are asking you to look and not pick.
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 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!