The stunning Bearded Tooth in The New Forest.

Theft of Protected Fungi / An Overview of Protected Species

It was very saddening to read a recent newspaper report of the deliberate taking of the rare Bearded Tooth (formerly Lion’s Mane) fungus from three locations in The New Forest. This is one of four species of protected fungi listed under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act as they are endangered. Most offences are punishable on summary conviction by six month’s imprisonment and/or a fine.

According to the newspaper article (not available online), they were taken by “unlicensed foragers”. There is only one licensed forager in The New Forest (it’s a long story!). Collecting wild fungi for commercial purposes requires landowners’ consent, without it such collection is theft (1969 Theft Act). The Forestry Commission in The New Forest do not give consent for commercial collection and their fungi picking campaigns of the last few years are aimed at commercial collectors (though this is not at all clear from their signage). Whoever took it you have not done any favours for legitimate people foraging for personal consumption. You are not representative of the rest of us, like football hooligans, a small minority may well tarnish the reputation of the law abiding majority. The Police, Natural England and The Forestry Commission are investigating the thefts. Anyone with information is encouraged to share it with the police via 101 or The Forestry Commission.

I have seen Bearded Tooth only on one occasion knowing immediately what it was and whooped for joy at being so fortunate to see it. It is a stunning species looking like melted wax cascading out of a fallen tree. Only photos and memories were taken.

With a mycologist friend I returned to that spot this year and there was no sign of it. Poor memory was blamed for forgetting the exact location but I now wonder of this was one of the spots where it had been taken.

The name refers to the Lion’s Mane Jellyfish and not the big cat. The species is edible – “a superb seafood-like taste compared to crab or lobster” but clearly should not be eaten from the wild. If you are keen to try it, it can be cultivated so you can buy it in Asian grocery stores, online and occasionally in supermarkets. Alternatively, your can try to grow your own with plug spawn. It is also sold as powders, supplements and extracts from some health food shops being revered by Native Americans and East Asian cultures where it is traditionally known as an immune booster, memory booster and styptic (stems flow of blood).

As a member of The Association of Foragers, I have been active making sure our legal right to pick wild fungi for personal consumption is allowed to continue. As Hedgerow Harvest, I organise educational fungus forays and walks in The New Forest and pay for a permit from The Forestry Commission to run them. The events are undertaken following strict rules as to what and how much we can pick and as well as teaching identification and safety do emphasise sustainable and legal picking. We are privileged, The New Forest is one of the best places for fungi in Western Europe and is home to rare and protected species as well as good numbers of much more common species.

It may be that this illegal picking was ignorance of the law rather than deliberate targeting. Some fungi books list Lion’s Mane as “edible” without mentioning the legal status, however, such “ignorance of law excuses no one”. To try and educate people I have tried to put together a guide to protected fungi species. To read the interesting background to these lists (e.g. the politics), Peter Marren’s excellent book Mushrooms is highly recommended. (According to a review in The independent it is “The greatest book about mushrooms you’ll ever read”).

Legal Protection

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 it is an offence to pick, uproot or destroy any wild plant listed. “Wild plant” means any plant (including fungi) which is or (before it was picked, uprooted or destroyed) was growing wild and is of a kind which ordinarily grows in Great Britain in a wild state. This means that picking these critically endangered species is strictly forbidden. Most offences are punishable on summary conviction by six month’s imprisonment and/or a fine. The four species of protected fungi listed are:

Sandy stilt puffball

Taxon nameBattarrea phalloides
HabitatInland sandy commons / roadsides
DescriptionLink - First Nature
Distribution MapLink - NBN Atlas
Sandy stilt puffball
Sandy stilt puffball is protected under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, and picking this critically endangered species is strictly forbidden. Licensed under Creative Commons Wikipedia Compatible v3.0 – Copyright © 2009 Landsnorkler.

Royal bolete

Taxon nameBoletus regius
StatusEndangered.
HabitatParks or woods with veteran trees
Description (source UK Biodiversity Group Tranche 2 Action Plans - Plants and Fungi)Royal bolete is known mainly from grassy areas under broadleaved trees in ancient, deciduous woods, particularly hornbeam or beech woods but also oak, on calcareous or acidic sandy soils. It is an ectomycorrhizal species which depends on old host trees. Many of its known host trees are old oak pollards. It has attractive, edible fruiting bodies which generally appear between May and September, although it is not known how reliable its fruiting is. The fruiting bodies are reddish in colour with a cap 6-15 cm in diameter.
DescriptionLink - First Nature
Distribution (source UK Biodiversity Group Tranche 2 Action Plans - Plants and Fungi)In Britain, this species is only known from southern England. There is very little information on its historic distribution in Britain. It may always have been rare, but some experts suggest that it may have declined over the last 40 years. In recent years, it has only been seen at three sites: the New Forest, Ashgreen (Surrey) and Windsor Forest. Elsewhere, this species has been recorded in scattered locations across central Europe.
Distribution MapLink - NBN Atlas
Royal Bolete
Royal Bolete is protected under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, and picking this critically endangered species is strictly forbidden. Licensed under Creative Commons Wikipedia Compatible v3.0 – Copyright © 2008 Ken Stavropoulos (pennybun).

Bearded Tooth (formerly Lion’s Mane)

Taxon nameHericium erinaceus
StatusEndangered
HabitatParks or woods with veteran trees
Description (source UK Biodiversity Group Tranche 2 Action Plans - Plants and Fungi)Hericium erinaceum grows mainly on the wounds of old living trees and on the ends of felled trunks in deciduous woods. It often grows high up on its host trees which are usually beech, but may also be oak. This species has an extremely local distribution in Britain, possibly because it is restricted to areas of woodland where there has been a long continuity of old trees. Fruiting bodies appear in late summer to autumn. Techniques are available for cultivating this edible species, and it is now being sold in supermarkets as a fashionable addition to cuisine.
DescriptionLink - First Nature
Distribution (source UK Biodiversity Group Tranche 2 Action Plans - Plants and Fungi)This species is scattered but locally common in southern England, rare in the Midlands (only one record from Herefordshire) and is absent from other parts of the British Isles. There are 12 records from approximately seven sites since 1960. Recent records include sites in the New Forest, Windsor Great Park and Oxfordshire.
Distribution MapLink - NBN Atlas
The stunning Bearded Tooth in The New Forest.
The stunning Bearded Tooth in The New Forest is protected under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, and picking this critically endangered species is strictly forbidden.

Oak polypore

Taxon namePiptoporus quercinus
StatusEndangered.
HabitatParks or woods with veteran trees
Description (source UK Biodiversity Group Tranche 2 Action Plans - Plants and Fungi)This species causes brown rot in mature oaks or on recently dead oaks, but never on any other species. It mainly occurs in wood pasture habitat where there has been a continuity of mature oak trees. The fruiting bodies which are edible, but have a very bitter taste, generally appear between May and December.
DescriptionLink - Arkive
Distribution (source UK Biodiversity Group Tranche 2 Action Plans - Plants and Fungi)In Britain, this species has been recorded at Sherwood Forest and from approximately five other sites in Derbyshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Oxfordshire and Herefordshire. There is no evidence for a historic decline in this species.
Distribution MapLink - NBN Atlas
Oak Polypore
Oak Polypore is protected under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, and picking this critically endangered species is strictly forbidden. Licensed under Creative Commons Wikipedia Compatible v3.0 – Copyright © Vavrin 2011.

 

Other Protection

Biodiversity Action Plans

In response to International moves to help reduce or halt the significant losses in global biodiversity, the UK, like many other countries, has summarised the most threatened or rapidly declining habitats and species and created detailed “Species Action Plans” for their conservation. As well as priority habitats, action plans have been created for birds, plants, fish, fungi and other groups. Following devolution there are now priority lists for England, Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland.

UK BAP priority fungi species

Note that lichens have been omitted. Includes rusts and smuts etc. U = unknown

Scientific nameCommon nameEnglandScotlandWalesNorthern Ireland
Amanita friabilisFragile AmanitaYNYN
Armillaria ectypaMarsh Honey FungusYYYY
Bankera fuligineoalbaDrab ToothYYNN
Battarrea phalloidesSandy Stilt PuffballYNNN
Boletopsis perplexaBlack FalseboleteNYNN
Boletus immutatusConstant BoleteYNNN
Boletus pseudoregiusThe PretenderYNNN
Boletus regiusRoyal BoleteYNNN
Boletus rhodopurpureusOldrose BoleteYNNN
Boletus torosusBrawny BoleteYNNN
Bovista paludosaFen PuffballYNNN
Calocybe onychinaLilac DomecapNYNN
Cantharellus friesiiOrange ChanterelleYYNN
Cantharellus melanoxerosBlackening ChanterelleYYNN
Chlorencoelia versiformisFlea's EarYNNN
Chrysomyxa pirolataWintergreen RustYYYN
Cotylidia pannosaWoolly RosetteYNYN
Entoloma bloxamiiBig Blue PinkgillYYYY
Geastrum berkeleyiBerkeley's EarthstarYNNN
Geastrum corollinumWeathered EarthstarYNNN
Geastrum elegansElegant EarthstarYNYN
Geastrum minimumTiny EarthstarYNNN
Geoglossum atropurpureumDark-purple EarthtongueYYYY
Gomphus clavatusPig's EarNNNN
Hericium coralloidesCoral ToothYNNN
Hericium erinaceusBearded ToothYNYN
Hohenbuehelia culmicolaMarram OysterYYYN
Hydnellum aurantiacumOrange ToothNYNY
Hydnellum caeruleumBlue ToothNYNN
Hydnellum concrescensZoned ToothYYYY
Hydnellum ferrugineumMealy ToothYYNN
Hydnellum peckiiDevil's ToothNYNN
Hydnellum scrobiculatumRidged ToothYYYN
Hydnellum spongiosipesVelvet ToothYYYY
Hygrocybe spadiceaDate-coloured WaxcapYYYN
Hygrophorus pudorinusRosy WoodwaxYNNN
Hypocreopsis lichenoidesWillow GlovesYNYN
Hypocreopsis rhododendriHazel GlovesYYNN
Lyophyllum favreiGilded DomecapYNNN
Microglossum olivaceumEarth-tongueYYYY
Mycena renatiBeautiful BonnetYNNN
Myriostoma coliformePepper PotNNNN
Nyssopsora echinataSpignel RustNYNN
Phellodon confluensFused ToothYYYN
Phellodon melaleucusGrey ToothYYYN
Phellodon nigerBlack ToothYYNN
Phellodon tomentosusWoolly ToothYYYN
Pholiota astragalinaConifer ScalycapYUNN
Phylloporus pelletieriGolden Gilled BoleteYYYY
Piptoporus quercinusOak PolyporeYYYN
Podoscypha multizonataZoned RosetteYNNN
Poronia punctataNail FungusYNYN
Psathyrella caput-medusaeMedusa BrittlestemUYUN
Puccinia clintoniiLousewort RustNYNY
Puccinia physospermiBladder-seed RustYNNN
Puccinia scorzoneraeScorzonera RustYNYN
Puccinia septentrionalisAlpine RustNYNN
Puccinia thesiiBastard-toadflax RustYNNN
Sarcodon glaucopusGreenfoot ToothNYNN
Sarcodon scabrosusBitter ToothYYNN
Sarcodon squamosusScaly ToothYYNN
Sarcodontia croceaOrchard ToothYNNN
Sarcosphaera coronariaViolet CrowncupYNNN
Stephanospora caroticolaCarroty False TruffleYNNN
Stropharia hornemanniiConifer RoundheadNYNN
Tephrocybe osmophoraSweet GreylingYNNN
Tracya hydrocharidisFrogbit SmutUNUU
Tremella moriformisMulberry BrainYNNN
Tremellodendropsis tuberosaAshen CoralYNYN
Tricholoma colossusGiant KnightNYNN
Tricholoma robustumRobust KnightNYNN
Tulostoma melanocyclumScaly StalkballYNYN
Tulostoma niveumStalked PuffballNYNN
Urocystis colchiciColchicum SmutYNYN
Urocystis primulicolaBird's-eye Primrose SmutYUNN
Uromyces gentianaeFelwort RustYNNN

Source – Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC)

Red Data Lists

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species (also known as the IUCN Red List or Red Data List), founded in 1965, has evolved to become the world’s most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of biological species. It uses a set of criteria to evaluate the extinction risk of thousands of species and subspecies. These criteria are relevant to all species and all regions of the world. With its strong scientific base, the IUCN Red List is recognized as the most authoritative guide to the status of biological diversity. A series of Regional Red Lists are produced by countries or organizations, which assess the risk of extinction to species within a political management unit.

A Red Data List of Threatened British Fungi was produced in 1992 and 2006 by the British Mycological Society (BMS). However, neither of these achieved official approval by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, thereby diminishing their effectiveness in conservation decision-making.

Preliminary Assessment: The Red Data List of Threatened British Fungi – 2006

Introduction / methodology

Species list

To remedy this, the family Boletaceae (Boletes) was chosen in 2012 to establish a template for fungal conservation status assessments. The aim was to facilitate production of British Red Data Lists conforming to international standards set by the IUCN and published by JNCC.

Working with Natural England, the Association of British Fungus Groups and the British Mycological Society and a team at Cardiff University, Kew mycologists produced this first official (pilot) fungal Red Data List for Great Britain, which was duly published by JNCC in 2013. Of the 68 Boletes studied, 13 were assessed as threatened and 37 are now ‘red-listed’. Even now, in late 2018, no further families have been added.

Red List of Fungi for Great Britain: Boletaceae. A pilot conservation assessment based on national database records, fruit body morphology and DNA barcoding - 2013.

Report / list
Wood Blewitts

Wood Blewits

As I write this in late November you could be forgiven for thinking that most foraging opportunities are finished for the year but this is far from the truth. There are still some wild greens and fruit about and while most fungi finds are slowing up, with a frost or two already past, it becomes time to hunt for Wood Blewits. They can be found from September to January or February. While not as well known as other “top table” fungi like Ceps and Chanterelles, these are right up there for flavour and versatility and used to be sold in markets in this country.

Habitat

Many woodland fungi are mycorrhizal. This means that the mycelium (underground web of fibres making up the majority of the body of the fungus) grows on the roots of trees. It takes up water and nutrients to pass to the tree in exchange for sugars. Wood Blewits are saprophytes. They feed on dead or decaying organic matter such as leaf litter. The name suggests that they are only found in woodland, however, some of the best places I know are nice, old (unimproved) grasslands, including along the coast where agriculture is often less intense. Here they can be found growing in huge rings. They are also found under hedgerows (linear woodlands), in gardens (including mine occasionally!) and on road verges.

Ring of Wood Blewits in unimproved, coastal grasslands.

Identification

We strongly recommend you check identification with several books.

Wood Blewits are violet when young but become light brown / tan with age. I could identify one blind-folded due to their distinctive smell, described as floral, aromatic, sweet, perfumed or best of all, “frozen orange juice” according to one source!

You need to be very careful that you do not confuse them with some of the larger purple species of Cortinarius fungi which can be of a similar colour. The Wood Blewit has pink spores and all Cortinarius fungi have rusty brown spores. A spore print will confirm their colour.

Spore print showing brown spores. Produced by cutting the stem off, putting the cap on a piece of paper with a glass over it (to stop draughts), then waiting a few hours.
Spore print showing brown spores. Produced by cutting the stem off, putting the cap on a piece of paper with a glass over it (to stop draughts), then waiting a few hours. A darker piece of paper will help show lighter coloured spores (e.g. pink)

The genus name Cortinarius means “curtained”. A young specimen will have a “cortina” between the cap and the stem. A cortina in this case, is not the United Kingdom’s best-selling car of the 1970s, but a “veil”, a web of threads between the mushroom stem and cap. Remnants of it may be seen on older specimens.

Good view of the Cortina (veil).
Good view of the Cortina (veil) of a Cortinarius and brown dust of the spores sticking to the cortina and stem.

Another species that you will head off the path in pursuit of, thinking from a distance it is a Wood Blewit, is The Clouded Agaric. A closer inspection will reveal the lack of violet and the distinctive smell. As they make most people that eat them ill, you will soon learn to despise Clouded Agarics.

Preserving

As Wood Blewits can be found in good numbers they can be preserved for later consumption. While drying is an option, I usually fry them and then put the cooked mushrooms into freezer bags and the freezer with the amount I would need for a meal in each bag.

Wood Blewits can often be found in quantity.

Cooking

Wood Blewits must be cooked before consumption. Raw they can cause indigestion or stomach upsets. A minority of people find even thoroughly cooked Wood Blewits indigestible so it is recommended you should try a small amount the first time that you eat them to check they like you.

They can often have a lot of water in them so when you cook them, you may need to drain off any surplus liquid so you fry them and not boil them. They are very good sautéed and served with a range of meats or poultry. They can be one of a number of mushrooms in a risotto or pasta dish.

Elderberries in basket

Elderberry Syrup – Recipe and Uses

Elderberries

Elderberries are far from the most foraged berry. This is a bit of a shame, used the right way they are a great wild food ingredient. They make a good jam or jelly, but you wouldn’t really want a pudding with them “neat”. Adding another fruit like Blackberries improves the flavour. Where they do come into their own is in drinks, one of the best wild fruit wines, a great spirit-based infusion (think Sloe Gin but with Elderberries and Vodka or Whisky), or most commonly as Elderberry Syrup. This is one of my favourite fruit syrups and can be used in a number of ways.

Uses for Elderberry Syrup

Most will go in the freezer to reappear when the winter colds or flu strike. Defrosted then a little in a mug of hot water (squeeze of lemon juice or a drop of whisky are optional extras) will relieve the symptoms of colds and flu. I add cloves to mine and the fruity/spicy remedy soon starts to work wonders. The combination of certain acids, vitamin C and anti-oxidants has proven in trials that “Symptoms were relieved on average 4 days earlier …. in those receiving elderberry extract compared with a placebo“. The medicinal benefits have been known since the Ancient Egyptians and Greek. You can today buy cold remedies with Elderberry in, but why, when you can make your own cheaply. I use the recipe in Roger Phillips’ excellent Wild Food.

I’ve known people use it as a no-alcohol version of mulled wine. The spices, such as cloves, ginger and / or cinnamon, make it fill the role very well.

You can drizzle a little of the syrup on to ice cream, pancakes, rice pudding or similar.

Elderflower Syrup
Elderflower Syrup

Recipe

I use Roger Phillips’ recipe from his excellent Wild Food: A complete guide for foragers.

Ingredients:

  • Ripe elderberries
  • Sugar
  • Cloves

Method:

  1. Pick the fruit on a dry day. Wash well and drain thoroughly.
  2. Strip the fruit from the stems (with a fork) and put into a pan, adding just enough water to cover.
  3. Simmer for 30 minutes until the berries are very soft.
  4. Strain through a jelly bag or muslin and measure the juice. Allow 450g sugar and 10 cloves to each 600ml of juice.
  5. Heat the juice gently, stirring in the sugar until dissolved. Boil for 10 minutes and then leave until cold.
  6. The syrup may be frozen in small quantities (I use well-cleaned old milk bottles) or packed into small screw-topped, soft-drink bottles which have been sterilized.
Elderflower Syrup
Quality assurance and bottled ready to freeze.

Elderberry Risks

Please note that Elderberries do need to be cooked before being consumed. Eating raw berries or juice may lead to nausea or more severe symptoms.

Hop Cones - Late August, Dorset

Uses for Hops (cones / flowers)

I’ve blogged about Hops before but at a very different time of the year – April. My target in the Spring is the young shoots, these have been called “Poor Man’s Asparagus” and are one of the world’s most expensive vegetables sold in Belgium for around $1400 / kilo. The shoots have lots of great uses covered in the blog, I frequently put them in frittatas or have them as a vegetable.

Hops can occasionally be found in hedgerows even in areas where there is no history of hop growing. The hop vines grow up to a foot a day and the cones (the proper word for the flowers) are blossoming at the moment. Seeing them in their summer guise did make me think about what you can do with them beyond the obvious use. I did a bit of web searching and this post contains what I found. When it’s stopped raining and we’ve had some sun, I am going out to gather some hops to dry and try out some of the below ideas.

Picking / Storing Hops

September and October are the months for harvesting hop cones. They can be dried for later use, however, note that they will lose their potency when exposed to light and air or after a few months’ storage.

If you have sensitive skin, you might want to wear gloves and make sure your arms are covered when picking them. Dermatitis sometimes results from harvesting them. Please note hops are toxic to dogs.

 

Brewing

Hops are obviously used as a bittering, flavouring and stability agent for beers. As well as bitterness they give floral, fruity or citrusy flavours and aroma. There are many cultivated varieties of hops used for different styles of beer.

I’m no home-brew expert but it would be interesting to try a beer made with foraged hops.

"<yoastmark

Hops as Decoration

Stems of dried hops have been used as a garland or in floral arrangements for centuries. Today, they are usually seen in pubs hanging from rafters or above the bar. I was once asked where to find some for decorating a wedding reception!

Flower arrangement with Hops.

Medicinal and Cosmetic Uses of Hops

A pillow filled with hops is a popular traditional remedy for sleeplessness. You can easily make your own and can optionally add an equal measure of dried lavender flowers to sweeten the scent. Wrap it well (make a “pillow case”) to avoid the hop’s oils from staining your bedding! Put under your pillow to help you sleep.

Do not disturb

The calming and relaxing effects of hops are utilised in herbal medicine as treatments for anxiety, restlessness and insomnia. They also used in cosmetics – natural soaps and deodorants.

 

Hop Tea

They have been used in tea for at least as long as they have been used in beer. The tea is often used as a bedtime drink due to its natural sedative properties. You can dry foraged hops and use them for making tea. It can be very bitter and might need sweetening with honey. Some people add other, complementary flavours to hop tea – ginger, citrus peel, chamomile, lemongrass, lemon balm, or other herbs.

Herbal Tea

Culinary Uses

I was already aware of most of the above uses for hops but was unaware of any culinary uses. What I did find repeatedly in my search were warnings that they are incredibly strong, and their bitterness can take over a dish. The trick is to use them lightly. According to one source “If there’s one word to keep in mind, it’s this: restraint”.  Another source summed it up nicely:

Hops are the ‘spice’ of beer, and they play a similar role when added to food recipes

It’s worth giving them a go, they add robust flavours, aromas and textures to dishes. A test run using them as a dried and flaked condiment is a suggested way of being introduced to them.

  • A garnish for mashed potatoes
  • Sprinkled on soup
  • On pasta or chicken

Among the other uses I found – search for recipes / inspiration:

  • Adding like a bay leaf to a soup or stew
  • Yeast cakes
  • Sausages
  • Bread
  • Salmon and cauliflower with hops béarnaise
  • On pizzas, like you would use oregano or basil
  • Infuse oils with hops for salad dressings
  • Dried and ground as a baking powder substitute (1 tablespoon to 1 lb plain flour)
  • Mustard to go with hoppy sausage
  • Infused honey to top a malted barley custard
  • Hop-infused ice cream
  • Hot chocolate
  • Churros (fried-dough pastry – a traditional snack from Spain and Portugal)
Fat Hen with its huge numbers of seeds. Here growing in the margin of an arable field.

Fat Hen – Flocking to a field near you

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.

Leaves

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.

 

Young Fat Hen (and the smaller Chickweed) growing in a greenhouse.
Young Fat Hen (and the smaller Chickweed) growing in a greenhouse.

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.

Sprayed Fat Hen - it just doesn't look vibrant and good to eat.
Sprayed Fat Hen – it just doesn’t look vibrant and good to eat.

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

Fat Hen "tops" picked for soup.
Fat Hen “tops” picked for soup.

“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.

Making Fat Hen Soup
Making Fat Hen Soup

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.

 

Leaves

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
  • Lasagne
  • 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 Pesto Bake (with Sea Beet and New Potatoes)
Fat Hen Pesto Bake (with Sea Beet and New Potatoes)

Seeds

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.

Young tender Beech leaves - translucent and soft.

A Trio of Spring Wild Booze Tipples

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.

Épine Apéritif

Blackthorn leaves
Blackthorn leaves

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

Young Oak Leaves
Young Oak Leaves

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 2nd June 2018, 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.

One of those nasty foragers?

“So, you’re one of those nasty foragers!” – Why people forage.

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:

Reasons for Foraging%
Free Food; No food miles25%
Connection to the land and the changing seasons21%
Enjoyment13%
Love of Food11%
Social9%
Exercise7%
Relaxation6%
Vitamins and Nutrition4%
Teach the Next Generation3%

1. Free Food; No food miles

Foraging can support people on low incomes reducing their food bill. There are some free foraging courses for families on low incomes to teach them how to collect and cook free wild food.

Foraging is wallet and waistline-friendly” – Paola Bassanese – The Foraging Home Cook.

 “I saved 30 per cent on my food budget by picking wild vegetables instead of buying vegetables at the supermarket.” (Survey respondent in Jennifer Lee Lane’s PhD)

“The cost of the food is in time not money” (Survey respondent in Jennifer Lee Lane’s PhD)

At a more global level:

  • India is looking at wild food species to tackle food security.
  • 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.

Keep calm and eat free food

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.

Otter - River Stour Dorset - seen while foraging
I spent 15 wonderful minutes in the company of this Otter while looking for morels. I didn’t find any but I didn’t care! Photo: Hedgerow Harvest

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.

Sea Beet - the ancient forefather of Beetroot, Sugar Beet, Perpetual Spinach, Chard and more. Photo: Hedgerow Harvest
Sea Beet – the ancient forefather of Beetroot, Sugar Beet, Perpetual Spinach, Chard and more. Photo: Hedgerow Harvest

“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.

 

3. Enjoyment

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)

Very happy forager on one of our wild booze walks.
Very happy forager on one of our wild booze walks. Photo: Hedgerow Harvest

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.

Elderflower and Gooseberry Fool
Elderflower and Gooseberry Fool. Photo: Hedgerow Harvest

 

5. Social

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”.

Enjoying a wild-food meal on a hen-do having learnt, gathered and cooked.
Enjoying a wild-food meal on a hen-do having learnt, gathered and cooked. Photo: Hedgerow Harvest

 

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)

Being tall helps picking Elderflower
Good stretching exercise reaching for Elderflowers. Photo: Hedgerow Harvest

 

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.

Hedgerow Harvest - Ministry of Food - 1943
Hedgerow Harvest – Ministry of Food – 1943

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!

Nutrition in foraged foodsSource: 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.

Bilberry picking on Bulkeley Hills (1908) from Jennifer Lane Lee's PhD.
Bilberry picking on Bulkeley Hills (1908) from Jennifer Lane Lee’s PhD.

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).

Tractor spraying herbicide on cereal crop
Photo Pixabay. Licensed under Creative Commons CC0

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
Japanese Knotweed control in Cornwall, Invading Bluebell area in Dorset, Chutney, Vodka, Harvesting. Photos: Hedgerow Harvest
Clockwise from top-left. Japanese Knotweed control in Cornwall, Invading Bluebell area in Dorset, Chutney, Vodka, Harvesting. Photos: Hedgerow Harvest

 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!

Foraged salad
Salad leaves gathered on a foraging walk. Less than one food mile (on foot), zero chemicals, zero packaging. Very fresh, nutritious, delicious, free, exercise and enjoyment too. What’s to knock?

Conclusions

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.

 

Association of Foragers January 2018 - coast

Association of Foragers Meeting – Dorset January 2018

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.

Association of Foragers January 2018 - coast

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
  • Mushroom Pâté
  • Japanese Knotweed Chutney
  • Seaweed and Cheese Biscuits
  • Jerky Mushrooms
  • 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.
  • Winter Chanterelle
  • 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
  • They may offer a source of bio-fuels

Association of Foragers January 2018 - woods

Haw berries on the Hawthorn tree

Catch-up with Wild Ketchups

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.

Ingredients:

  • 500g haws

500g of Haws

  • 300 ml white wine or cider vinegar
  • 170 g sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Ground black pepper to taste

 

Method:

  • 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.

Boiling haws

  • Rub the mixture through a sieve, or pass through a food mill, to remove the largish stones and the skins.

Rub haws through a sieve

  • 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.

Haw Ketchup

  • Pour the finished Haw Ketchup into a sterilized bottle and seal with a vinegar proof cap.

Bottled Haw Ketchup

  • Use it within 12 months.