Category: Miscellaneous

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.

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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)
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

New Forest Fungi – “no-picking” code

For a 2017 update see here.

The New Forest in Hampshire is a wonderful place for fungi with over 2700 species found, both the rare and very good numbers of the common species. It has been a popular destination for those who like to study and / or pick edible fungi for many years, but the growth of interest in foraging has been perceived by some to be detrimental to the Forest.

Learning to identify fungi on a fungus foray in The New Forest
Learning to identify fungi on a fungus foray in The New Forest

Foraging instructors have taught responsible, sustainable practice. I emphasised the Wild Mushroom Pickers’ Code of Conduct (British Mycological Society) and, the now defunct, Fungi Collectors Code for the New Forest.

There has been a bit of rumbling over the years coming to a head with statements in July 2015 by Sarah Cadbury of The Hampshire Fungus Recording Group to The New Forest Verderers – (Daily Mail, Guardian). One of the “accused”, John Wright responded to The Verderers (copy here).

Over the last year those that teach or forage professionally foragers formed The Association of Foragers and representatives have met with New Forest National Park Authority, Forestry Commission and Natural England. Members also attended “Future of Foraging” workshops around the country with Natural England under “The Foraging Partnership” banner. These workshops all seemed pretty positive with foraging seen as a way of getting people to engage with nature, but it needed to be done in a responsible manner.

old no pick sing for some inclosures
OLD sign. A limited number of inclosures have had been “no picking” for some years. One assumes that they have been used for comparative academic studies, but we don’t know.

Last week, those with permits to lead educational forays in The New Forest received a letter from The Forestry Commission. With immediate effect they have introduced a “no-picking” code for the New Forest SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). This covers most of The New Forest – open forest, heathland, timber inclosures etc. The related web page and Q&A go into more detail of their justification.

“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).”

Foragers enjoy looking at fungi too, such as these magnificent Fly Agaric.
Foragers enjoy looking at fungi too, such as these magnificent Fly Agaric.

They continue to clamp down on any illegal commercial mushroom picking and I support this action, though dispute how much actually happens.

The Forestry Commission released the story to the media (press release) earlier this week with it appearing in a number of daily and local newspapers, most seem to have just repeated the message. Telegraph, Mail, Times (subscription required to read all), Southern Daily Echo (Southampton / Bournemouth etc..

Today, The Association of Foragers have responded to The Forestry Commission and sent a press release to the media. The press release is reproduced below:

New Forest Fungi Picking Ban “unscientific” say fungi experts

New Forest, Hampshire, September 1st 2016

Leading foraging educators claim New Forest fungi picking ban is will undermine future fungi growth


A campaign by the Forestry Commission in England to ban the picking of all fungi in the New Forest has been heavily criticised by fungi experts and foraging educators.

The Association of Foragers, which represents the collective knowledge and experience of nearly one hundred writers, teachers and researchers, say the ban has no grounding in scientific evidence, and is more likely to undermine fungi populations in the long term. “There are at least 2,700 species of fungi in the New Forest. Only a dozen are routinely collected as food - none of which are rare”, said John Wright, author of the bestselling River Cottage Mushroom Guide, and member of The Association of Foragers. “More fungi are kicked over and trampled by the uneducated than are picked for the pot. Foraging provides an important point of human connection with these otherwise mysterious organisms”, said Mr Wright.

Mark Williams, a member of The Association of Foragers who has taught about fungi in Scotland for 25 years, said: “The Forestry Commission has presented no scientific evidence to show why this ban is necessary. That’s because there simply isn’t any”.

“A 25 year study of the effects of picking mushrooms revealed no correlation whatsoever between picking and future growth, in the same way as picking a bramble does not impact the parent plant - in the case of mushrooms an invisible underground network called mycelium. The picking and movement of mushrooms is actually more likely to help spread fungi spores and expand populations”, said Mr Williams.

The Forestry Commission also cites “fungi-dependent invertebrates” as reason for the ban. Research herbalist Monica Wilde of The AoF says: “People don’t pick the mushrooms that are appealing to maggots! The most widely eaten species - chanterelles and hedgehog mushrooms - are almost entirely resistant to insects.”

The FC also cites anecdotal evidence of “teams of commercial fungi pickers”. “This is a mantra that has been so often repeated, mostly by the tabloid press, that it has entered the public consciousness”, says Mr Williams. “With collectively 1000’s of days spent teaching and recording in the New Forest, not one member of the AoF has ever seen any evidence of this - not even a photograph. 99% of mushrooms rot where they grow.”

The AoF is calling for the FC to rethink the ban. “It is unscientific, unenforceable, and will serve only to further disconnect people from the world of fungi. We urge the FC to use the collective knowledge of the AoF to help formulate evidence-based policy to support future populations of fungi”.

The foraging forums / social media have been buzzing, among the comments that caught my eye:

  • The New Forest has at least 2,700 species of fungi. Only a dozen are routinely collected for food.
  • Absurdly about 50% of the New Forest SSSI woodland is spruce and pine plantation. Yet mushroom picking still not allowed.
  • I now won’t be able to take my 5-year-old daughter out picking within the New Forest. She’s been out with me since she was 1-year-old and already has a basket and some favourite spots.

There is no evidence that picking damages the crop (long-term scientific studies elsewhere have shown this); its a sustainable harvest and European experience proves it. Foraging is healthy, harmless fun and should be encouraged, not banned.

Foraging is an excellent way of getting people to spend quality time in the outdoors getting exercise and engaging with nature - no apps, screens etc.
Foraging is an excellent way of getting people to spend quality time in the outdoors getting exercise and engaging with nature – no apps, screens etc.
Japanese Knotweed

Knot a weed? Foraging and Japanese Knotweed

Japanese Knotweed – just the name sends terror through people. Introduced by Victorians as an ornamental plant that could stabilise riverbanks and railway embankments it has managed to find its way into all sorts of corners of our towns and countryside costing the UK economy around £150 million per year in control measures. Successfully eradicating knotweed from the Olympic park in London cost £70 million (getting on for a pound per person living in the UK) and took several years! There are companies whose sole businesses is its removal, councils employ teams or officers to attempt to eradicate it and if it grows in the garden of a house you want a mortgage on, forget it. It is common on sites that are disturbed by human activity – railway lines, old rubbish tips and derelict land, being spread with loads of rubble, soil and rubbish. It also spreads along watercourses and on machinery and vehicle tyres. Growing 3 centimetres per day, it displaces other plants and is and able to break through concrete! This is about as close as to triffids as we get! Watch time-lapse photography of Knotweed growing a metre in three weeks here.

Japanese Knotweed invading bluebells
Japanese Knotweed reducing biodiversity invading bluebells

Why mention it in a foraging blog? Of course you can eat it – but. Yes – a few big buts:

1. It is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to introduce Japanese Knotweed to the countryside. Just a small fragment of root can spread the plant. Handle it responsibly.
2. To control it, sites may be sprayed with herbicides.

Cornwall Japanese Knotweed site and sign
Cornwall Japanese Knotweed site and sign

To avoid falling foul of either of these points:
1. The plant is spread during ground disturbance and fly tipping. However, it is recommended that any waste (stripped leaves etc.) should be boiled / burnt and then binned – not put in your compost!
2. Check for any notices showing it has treated and look for signs of unhealthy (wilting / yellow spots etc.) vegetation.

You should also note it is rich in oxalic acid and if you suffer from gout you should only eat small quantities of it or avoid it.

If you have still want to eat it what are you in for? It is rather like rhubarb – “Rhubarb but nicer” I’ve heard from many I have fed it to; less tart than rhubarb.

If it gets too big it will be stringy and not good eating. Aim to pick it around now. You should be looking for bits that are about 30 cm high or just the last 30 cm of taller bits. Cut them off with a knife. Back in the kitchen, strip any leaves and scrape off the papery tissue that divides the sections of the stem. Tough pieces will need peeling.

Japanese Knotweed
Gather Japanese Knotweed stems when 8 – 12 inches tall.

Among the things you can do with it:

Japanese Knotweed Chutney
Japanese Knotweed Chutney
Japanese Knotweed Vodka
Japanese Knotweed Vodka

There are great collections of recipes here and here including soup crumble, vegetable dishes and wine.

Japanese Knotweed is also rather good for you containing high levels of vitamin A, vitamin C, certain antioxidants, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, manganese and resveratrol, the substance in grape skins and red wine that lowers cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart attacks!

If Japanese Knotweed is continually cut (and eaten) it will eventually give up – a far better way of controlling it than gallons of chemical sprays. In fact, some US authorities have given up trying to eradicate it and instead run annual Japanese Knotweed festivals!

Some interesting Japanese Knotweed links:
Identification guide
The spread of Japanese Knotweed

Foraging for Christmas

While foraging to most people is about food, you can also forage for non-edible items from the hedgerow, wood and shore. My runner bean poles and pea sticks are all hazels out of the hedgerow, bits of drift wood make nice ornaments (or light-fittings – hello sister!) and, as it is the Christmas period, sources of decoration for the house and table can easily be found in the garden or not too far from home. Like wild food, you can buy them already made, but the fun (for adults and kids) is in the gathering and making. Spending money on Pine cones seems as mad to a forager as buying nettles!

"Cone and holly" by Petr Kratochvil - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
“Cone and holly” by Petr Kratochvil – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

What to gather

The usual foraging “good manners” apply – pick a bit here and a bit there, only take some of what is common etc.

  • Old Man’s Beard
  • Seed heads
  • Bare or lichen-covered twigs
  • Branches
  • Ivy*
  • Holly*
  • Mistletoe*
  • Pine or evergreen foliage (Conifers, Laurel*, Holm Oak, Yew* etc).
  • Garden herbs – Sage, Rosemary etc.
  • Pine / Larch / Fir cones
  • Rose hips*
  • Ornamental crab apples – reds, pinks and yellows
  • Hawthorn berries
  • Chestnuts – in husks or taken out (not Horse Chestnuts)
  • Hazelnuts
  • Walnuts
  • Moss

*NB – Leaves and berries of these are poisonous (some fatal) if consumed! Do not bring into the house if you have children or pets. Rose hips contain seeds with hairs on that are an irritant (childhood “itching powder”).

 

Other things you might need

  • Garden wire
  • Metallic spray paints or glitter – gold, silver, red or white
  • Flax cord, ribbon, hessian, raffia or twine for decoration

What to do / make

  • Wreaths
  • Tree decorations – spray them or tie ribbons, add a thread or wire loop to hang on the tree
  • General decorations – make a longer “string”  to hang on pictures, the bookshelf, banister etc
  • Napkin rings
  • Table decorations – fill small jars, glasses or pretty ice-cream dishes with nuts, berries or arrangements
  • Present decorations – tie around the necks of jars and bottles of home-made jam and sloe gin
  • Decorate a branch – add lights and tree decorations
  • Cake decorations (avoid poisonous species!)

2_mod_res

1_mod_res

Gift ideas for the forager in your life

Love it or loathe it, it’s just over a month until Christmas. It’s always nice to get gifts that you actually want rather something completely random that your life was already complete without (more socks, hankies etc). If you are a forager, here are a few ideas that you could point your loved one or family towards.

Mushroom knife

Yes, any knife can be used to cut a mushroom, keeping the mud and debris out of your basket (and supper), but one with a brush on the end means you can clean them as you go, giving less work in the kitchen. They come in many shapes and sizes but a nice wooden folding knife does the job and fits easily into a pocket. Do make use of the little hole so you can attach it to a stretchy, spiral lanyard thing and your belt loop and avoid leaving it on the woodland floor (like I do – I lost a book that way once!)

Mushroom Knife
Mushroom Knife

Foraging basket

You need a decent container to carry your foraged goodies home – carrier bags just don’t look the part and are no good for mushrooms or where there are thorns around. Go for the traditional look and help keep skilled traditional British crafts going with a beautiful willow basket from the Somerset Levels or a classic chestnut and willow Sussex Trug. Google these terms to buy straight from the craftsman.

 

Fungi selection in a lovely Sussex trug
Fungi selection in a lovely Sussex Trug

 

A Somerset willow basket
A Somerset willow basket with foraged Autumn fare

Books

You can never have enough books on foraging. There are so many out there with new ones being added. Two you might not have on your bookshelf yet:

Mushrooms – Peter Marren

Mushrooms by Peter Marren
Mushrooms by Peter Marren

This is not your regular mushroom book. It is NOT a field guide to help with identifying the good guys from the bad guys. It is a lot broader and provides a remarkable insight into the natural and human world of fungi. It is a refreshingly candid view of the diversity of fungi and our relationship with this intriguing group. It explores topics such as the naming of fungi, their importance in natural ecosystems, fungus forays and our ambivalent attitude to edible fungi, as well as recent efforts to record and conserve vulnerable species.

Chapters include:

  • A fungal autobiography
  • Meet the mushrooms
  • What’s in a name?
  • Mushrooms on parade
  • What mushroom is that?
  • Natural habitats
  • In our midst: our fungal neighbours
  • Earthtongues, waxcaps and hedgehogs
  • Scarcity and plenty
  • Forays amongst the funguses
  • The good, the bad and the crazy
  • Picking for the pot
  • Saving mushrooms

According to a review in The independent it is “The greatest book about mushrooms you’ll ever read”.

Buy direct from the publishers for less than Amazon – http://www.britishwildlife.com/viewbook.asp?bookid=26

 

Wildcook – ceps, shrubs & rock ‘n’ roll – Garry Eveleigh

wildcook_garry_eveleigh

This is not just a foraging field guide but also a great cookery book with lots of wonderful recipes for your foraged ingredients. Garry has concentrated on a selection of his favourites, highlighting what to look for on beaches and foreshores, hedgerows, fields and forests, giving the reader detailed information on where ingredients are found, how to identify them safely, with helpful picking tips and suggestions for their uses. James Golding, a leading chef, has provided the mouth-watering recipes.

Take a look at the accompanying web site to have a peek at the photos and recipes. A friend bought 10 copies for Christmas presents!

Buy direct from the publishers for the same price as Amazon etchttp://wildcook.co.uk/the-wildcook-shop

 

Foraging Course Gift vouchers

You never stop learning about foraging – new habitats, ingredients and recipes. We offer a comprehensive range of half day foraging walks and full day courses to help you learn. They cover topics including seashore, seaweeds, fungi, spring greens, hedgerow and “fruit and nut”,

Foraging walks last around 3 hours. We collect seasonal wild foods learning about their identification and uses. As we go we discuss safety, sustainability and legal aspects. There may be some sampling.

Delighted to find a lobster in the pot.
Delighted to find a lobster in the pot.

Day courses generally comprise:

  • A foraging walk collecting a range of seasonal wild foods learning about their identification and uses.
  • An indoor session preparing, cooking and eating a three-course lunch based on our finds (not fungus foray – just sampling).
  • An illustrated talk on wild foods.
Dandelions
Dandelions – lots of good things to do with these.

Hedgerow Harvest foraging course gift vouchers make an ideal present for someone interested in the outdoors and cooking. They are perfect for Christmas, birthdays, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day or a retirement or leaving present. They are redeemable against either:

  • A place on any one of our scheduled foraging day courses
  • A place on any two of our scheduled foraging walks

They cost £80 each (small supplement for vouchers by post) and can be ordered at https://www.hedgerow-harvest.com/gift-vouchers/

If you want to spend more you could have a private foraging event for your friends and family or even a truffle hunting experience day in the UK!

In good spirits – wild drinks.

I have hazy distant memories of a night out in Slovenia where we went vodka tasting. These were not just ordinary vodkas but a remarkable variety of locally-made infused or flavoured vodkas. Locally foraged ingredients such as wild strawberries, pine needles and even certain grasses had been steeped in vodka with sugar in the same manner as we make Sloe Gin. The results were amazing, all sorts of unusual, wonderful flavours, and less predictably, a rather sore head the next morning!

Back here I have made a few with Vodka, Gin, Whisky, Brandy and Rum. I currently have (separately!) Blackberry, Elderflower, Japanese Knotweed and Sloe on the go, with quite a few more on the “try” list.

These wild drinks can be drunk neat, but are better mixed such as with apple juice, soda water or tonic. There are also quite a few wild cocktail recipes that can be found on-line too. Making infused or flavoured vodkas is very straightforward though the processes do differ a little and the amount of time for the flavour to infuse also varies. Look on-line for a wild drinks recipe for the foraged ingredient that you happen to have and to see which spirit goes best with it. I also highly recommend two books which wild drinks / infusions form a part of:

Andy Hamilton’s Booze for free

John Wright’s Booze

Both books are ideal if you forage (or garden) and want to extend your repertoire into things liquid including ciders, beers, cordials, wines, champagnes etc.

Making blackberry vodka
Making blackberry vodka

Below are listed some of the wild vodkas that I have come across (not tried them all yet!)

Fruit

Bird Cherry
Blackberry
Cherry plum / Mirabelle
Crab Apple
Damson
Elderberries
Gooseberry
Haw
Raspberry
Red currant
Rosehip
Sea Buckthorn
Wild Cherry
Wild Strawberry

Wild Strawberries
Wild Strawberries

Flowers

Dandelion
Elderflower
Heather
Honeysuckle
Meadowsweet
Rose

Wild Rose
Wild Rose

Nuts

Chestnut (Sweet)
Hazelnut
Walnut

Fungi(!)

Truffle
Chanterelle

Chanterelles
Chanterelles

Herbs

Alexanders
Fennel
Thyme
Sweet Woodruff
Water Mint

Needles

Fir
Pine
Spruce

Pine needles
Needles on my ex-Christmas tree – a Norway Spruce

Other

Sweet Vernal Grass (the smell of newly cut hay!)