We've been having a lot of fun, Kelsey and I.
We've been working pretty hard too. Kelsey Michael has been teaching me songs, I've been creating quirky little ditties about plants I see and eat along the coast paths and hedgerows, and we've been walking.
Walking and hanging out in nature, as friends do, enjoying the landscape, birds, seals, the weather, sunsets and fires. And when happiness comes, or any moment that feels worthy of enjoying or celebrating, we sing. We've sung to the Cornish hills, we've sung an ode to the sour taste of sorrel, to the wonderful world of seaweeds. To gorse bushes, to the sailors and even the donkeys that we've walked past. As I said, we've had a lot of fun.
I was lucky enough to be brought up singing, singing round camp fires (my parents ran youth camps), from church pews and at home. I love to sing, it feels a natural and joyful thing to do and share.
Though Kelsey, a professional singer and singing leader makes singing feel natural and easy for everyone. Accessibility is practically her middle name.
It's been great to sit, stand and walk together, in song. Kelsey has been leading Wild Singing Walks for a couple of years now. Together, we offer the Singing Forager experience; being outside in nature, singing and foraging together. You can read more about what we are offering and even come and join us here; Wild Singing Walks.
Follow the #singingforager to find out or hear more.
Cornwall is the 9th largest county in the UK, it’s boarder mostly by the sea (and Devon, of course) and is almost 1500 metres squared in area.
We have amazing access to coastal areas, 422miles of it, where foraging is rich and includes fish, mollusks, seaweed and coastal plants. We have abundant hedgerows, fields, coast paths, cliffs, moorland and beaches. Cornwall has 7 (think marsh samphire) estuaries, and I’ve mentioned before the diversity of estuary foraging.
Cornwall has just over half a million residents (the most the county has ever housed), so pressure on this beautiful place (as everywhere, it’s more mentioning) is increasing. However, most of those living here are in towns, less in villages and less so again, in hamlets. That leaves a lot wild areas for wildlife to flourish.
What’s more, almost a third of Cornwall has the status of; Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), which gives it the same protection as a national park. The Cornwall AONB partnership has a 20 year vision to; protect, enhance and improve the resilience in the face of climate change these areas of Cornwall, which is why foraging sustainably, a little and in a variety of abundant places is key, and I mean that, 100%.
Are we that special?! I think we are. I think Cornwall is.
Of course, I’m biased, very biased, I chose to make Cornwall my home and, really, have no wishes to be anywhere else. Even in 100 things to do in England, there were almost 10 sites (9 to be specific) in Cornwall listed, that’s pretty good going I think.
My passion for this piece of the country includes enjoying these areas by picking a little wild food in appropriate areas. Carefully picking so it is practically un-noticeable that anything has been taken, and focusing on plants that are common, abundant and even invasive. I’m also interested in education; sharing this beautiful place so others can deepen their appreciation and understanding of this eco-system. I also still have a lot to learn and always will.
Cornwall is special, unique, protected, vulnerable, diverse, and as foragers we have a responsibility to take care of this beautiful place.
AONB official website, gov.uk, and the beloved wikipedia.
Everytime I run a Seaweed Foraging Course I make tasters. Sometimes I stick to old favourites like seaweed hummus, or 3 Seaweed Soup though often I tweak things or experiment - I like to keep things fresh and new.
Frequently I make seaweed bread and dips; it's easy, accessible and bread is a brilliant carrier for all sorts of toppings on the beach. In my Seaweed book I have a perfect hummus recipe, and a Crab and Alaria Seaweed salad (image below).
I don't often get to teach this seaweed, so doing so, and eating it is a real treat. Alaria esculenta is also known as Dabberlocks, Tangle or sometimes Atlantic Wakame, and is one of the seaweeds that is delicious raw. This makes it perfect for marinades and salads. I love crab, though veganism is becoming more and more popular, so I decided to tweak the recipe and make it vegan, so everyone on my most recent seaweed course could enjoy it.
Alaria Esculenta doesn't grow everywhere, though we do have it off the Cornish coast, and it is most similar to Wakame - a Japanese seaweed used in salads and soups. I share more about this on my courses (there's just too much to say here!).
Here's the recipe;
Carrot, Ginger and Alaria Seaweed Salad
This is really easy to make though ideally you need to marinade the seaweed overnight. You can use fresh or dried seaweed and you could use ginger juice (juice yourself) rather than pickled ginger (available in Asian food stores).
- 15cm dried alaria esculenta seaweed or 25cm fresh (this should be the oldest part, with the stipe/stem and 2/3 of the seaweed left behind for it to rejuvenate)
- 50g pickled ginger, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 300g carrots
Finely chop the seaweed and place in a medium sized bowl. Add the ginger followed by the rest of the ingredients, except the carrots. Stir thoroughly to coat, cover and leave overnight. In the morning grate the carrots and add to the marinade. Mix well and empty the contents into a container with a well-sealed lid and take to the beach, or serve in a salad bowl.
Goes really well with seaweed hummus, seaweed bread, added into stir fries, with noodles, with fried rice, and well, lots of things!
To find out more about identifying and harvesting seaweeds sustainably do check out the seaweed foraging courses or if you want to save money, my seaweed book with recipes, identification, nutrition and lots of tips is just £6.95.
“One way to get the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure.”
Life’s an adventure isn’t it?!
And adventures can come in all shapes and sizes, from trying a new food to exploring a new place, to starting a family, a new relationship or a new career... Some like their adventures small, some big. Most of us are somewhere in the middle, I think.
For me, I’ve always loved to go to the edge, the edge of the cliff, the edge of the dance move, the edge of the water, the edge of what is comfortable and safe. As a very physical child some of those explorations ended in pain (the edge of the wall was not a happy ending), though most actually gave me a sense of exhilaration, or excitement and a dream of something more.
As I’ve grown older my aspirations have shifted from wanting to be a stunt woman (true), to learning how to take healthy risks, how to look after myself (and others) and how to weigh up whether I have the skills, strength and courage to go for something. Sometimes I do not, and admitting this also feels brave sometimes.
Learning about seaweeds has been an adventure for me, opening me to a whole new world to explore and one that gives me a smile of satisfaction at the end of the day. I also found the further I explored, and the more edges I went to, the jewels that I found were richer, more colourful and rewarding.
“…adventures don’t come calling like unexpected cousins calling from out of town. You have to go looking for them.”
I've played it safe till now, leading courses where seaweeds are accessible and easy to get to. You see, I want everyone to be able to learn about seaweeds. However, I also want to share some of these adventures and to really take you to the edges where you can experience a whole other level of seaweeding, and one I rarely get to share with others.
Seaweeds like Alaria Esculenta (Dabberlocks) and Sugar Kelp (Saccharina latissima), which like to be in deeper water and have more space. These feel like a special find, and the wonder of reaching these places akin to discovering a hidden beach and having it all to yourself.
If you have the desire to adventure further, to join me across the rocks, to the edge, this is what you may find, and so much more that neither you nor I can put words to, yet, or perhaps ever. Maybe it will come from an inner smile, and a sense of exhileration and satisfaction at the end of your day.
“The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it.”
W. M. Lewis
Rachel Lambert leads seaweed foraging courses, please read the details for every course (or ask) to find out how challenging the venue is, I am also available for private forays, where I tailor an adventurous seaweeding experience just for you (tide and weather allowing) - for those who feel steady on their feet and want to climb, slide and step further out to explore the world of seaweeds. Courses are always timed with the tide and are only run when the conditions are safe, no unnecessary or ridiculous risks are taken, and safety and learning about the seaweeds and the sea is always paramount.
Nettles are amazing - nutritious, versatile and abundant.
Never under-estimate the humble stinging nettle (urtica dioica) it's one of the best wild greens we have (nettles contain iron, vitamin c, protein and so, so much more). Really we should and could be celebrating, and using this wonderful plant a lot more.
Thank you nettles, and here's some ideas for appreciating nettles with your taste buds and nutritionally craving bodies.
*Cooking stinging nettles removes their sting.
Nettle Omlette, Nettle and Potato Curry.
I like all these recipes; soup is delicious, the bhajis tasty and surprising, the omlette simple and the curry, a perfect accompaniment to an indian style meal.
Nettle pesto (from my foraging book), Nettle lasagne
Nettle Beer (just a 3 day process!) and cooking nettles for either beer or syrup.
Making Nettle Pasta, Rachel Lambert's Nettle and Honey Cake (delicious!!)
Just cooked as a side vegetable, and last but not least, fresh nettle tea (just pop a nettle top or 3 in the teapot and leave to brew).
Happy cooking and topping yourself up with wild nutrition from this fantastic plant.
I share lots more tips and recipes for nettles on my;
Photos: By Rachel Lambert, except Beer and cooking nettles by Dan Thomas.
A 3 minute video about munching and tasting while walking and foraging in Cornwall, why children are good foragers and how it is not rocket science (plus some safety advice!). Interview and video by Cameron Hanson.
Lapping waves, sweet smelling hedgerows, and glorious walks and forays in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly were the inspiration for writing my first book; Wild Food Foraging in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Which does what is says in the title.
Something worth sharing, I thought, something regional, specific and practical for these areas that I love and know with my forager's senses. The culmination of several years researching and teaching, several musing over possible book titles and angles, and a 9 month focused period from book proposal to sending the final product to the printers.
(Photographs from the Book; Bermuda Buttercup on St Mary's, Isles of Scilly)
It would be appropriate to mention that creating a book is a collaboration (you just need to look under 'Acknowledgements' to see some of whom I'm grateful to). Right from the beginning, the idea and content were honed by friends, colleagues, editors and of course my publisher; Alison Hodge - a joyful collaboration I might add.
From a young age my two loves of working with people and being creative were quite apparent. I have pursued both through my adult life; combining both as much as possible, as in this book. Armed with a camera, computer, books, kitchen equipment and a whole load of ingredients, both wild and bought - I aimed to capture the essence of 16 differing plants and 5 seaweeds, potential recipes, from facts to cooking tips. This was a project I loved.
(Dishes from the Book using Bermuda Buttercup ~ Oxalis pes caprae)
It was a busy period leading up to launching such a book, like having a party really - celebratory, though with lots of background work with invites, food, drink and a little media. I spent the morning of the launch (Thursday 7th May ~ Election Day actually), cycling out of town to forage ingredients for making wild pesto, and after lunching and voting, I set to in the kitchen, with my mother to make mountains of Three Cornered Leek and Nettle Pesto, and Sea Lettuce and Wild Carrot Seed Bread.
(Preparation for, and Three Cornered Leek and Nettle Pesto tasters at the Book Launch)
When 6pm arrived, we wandered up the main street of my home town; Penzance, to Edge of the World Bookshop, laden with bread and pesto, having changed out of both cycling clothes and kitchen aprons.
Guests started arriving, wine flowed (and ran out twice!), and tasters from the book enjoyed. There were shop keepers, b&b hosters, musicians, builders, walkers, web designers, health practitioners, council workers - indeed, Cornwall, food and nature lovers from all walks of life. The till was ringing, as books were perused, signed and there was a great hum of chatter throughout the shop.
As the evening progressed, the food was devoured - even the edible flower decorations were eaten - hurray! There's hope for our county eating up all the invasive weeds after- all.
By the end of the evening there were just 4 books left of the 70 that had been ordered by the bookshop earlier that week. Pretty good going for a thursday evening in a small town in Cornwall. Though of course the story does not end there... The book has now been on sale for over 2 months, and is slowly seeping into bookshops, delis, hotels and cafes on both the mainland and the islands.
Haven't got yours yet? Available locally in shops and food outlets (do feel free to suggest it if you can't find it locally yet), also available from this website, and on amazon.
Retails at just £5.95 and comes in a handy pocket size with 90 photographs. Spread the word - it's been described as a clear, practical, useful book with beautiful photographs to help with identification and tempting recipes.
Photos: Plants and Recipes - Rachel Lambert, Book Launch - Aspects Holidays
Spring has been creeping in, in some places slowly, and other places fast. The telling signs of birds carrying nesting material, lighter mornings and the fresh green plant life in the landscape all help us soften and brighten as Winter is left behind.
If you’re reading this in the UK and wondering what I’m taking about - perhaps where you live Winter still feels like it has it’s grip. Well, I’m writing from West Cornwall, and yes, our milder climate tends to be ahead of many areas, even just a little further north of here.
Two common, abundant and often cursed (both these plants are considered invasive weeds) edible Spring plants in Cornwall are Alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum and Three Cornered Leek Allium Triquetrium. Picking, eating and even digging these plants up*, are normally received with appreciation. On that note, and in the spirit of Spring abundance, I’ve created and offer this recipe to you.
Alexanders and Three Cornered Leek Frittata
Makes 8 slices (4 main courses or 8 snacks)
- 400 g Cornish Potatoes
- 2 tablespoons Olive Oil
- 75 g Alexanders (leaves and young stems, chopped)
- 75 g Three Cornered Leek (leaves, stems and roots, if available, all finely chopped)
- 5 organic or free-range local eggs, beaten
- Salt and pepper to taste
Peel, dice and cook the potatoes in plenty of water, for about 10 minutes or until just cooked. You’ll be able to place a knife through the potatoes easily, though not so soft that the potatoes fall apart. Strain off the liquid and return to the pan on a low heat for a minute, just to evaporate off any remaining liquid.
Heat the oil in a saucepan approximately 25 cm across in size, over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the potatoes, alexanders and salt and pepper and fry for about 8 minutes, turning to fry on each side, when needed. Some of the potatoes will be golden brown after this time.
Briefly mix in the eggs and three-cornered leek, ensuring that the mixture is evenly spread across the pan. Cook for a further 8 minutes, or until the eggs are almost set.
Place under the grill for 2-3 minutes to set and and turn the frittata golden. You can carefully slice and serve while warm, or when cold. Serve as part of a main meal with a luscious salad, or eat as a snack.
*Permission is needed from the land owner to dig up plants, otherwise you are breaking the law.
630 miles of coast line.
That’s 630 miles of pathways, steps, beaches, cliffs, pebbles, sand, shingle or boulders.
630 miles of potential coastal plants, as well hedgerows, fields, even woodland growth.
That’s 630 miles of varied and possible foraging ground.
I’m a forager, a walker, a stalker of plants and a lover of sea views and varied landscapes. I live in Cornwall, and like many Cornish (or settlers here) I’m content holidaying here too.
Taking a chunk of time out to walk part of the Cornish coastal path is something I’ve wanted to do for a while. Embarrassingly, I’ve never done this (for more than 1 day at a time) in Cornwall. Though I have done several walking trips in the Himalayas, Scotland and Austria - up to 3 weeks at a time, just walking.
So this summer, this was it: 8 days, 80 miles, various companions and a new pair of walking sandals. Traveling light, I had pockets and bags to forage with and left the cumbersome, though beautiful and often useful, basket behind.
Coastal foraging is rich pickings - there is a good reason that many communities originally settled on the coast line or nearby, and this wasn’t just for the fishing, or the view.
Fish and seafood are wonderful sources of nutrition, particularly protein and good oils, yet the plants and seaweeds that grow in these areas are equally of value. Actually, I wouldn’t choose one over the other, though together the combination is sublime, as well as nutritionally balanced.
Starting from St Ives and finishing in Padstow, I was fascinated by how much the foraging available would vary on this stretch of coast path. Whether I'd be seeing much variety, or just seeing the same plants again and again.
There are over one hundred plants and seaweeds that I, and you too, could be foraging, easily and regularly while walking the South West Coast Path. I know if I'd have walked further, perhaps the whole of the coast - from Minehead to Poole - then I would have experienced a greater diversity of edibles and landscapes that they thrive in. However, as much as I am an explorer, I am a home girl too, and being able to look back along that coast path, and see the distance that I had traveled by foot, felt -for now- far enough away from home.
If you've ever done long distance walking, or indeed walked the South West Coast Path, you will probably know these two things;
- You can burn quite a lot of energy walking, especially when it's up and down, rocky and challenging, and especially if you're carrying a ruck sack too.
- Despite the considerable improvement in food choice in Cornwall, i.e. good quality, local ingredients, simply cooked. In some areas of the coast path, it's trickier to access much more than fish and chips and sandwiches.
Perhaps I'm just justifying my food and calorie choices for this journey! However, snacking on forageables definitely broke up my walking and monotony of meals. While camping, I was able to add wild greens to dishes, introduce walking companions to wild tastes and enjoy the beauty of the coast through my taste buds as well as my feet and eyes.
If you know much about sailing and the fate of many sailors one hundred years or more ago. You'll know that scurvy - a condition caused by vitamin C deficiency was an unpleasant, unsightly and far too common disease. Many of the plants I was picking were rich in vitamin C, and used by sailors in the past for this very reason.
Rock Samphire, Scurvy Grass, Sorrel, Ox-Eye Daisy, Sea Spinach - are all good vitamin C sources. No oranges or lemons did I carry in my rucksack, my nutrition was hedgerow and coast path sourced, well, ok, with the occasional Cornish apple juice to quench my thirst too.
To find out more about walking the South West Coast Path, go to; http://www.southwestcoastpath.com/
Baggage transfer can lighten your daily load and this company is hugely friendly and helpful, see; http://www.luggagetransfers.co.uk/south-west.html
If you would like to have a 1/2 day foraging guide, during your walking (please note I average 1 mile an hour for this), please do contact me
Our culture is predominantly one of fear mongering - the newspapers & media are full of it, keeping many in business as we seem to thrive on the flight-fight instinct of protect & defend. Funny really, as so many of our predators are extinct, our fears could justifiably be considerably reduced.
More recently the fear of environmental destruction, of population over-crowding & food supplies running out are some of the underlying themes of the future. Now, I'm not generally one to take a negative slant on things, on the contrary, I believe in possibilities & the positive creativity of human kind, and yes, that naturally extends to my views of foraging.
Some year's ago I did a talk & slideshow on Foraging & Sustainability for Transition Truro. My angle was to look at foraging in a broader context & to address some of the fears that I was hearing from participants, namely the Fear of Not Enough. This fear came in many guises; people wanting to protect 'their patch' of favourite foraging spots, of beautiful Cornwall & concluding that this meant that foraging should not be encouraged, and kept to a responsible few. These fears crossed over into fear of others (those who could, would or do trash the landscape), of blaming & separation from others.
“Worrying about scarcity is our culture's version of post-traumatic stress. It happens when we've been through too much, and rather than coming together to heal (which requires vulnerability) we're angry and scared and at each other's throats.” Brene Brown
Although I understand these fears (really, I'm personally very familiar with fear & its impact), I choose to put my attention elsewhere. I too care deeply about the natural world, though I also believe in awareness & education as tools to help people build on & alter their interactions with the environment. This, of course can be a vulnerable place, a place of exploring, trusting & stepping into the unknown. Getting outside is good for you, me & us & foraging is a great way to engage with & learn about the environment. Denying people this activity is not, in my view a constructive answer, denying some though not others this privilege would only create more separation & potential conflict. Don't we already have enough of these problems?
Despite the increase in the popularity of foraging, foraging remains a small impact activity in terms of environmental degradation, plants are still thriving, many benefiting from regular 'pruning' from foraging, while other invasive plants would be hard to eradicate.
I find myself reassured by other fellow foragers & conservationists that share my views. I was forwarded a great article recently which sums up a lot of my own sentiments. Conservation and Wild Food Foraging, is in my view a balanced article tackling this sensitive and sometimes misunderstood topic. Written by Justin Whitehouse, the Lead Ranger of the Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall- thank you Justin.
To counter this culture of fear, I believe we need to start trusting each other & working together to find solutions, furthermore, to quote Brene Brown again, the opposite of not enough isn't abundance, it is simple 'enough'. We have enough, if we use our resources widely there is enough. In terms of foraging these can mean;
- Forage only what you can use, leave the rest (think tasters rather than harvesting)
- Only pick where there is an abundance & never more than one third
- Consider offering to 'weed' for food areas such as parks or neighbour's gardens
- Cultivate wild areas - leaving edible weeds to grow in your own garden or public areas
There is enough; nettles, brambles, wild garlic, japanese knotweed all flourish in the UK, are all edible & are easily identifiable. There could also be more, if we made some changes to how our land (anything from our own back yards to waste land & cultivated fields) is managed.
Just imagine... if everybody foraged how these benefits could increase, really there is no limit to what could be imagined;
- Communal expeditions to pick together
- Action to cultivate more wild areas
- Understanding & reducing pesticides to help cultivate more wilds
- Reducing weeds & invasives in certain areas
- More wildlife friendly gardens & areas, not just for food, but for birds, bees, etc
The future is ours to create & I hope that together, through sharing, learning & at times getting it wrong, as well as right, we can create an environment where people as well as other wildlife can reap the simple & natural rewards of foraging.
Valentine's Day is not everyone's cup of tea, so if you prefer walking boots to roses do read on! Personally I like to indulge in some love & decadence as well, be it with friends, family or a partner. For a few years now I've been leading a foraging walk to Men-a-Tol to mark this time of year - a mixture of those who love the outdoors, couples, friends & youngsters. Here's the story of why & what you can expect. Men-a-Tol is an ancient site in West Penwith, about four miles from Penzance, where a holed stone lies between two upright stones, and the holed stone is large enough to crawl through. It isn’t known what the site was originally used for, though speculation includes passing small children through the hole to remedy ills, and its use as a fertility site.
I chose this venue to focus on the fertility aspect especially for Valentines - it’s all a bit of fun really, and you never know until you try these things! The walk involves an atmospheric wander down a hedgerow-ed track, with a 360 degree view of the moors - dressing warmly rather to impress is highly advised! The first time I led this, our walk came to its climax as we reached the stone site, one couple decided to crawl through the stone together (as is the custom if you're wanting to conceive) and I thought little more of it. However, several months later I received an email from them announcing the imminent birth of their first child - apparently 2 weeks after our Valentine's foray she was pregnant! (Men-a-Tol image courtesy of Cornwall Guide) Anyway, the story continues, when two years later I was leading another group to Men-a-Tol for that year’s Valentine’s celebration. We were just about to start the walk when an additional couple arrived, introducing themselves as that same couple who’d been with me two years back, with the fruits of their Men-a-Tol visit strapped to their back - a 13 month old boy. ‘We’re going for a second’ they announced as they strode off towards the site - what a great beginning to our walk!
So, this recipe was inspired by the whole Valentine, hearts, and chocolate theme. I wanted to give it a wild twist, and came up with this. Then, I didn't usually provide snacks for participants on a wild food walk, though in the spirit of love and open-heartedness I set about making these as gifts to share with everyone. It was a cold and wet day as we walked across the moors learning about wild food. When we reached Men-a-Tol this chocolate was a welcomed treat, and the mood changed from damp, tolerant walkers to of jovial celebration - such is the power of chocolate! Rosehips are naturally both sweet and tart, and I thought they’d be an excellent fruity chew in chocolate. Because the fruits are an autumn harvest, I used ones I’d frozen the previous year. I now provide similar chocolates at each Valentine's walk, here's the recipe;
WILD ROSE-HIP CHOCOLATE
500g bar Green & Black Chocolate
100g rosehips (fresh or frozen, rosa rugosa are the easiest to use for this as they’re larger)
Carefully and patiently remove the flesh from around the outside of the fruit, careful not to dislodge the tight ball of hairy seeds (see also 'how to make rosehip fruit leather'). You want to avoid these seeds as they can irritate the digestive tract. This is a messy and fiddly job, so take your time, you’ll be left with a pile of fleshy rosehip pulp, and a pile of hairy seeds. Discard the latter. You may want to chop the pulp a little, to ensure that you don’t have too bigger pieces of flesh or fruit skin. To melt the chocolate, place it in a pirex/glass bowl and rest over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir gently until it’s throughly melted then stir in the rosehip pulp. Line a dish with greaseproof paper and spoon in the mixture. Leave to cool. When set, cut the chocolate into chunks and enjoy!
It's deep December and I'm standing outside. Actually, there's 8 of us standing outside and waiting for the one that's gone astray. Once we're all congregated, we begin. There's something innately quiet about walking in Winter, as if all around us is sleeping, and in some ways it is. We walk together through this slumbering landscape, initially unaware of the life around us.
What can you forage in winter?
From as early as November, my forager eyes start to spot edible greens that are normally associated with spring. Alexanders, Nettle Tops, Three-Cornered Leek (locally known as Wild Garlic), Wild Cress and Mustard, Pennywort, Wild chervil, Gorse flowers and even Daisy leaves and flowers for salads and cooked dishes.
Although the nutrition of plants can be significantly increased in Spring, goodness can still be enjoyed from these plants through the winter months. In Cornwall, where we may lack in terms of nuts and berries (there are only a few forests & woodlands here) it is more than made up with coastal plants and, due to the mild climate, a great choice of edible greens right through winter. While other areas of the UK are below frost or snow, there are milder areas of Cornwall that offer valuable forage-ables.
The benefits of foraging in winter
What's more, foraging feeds the soul not just in winter, though every time of year. According to the National Wildlife Federation's article; It's all in the dirt, the reason for this includes good bacteria in the soil that releases seretonin - the feel good hormone. This makes me feel even better about my muddy boots and dirty fingernails too!
In some ways, there's more to see in winter, without the distraction of hoards of people, beautiful, bright flowers, and sunsets to melt into. Instead, the offerings maybe more subtle - beige stems, low growing greens, and flowerless stems, though don't be tempted to dismiss these edible due to their humble winter personas.
Common Hogweed seed (Heracleum Spondylium), for example (below), may look like a dead seed-head, though within it lies delicious aromatic flavours for curries and many sweet dishes.
If you need it, use foraging as an excuse to get you outside, for that dose of daylight, fresh air and nature fix. Watching wintering birds, or rolling white horses of the waves, and returning with a handful of winter greens, it's hard for the soul not to be lifted, even if just a little. And if you're still not convinced and only yearning for the bright yellow sun of summer, then perhaps gorse is the only cure for you. Up on the moorlands of Cornwall, somewhere, you will always find the bright yellow flowers of gorse; an uplifting flower. According to Bach Flower Remedies gorse can offer you hope, when all hope is lost. I promise, summer will return.
Christmas means many different things to me - family, friends, processions of lights in the darkness, hearty food & creative meals.
Oh, and comforting books & TV! Joy can be found in many shapes & sizes!
The Muppets have great childhood memories for me and always bring a smile to my face. On that note, I'm sharing a Muppets special - one Swedish chef, popcorn, wild seafood, music and dancing in the kitchen...
May the season bring you lots of happiness - enjoy the madness & the stillness after the storm. Merry Christmas! X
Elderflower cordial is the ultimate summer drink, scent and medicine. As I sit here in my kitchen I'm enjoying their light, dreamy scent wafting across the room, of the ones I picked this morning.
Summer foraging for elderflowers is almost as popular as blackberries in autumn, or wild garlic in spring, and all for good reason. Elderflower cordial is the perfect way to capture and preserve the scent of summer. Foraging for edible wild plants is so rewarding too! Make your own homemade cordial to enjoy with friends and family.
Where to find elderflowers
The elder tree is often considered a weed, it often grows on wasteland, in hedgerows and at the edge of woods. It loves the sun but can cope with shade, I often see them alongside roads and backing onto railway lines, which is often very frustrating because I'm rushing by!
When do elder flowers bloom?
Elderflowers start appearing in late spring and early summer. Here in the UK that means May to July, though this is dependant on how warm it is and whether spring started early or late. Sometimes July is still great for picking, and other years they have started to turn and are not worth picking.
Elderflowers can also be frozen. A few years ago my aunt froze a whole carrier bag of elderflowers for me. Once defrosted, they obviously don't look as good as when they are fresh, but you can still use them for making cordial or dry them for making elderflower herbal tea.
I also like to freeze some of my elderflower cordial in an ice cube tray, then I have ready to use portions!
How and why to dry elderflowers
Elderflowers can be used for herbal tea. You can dry them in the sun, in a dehydrator or at the lowest temperature in the oven and keep them for the winter months as medicine for colds, flu, coughs or bronchial issues.
How to make and use elderflower cordial
See below - a summary on this video and the full recipe at the end of the blog.
Use in cocktails, sorbet, ice cream, sweet bread, as a doughnut dip, elderflower champagne or dilute for hot and cold drinks. You can also freeze the cordial in an ice cube tray or bag and pop in soda water or defrost and dilute from frozen.
Why is elder flower cordial so good?
Many of us have a soft spot for sweet, and the combination of light and heady, citrus and sweet seems to be the ultimate combination!
Is elder flower cordial good for you?
Elderflowers have anti viral properties and can help treat colds and flu and quicken recovery. They can also be used to sooth sore throats, coughs and bronchial infections. Elder flowers are delicious and a medicinal plant.
Before I begin, a word of warning. Elder (Sambucus nigra) has umbel-like clusters of flowers, similar to that of the Apiaceae (Umbelliferae) family. To avoid fatal mistakes with deadly plants within this family, you must be 100% sure that you are picking the correct plant. This blog is focusing on the recipe, not on the identification, always check with an expert, so you can continue to enjoy foraging for food!
Also, a word for the plant... If you pick all the flowers there will be no elderberries later in the year - which would be very sad, for us and the birds. Bare this in mind & never pick more than 25% of flowers of a single plant.
ELDERFLOWER CORDIAL RECIPE
This recipe needs some pre-planning - a bucket or heat-proof bowl, clean screw-top bottles, lemon squeezer, a funnel and a seive/muslin cloth is needed. You can alter the measurements depending on how many elderflower heads you pick
25 elder flower heads (flowers left on stalks)
3 unwaxed lemons (or 2 lemons and 1 orange)
400 g unrefined sugar
1.2 litres boiling water
2-3oz citric acid (if you’re going to store the cordial for a while)
Ideally pick the flowers in full sun. Fork the flowers off the stalks or snip off the main stalks, putting flowers aside and discarding the rest. Place sugar in a pan and pour boiling water over, stirring until dissolved. Place the elderflowers (check to remove bugs) in a clean bucket and pour hot sugar mixture over it. Cut the lemons in half and squeeze the juice into the bucket, then grate the lemon zest and add this too. Stir, cover, and leave for 24-48 hours, stirring occasionally. Strain the mixture through a sieve, or preferably a fine muslin cloth, and funnel into clean bottles, or dilute and serve immediately!
For Elder Flower Sorbet
Follow all the instructions above, omitting the citric acid and dilute with two-thirds water and beat in one whipped egg white. Use an ice cream maker or get ready for these next steps... Freeze the cordial in a sturdy tupperware (plastic container with a lid) for 2-4 hours. Remove & mash up with a fork or in a food blender. Repeat at least once more. Serve on its own or with a variety of other desserts, particularly good with sponge cakes.
A long held discussion or even conflict within the world of wild foods is that of comfrey & whether its healthy or potentially harmful to humans. I'm sure this discussion will continue for, well, a while, meanwhile I thought I'd add my contribution. I've also included my latest recipe, alongside some reasons (including scientific ones) of why I like this plant.
Comfrey leaves - Symphytum officinale - has been used for thousands of years as a food & medicine, some of its common names include 'knitbone' because of its internal & external application for broken bones. Indeed, it has been held in high-esteem by herbalists for its healing properties, in particular reducing inflammations by aiding cell regrowth & repair (1).
Just on a side line, if you research into comfrey as a plant food (a liquid green fertilizer) you will find lots of positive reports of its nutritious benefits of 'greatly enhancing the fertility of your soil'. I am aware that people are not plants - although an interesting topic based on our intake of so many nutrients from the plant world that are then laid down as vitamin & minerals in our bodies which create our bones, repair our cells - I digress!
Meanwhile, more recently, comfrey has been approached with more caution & in some incidences considered a potential poison that should not be used as a food, or indeed a medicine at all. Only last month, when speaking to a reputatable & quite open-minded scientist about wild food, he quoted to me the risk of eating comfrey in the context of the dangers of wild food foraging. Now, while I want to promote safe foraging ( some plants are most definitely poisons, for example, while others need to be processed), I also want to promote a balanced approach to plants as foods & accurately represent the benefits.
As a non-scientist, I've chosen to refer to research done & leave you to come to your own conclusions... In particular, everybody's body is different & reactions, can & indeed have, occurred. In particular, the main research that is often cited is from 1978 when rats were fed comfrey leaves (8-33% of their diet) for a durational period, which resulted in liver tumours developing in all cases (96% turned out to be benign by the way) (2). However, as pointed out by Health Practitioner, Dorena Rode (through her extensive & thorough research on comfrey - well worth a read), further scientific research has been carried out where no such results were found (3). I also usually add the obvious; that we are not rats & I challenge anyone (not literally) to even try & eat comfrey as a third of your diet for half a year!
So, am I promoting comfrey as a food, or am I not?
Well, over the past 5 years I have certainly used comfrey as an ingredient in wild food events & dinners (with no known negative side-effects). Excellent in curries, we were particularly pleased with our Sea Beet, Comfrey & Black Mustard Thoran - a South Indian style dish using coconut that Sara created on one of our inspired walks through the Cornish countryside.
Personally, I also remember over 15 years ago sitting in a wood with my boyfriend, it was morning time & he was cooking up comfrey fritters (quite a traditional & classic recipe quoted for this food) & frying wild mushrooms for people to taste - delicious! However, I have also remained cautious around using this plant too often.
Now, coming back to the present day. This morning I've been looking at those comfrey leaves I picked yesterday morning; a glorious summer wander with comfrey looking too good to be passed by. The combination of sunshine, the outdoors & wild food just gets my creativity going sometimes & I want to play! The heat also doesn't inspire a laboured curry for me & one of things I enjoy about comfrey is the cucumber-like flavour & freshness.
Armed with a little research, a healthy appetite & travelling past my local shop for a few ingredients - I set to. Before I tell you my recipe, I want to share with you a few tips that I decided to take on board regarding eating comfrey;
Here are 4 reasons why I continue to eat comfrey - occasionally:
1. Apparently the older leaves are meant to be less potent in the Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids (4) that are thought to be harmful in comfrey - so I focused on picking these older leaves
2. I like life & have no desire to push the boundaries of nature, so am adhering to not eating comfrey too regularly or in large amounts (for my own comfort & peace of mind)
3. That comfrey is also RICH in many beneficial nutrients for us humans (great!) including; Calcium , Magnesium, Vitamin C, Vitamin B12, Beta Carotene, Phosphorus, Potassium, Vitamin E, Vitamin A, Iron, Sulfur , Copper & Zinc (4)
4. I've never felt any ill-effects from eating comfrey & I enjoy eating wild foods.
Back to my recipe. Based on my love of that cucumber-like flavour of comfrey, plus reading that protein deficiency & lack of sulphure containing amino acids may contribute to the ill-effects of comfrey (3), I created this;
Comfrey & Yoghurt Dip
1 handful of comfrey leaves (older ones)
200g of natural yoghurt (the proper full fat stuff)
1 heaped tablespoon of good honey
1 squeeze of lemon juice
1 shake of liquid amino acids (google it!)
Put all the above in a food blender & whizz together. The result is a sweet, cucumber-like dip (think tzatziki) that I thought was delicious! Perfect for a summer spread of salads, dips & fruits. Let me know what you think..
(1) Comfrey 2011 University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC)
(2) Hirono, I., H. Mori, and M. Haga, Carcinogenic activity of Symphytum officinale. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 1978. 61(3): p. 865-9.
(3) Comfrey Central - A Clearinghouse for Symphytum Information www.comfrey-central.com
(4) Comfrey is Poisonous? Dherbs Article
From a Simple Guided Walk, to Rustic Cooking or Gourmet Dining
Foraging for Business is something we all have to do from time to time, you’ve guessed it - the diverse skills learnt in a day’s foraging are transferable & more importantly, can be learnt in an informal, non-pressured way.
Recently, when leading a private forage, cook & dine event for a group of international professionals (it was their holiday gift to themselves), at some point the conversation steered towards team building. Now personally, I feel that a good event can naturally create a good team building environment ~ no ‘bonding’, ‘intellectual problem solving’ or ‘physical team building’ in sight. Yet, with foraging, all those boxes seemed to ticked too.
Results: Can better business be cultivated from foraging together?
Good business results usually consists of a few key ingredients. Excellent productivity is a by-product of a healthy team working together; keeping each other motivated & effective communication ( organisations that communicate effectively are 4.5x more likely to retain the best people too - Watson Wyatt (worldwide consulting firm)) . Furthermore, according to Harvard Business Review (June, 2008), the success of Toyota Business Corporation for example is due to a mix of offering new challenges & understanding different points of view & how to bring together seeming contradictions. Toyota, by the way, invest heavily in people, regardless of their position in the company.
In foraging terms, this can mean being introduced to a new skill & taste. It can also mean understanding that everyone has a valid & different response to a taste of a plant; to some its lemony heaven, to others its sour & too strong, while for another it conjures up memories of picking a plant while walking to school with friends.
Give your staff a good experience they'll remember...
Giving your staff a good time can help build the rapport needed to get a job done well, while improving morale & positive memories bring people together. A recent foray with staff on the Island of Tresco (Isles of Scilly) included front of house staff, managers & chefs. They now all have a hot topic to share, were all enthused about exciting new ingredients & seeing their local environment in a whole new way. Interesting cocktails & pizza toppings to follow!
Back to the practicalities, imagine this;
A day out, a couple of hours ambling through the countryside, time to catch up, chat, while learning a new skill together. Breaks are marked with delicious biscuits or chocolates while menus are handed out & drooled over. Perhaps a bit of chopping ingredients or stirring pots even, before tantalising aromas appearing too. Focus, enthusiasm, something new, motivation via good food are all ignited. Sounds good?
Just a small slice of good health
Despite many people that like to feel healthy, I also know many who steer away from 'health' activities as there are seen as boring & a way to inhibit fun. However, everyone likes to feels good & happy, & good food usually helps! Foraging has the benefits of being a very leisurely physical activity, accessible to anyone who can walk a couple of miles (routes can be accessed for ALL abilities & those with disabilities too). A bit of fresh air (not too much) can work wonders on bringing out those rosy cheeks!
Really, something for everyone
Foraging is an ACCESSIBLE activity- emphasising different strengths rather than who is good & who is not at a certain activity. If you can walk slowly for 1 mile, stopping occasionally, you can forage. Appealing to a wide range of interests; nature, countryside, food, walking, talking, history, in-vogue recipes, chatting, doing, resting. Time tends to fly by, & everyone always finds at least one taste they like & a plant they are therefore keen to find again. Within the group, a multitude of skills will be learnt, through all different learning styles (sensory, physical, factual, emotional, oral, taking photos or notes) - what a team, all of these skills put together makes one good forager!!
Interested, so what now?
Do get in touch to discuss what you're looking for and let me put a package together for you.
Researching regional names of plants is a fascinating and usually an amusing pastime. Common Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) is one of those plants, and as it’s now in season (april to june) I thought I’d dedicate a whole blog article to it.
Inspired also by local names such as Pig Flop (an image of a pig collapsing after pleasantly over-indulging on this plants passes through my mind!), Cow Weed (what’s its known as on the Scilly Isles), Cow Parsnip, Cow Belly and even Humperscrump, according to Forager and Author John Lewis-Stempel. It's also known as a type of poorman's asparagus, although I think it's superior.
To me, this plant has always been known simply and humbly as hogweed, and I’m going to share with you some facts about identification, names, tastes and recipe ideas.
Starting with identification, common hogweed can be found across the UK, it really is common and usually considered a pain. Its habitat can be varied and includes fields, open woodland, hedgerows and roadsides. Often people are sceptical when I introduce it as a potential food and for two understandable reasons.
For some it has the association of being poisonous, mainly because if the sap gets on your skin and is combined with sunlight, for example when strimming the plant on a hot summer’s day in t-shirt and shorts, one can come up in horrible blisters that can scar. Not an experience I’ve shared, though I’ve heard enough stories to know it to be an unpleasant encounter.
There is the issue of correct identification. Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) is in the Apiaceae (Carrot) family and shares a similar flower structure with edibles such as carrot (funnily enough), parsley, fennel, chervil as well as the deadly poisonous plants; hemlock and hemlock water dropwort. Needless to say, mistakes can be lethal and enough to put many people off. However, there are distinguishing characteristics that can be learnt. Reading a few words and seeing a few images is not generally suffice for this, though it is a good start, so here it goes!
Flower head of Common Hogweed
Hogweed generally grows up to 2 metres tall (related & non-edible Giant hogweed grows up to 5 metres). Hogweed has hollow, ridged stems that are hairy, almost furry, that can give a white-ish tinge to the stems. The leaves are soft/furry with undulating lobes (see images) and stems can sometimes be purple, though normally green (NOT purple spots like hemlock). Like anything, take your time to get to know the plant (it will always return the following year if you’re still unsure) check with experts & you will be duly rewarded.
Leaves of Common Hogweed (slightly undulating and definitely furry)
So with so many obstacles to over-come before even picking it, why bother at all? Well, of course its the taste. Like many wild edibles, it has, at times, been called poor man’s asparagus - as its the young shoots you’re looking for in spring. I like to think that this is sly way to protect a valuable plant which has an unusual taste that could easily be at home on many gourmet’s plates. The history of so-called poor man’s food includes beliefs such as inferiority of taste, too common (abundant) or inadequate in flavour (unlikely these days in comparison with bland, long shelf-life shop bought veg). As a modern day forager its a great plant - abundance is perfect (making it very hard to over-pick) and the unusual flavour is one of the exciting aspects of wild food. It is also rich in vitamin C and carbohydrate.
How to enjoy it at its best? Well John Wright (from River Cottage) covers the young shoots in beer batter. For me, I simply steam those young shoots, drizzle in butter or hollandaise sauce and serve as an accompaniment to fish or meat dishes. I’ve also chopped them up and added them as a flavouring for dhal (combines well with wild carrot seed ).
Finally, you’ll all be asking what the flavour is. Well, the true answer is inside of you - we all experience tastes differently - though I describe it as perfumed, aromatic, sometimes a hint of bitterness & rich.
Hogweed Shoots with Hollandaise Sauce Recipe
To serve 2 persons
- 6 young hogweed shoots (Poor man's asparagus)
- 175ml white wine vinegar
- 2 free range egg yolks
- 70ml unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon peppercorns
- Squeeze lemon juice
Boil the vinegar with peppercorns & reduce by half. Strain and put aside. Boil a large pan of water, then reduce to a simmer. Using a large balloon whisk, beat together the yolks and 2 tsp of the reduced wine vinegar in a heatproof bowl that fits snugly over the pan. Beat vigorously until the mixture forms a foam, but make sure that it doesn’t get too hot. To prevent the sauce from overheating, take it on & off the heat while you whisk, scraping around the sides with a plastic spatula until you achieve a golden, airy foam.
Meanwhile put the poor man’s asaragus shoots on to steam (4-5 minutes). Whisk in a tablespoon of the warmed butter, a little at a time, then return the bowl over a gentle heat to cook a little more. Remove from the heat again and whisk in another tablespoon of butter. Repeat until all the butter is incorporated and you have a texture as thick as mayonnaise. Finally, whisk in lemon juice, salt & pepper to taste plus a little warm water from the pan if the mixture is too thick. Drizzle over the hogweed shoots & serve as a starter or alongside meat or fish.
Last month a few hardy foragers (actually it was a lovely bright, wintery day) joined me at Cape Cornwall for a wild food walk with tasters. At a welcomed break we sat down with a large flask of 'Wild Spiced Cleaver Coffee'.
The drink went down well - sweet, hot and naturally containing some caffeine, everyone was pleasantly surprised! There are many variations in making this coffee substitute, this is one alfresco style on the beach!
Here's my indoor version of how to make cleaver coffee.
Everyone has there own traditions for Christmas Day. For me, I'm satisfied if I'm in good company, have a dip in the sea & there's a healthy amount of indulgence.
Down here in Cornwall I've plenty of people to share these common themes with; least of all bracing the elements & stripping off on the beach for that ceremonial plunge - nothing like it for feeling alive & building up an appetite! So on the morn of the 25th, Sennen beach (just a mile from Lands End) was pretty packed with rosy faces & cold toes as we raced towards those rolling waves to start the day splashing about, all with good company, of course.
The rest of the essentials for the day already prepared, there was little left to do except dry off, drink hot tea & eat. As a lover of good food, I enjoy the simplicity of a good roast with lots of colourful veg to accompany it. I could tell you a good story of a wild meal, but in all honesty, for this day I'm on holiday, want to think as little as possible about food & just allow it to happen.
However, I had put my creativity together in the form of gifts & brought out some wild ingredients to invent new chocolate recipes. For weeks I'd been thinking about combinations that would excite & please. Who in my family likes richness, who needs to watch there blood sugar levels & who prefers a savoury twist. Of course, its impossible to please everyone, though the fun for me is in the creating & the making.
I created 8 recipes in all, some wild, some not, some rich & dark (I'm a Green & Black's fan myself) & some with raw cacao & agave syrup (far richer in minerals & with less of a caffeine hit - though still chocolate!). Cinnamon, fruit, Cornish sea salt, nuts & vanilla all featured & for the wild ones; laced with sloe vodka of course, & a white chocolate with dried blackberries in (good for children if you want to reduce the risk of too much hyperactivity).
The verdict? Well the large box of chocolates is being taken to family tomorrow & I'll see which ones disappear first & let you know! Its a time a year for many things & for me, there's definitely a place for good, indulgent chocolate, especially handmade. Wishing you all a joyous festive season & here's a couple of recipes to be going on with. x
White Chocolate with dehydrated wild blackberries - goes like raisins, though with more seeds/texture!
Last year's sloes had been soaking in vodka for 12 months, de-stone & chop them, add a couple of tablespoons of the sloe vodka & stir into the melted chocolate. And one image of the final box of chocs! Most of them I've tasted, of course, so I'm quite confident about the results!
Autumn is full of potential pleasures, warming foods, sweet dishes and a bounty of autumnal fruits to enjoy. Personally, I take particular interest in creating desserts with wild ingredients, so when Sara from Cotna Barton suggested we made a wild apple meringue pie on our Forage, Cook and Dine event last month, I jumped at the chance to include another wild ingredient in there.
If you've been on a wild food walk with me or another forager, you may well of tasted this amazingly strong flavoured seed; Common Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium). Common as muck (as the expression goes!), it is often mistaken for being poisonous because if the sap gets on your skin and reacts with sunlight you can come up in horrible blisters that can scar. However, several parts of the plant can be used as a food, & these seeds are excellent as a flavouring. Correct identification is essential of this plant though, especially as it is related to several poisonous species such as Hemlock.
So what's the taste? Well, taste is a very personal experience, though some of the descriptions I've heard is; orange peel, aromatic, soapy, turkish delight, spicey...
Some people like it, some people don't. Unfortunately, Sara, our cook for this event is not a fan of the flavour, so including it in this recipe took a little persuading. Luckily, I was convinced it would work, so into the ingredients list it went. One of the secrets with this seed is to grind it - it really helps to release the flavour and breakdown the papery texture of the seed pod.
Well, before I go onto sharing the recipe, let me tell you that the dessert was a success, 9 hungry foragers, cooks and diners polished the whole dish off, and Sara's plate was clean too - she liked it! It just goes to show that some wild ingredients are really worth persevering with, until you find the right combination of how to use them.
Wild Apple Curd and Hogweed Seed Meringue Pie
For the Curd
- 500 g cooking apples
- finely grated zest of 1 lemon
- 100 ml lemon juice
- 500 g unrefined caster sugar
- 4-5 large eggs
- 150 g shortcrust pastry baked in a flan case (prepared before hand)
For the Meringue
- 4 egg whites
- 200 g unrefined caster sugar
- handful of hogweed seeds
Chop the apples into a pan with 100 ml water and the lemon zest. Cook gently until soft and fluffy, then rub through a sieve. Put the butter, sugar and apple puree into a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. As soon as the butter is melted and the mixture is hot and glossy, pour in the eggs and whisk with a balloon whisk.
If the mixture splits, take the pan off the heat and whisk vigorously until smooth, before returning to the heat. Stir the mixture over a gentle heat until thick and creamy, scraping down the sides of the bowl every few minutes. This should take about 10 mins. Pour immediately into the pastry base.
For the meringue, use a food blender to blend the sugar and seeds until the majority of the seeds break down and an aromatic smell is released. Discard the seeds which stay whole. Put aside. Whisk the egg whites in a large bowl until they form soft peaks, then add the sugar a spoonful at a time. Pile onto the tart and bake at gas mark 4 for approximately 20 mins, until the meringue is crisp and slightly coloured.
I recently led a group of families on a foraging walk & as part of the day I provided sweet biscuits with rosehip fruit in them. I wanted to show how this fruit can be utilised in ways other than just for syrup. The biscuits went down really well, though what I didn’t provide was guidance on how to process the fruit into a versatile ingredient for many recipes, so here it is!
This is a labour of love. It is a process to be enjoyed, with a fruity goal in mind - a delicious and versatile sheet of pure fruit which can be used can be stored for months and used as a snack or to flavour many dishes, for example tarts, pies and ice cream. Best done when you feel you have the time, preferably with helpers - friends or family.
Using Japanese Rose (rosa rugosa) hips will enable you to reap more fruit for your work, they’re a larger hip than our native rosehips making them easier to handle.
Gather rosa rugosa ‘hips’ (the fruit), these plants have naturalised in many places, originally many were planted on sand dunes & shingle beach areas to help stabilise the ground. You can also find them on waste ground, or befriend someone who has them growing in their garden - a proportion of your foraged product afterwards is normally gratefully received.
Start looking out for hips from late summer & through autumn. You could of course wait for after the first frost, at the risk of the birds getting them first. Living in Cornwall, with a milder climate & being impatient to utilise these fruits, I normally pick them as soon as possible & freeze them to ‘fake’ the first frost. I’m looking for the dark red fruits, not too orange in colour. Freezing them also means you can store them until you’re ready to embark on processing them.
Defrost or pick the fruits after first frost. Start processing them as quickly as possible so not to loose valuable vitamin C. Carefully and patiently remove the flesh from around the outside of the fruit, careful not to dislodge the tight ball of hairy seeds. You want to avoid these seeds as they can irritate the digestive tract. This is a messy and fiddly job, so take your time, you’ll be left with a pile of fleshy rosehip pulp, and a pile of hairy seeds. Discard the latter. You may want to chop the pulp a little, to ensure that you don’t have too bigger pieces of flesh or fruit skin.
If you’re using a de-hydrator, follow the instructions for making fruit leather, and spread the fruit pulp onto the teflon sheet before drying the fruit for several hours. If using an oven, line a dish or baking tray with oven-proof clingfilm, and spread the pulp on, about 2mm thick. Put the oven on the lowest heat and leave for up to 12 hours.
The consistency of the fruit leather can be altered according to taste - slightly moist and chewy or dry and almost brittle. The latter will keep longer. When needed, rehydrate the fruit and blend of break into pieces.
What I love about processing fruit this way is that there is no need to add sugar. Instead, you can get to taste a mixture of natural sweetness & tarty-ness of this amazing super fruit.
What next & how to use... Now the fun bit. Once you’ve made your fruit leather, either keep it whole or cut it into strips & store in an air tight container. It will keep for over one year. Now your fruit can be used in various recipes, these are just some of the ones I’ve tried so far. Before using the leather, best to break it into small pieces & re-hydrate in a small amount of warm water.
Rosehip fruit ice cream, Rosehip fruit chocolate, Rosehip fruit biscuits or in simply in porridge. You can of course still use it in traditional recipes such as rosehip syrup or sweet soup, or simply chew on it as snack when out walking, or when you need a energy & vitamin C boost.
Enjoying a combination of new sights & tastes & feeling reassured
by how many wild edibles we share with mainland Europe
Back in Spring, I felt inspired to plan a trip to Europe, lured by stories of ice-cold mountain lakes, lots of outdoors people, armfuls of wild berries & mountains...
Over the last few years I've found myself completely content with being in Cornwall - I felt I had everything - sea, moors, great locals & the inspiring influx of newcomers & tourists. In my experience, like any love affair, there usually comes a time when I feel established enough in the relationship to step out into new things, knowing I can return home with fresh ideas & renewed vitality.
On this premise, I vaguely planned my trip, & on the cusp of September when I thought the berries might be at their best, got on the sleeper train to London & started my journey to Austria. Now, you may well be familiar with travelling abroad, for me, lets just say it's been a while. Starting from a small town called Mayhofren nestled in the alps of south Austria, the delight of seeing & smelling a new environment was inspiring, naturally I wanted to be out there immersing myself in it all.
I find walking & foraging a great way to experience a place & before I knew it I was walking along rivers, up & down valleys comforting myself with the pleasures of elderberries, bilberries & raspberries. Everything can taste differently in a new place - the air, earth & water contributing to a plant's unique flavour.
The raspberries were like none I'd tasted before - sweet, seedy & ripe. As an optimist, I often have a romantic idea about a place before I go & on the whole, Austria lived up to my image of it, however, armfuls of berries, hmm, I'm not sure about that! Foraging, can at times need concentration & focus, & even when I found bushes & bushes of bilberries in the alpine forests, I needed a keen eye to pick them out.
Locally, bilberry jam was delicious, I had traditional Austrian dumplings flavoured with juniper berries & a fellow walker had burger & chips with cranberry sauce - move over Heinz ketchup! The foraging highlight for me was these last two berries - juniper & cranberries. Although I've read that juniper berries grow in South England, I've never found them, ooh, & the sharp taste of raw cranberries was surprisingly pleasant as a walking snack.
So, rest assured, that learning about foraged foods in the UK can give you a broad starting point across Europe, a unique way of appreciating new landscapes & a fun way of tasting your way round many countries, mountains & lakes!
Not much time left and many are just out of reach! Remember to take a ladder foraging with you or a good friend with climbing skills...
Last Resort - I've had to resort to just picking one or two heads this time of year, and drying them for elderflower tea. You may have more luck! Though drying Elder flowers for tea is great medicine for the winter months, read below to find out more.
Elderflower syrups and dishes are potent medicine - they can help counter hayfever, fight colds, boost your immune and send you to a delightful floaty place with those sweet aromas...
Choose from fresh or dried elderflower tea (just add hot water), elderflower fritters, or cordial for sorbets and ice creams, mix with summer fruits or into cocktails. Here's a simple recipe for cordial and a tempting image of local fruits cooked with elderflowers - delicious!
(photo: Elder flowers and Yarrow)
This is classic recipe with a bit of a twist, I like to change things sometimes, so here I use a mixture of orange and lemons, and add a little honey too. If you want a more traditional recipe, here it is; Elder Flower Cordial and Elder Flower Sorbet Recipe.
This cordial is a wonderful refreshing summer drink, and elder flowers are also a great remedy for colds. You'll need some pre-planning - a 1 litre container, clean screw-top bottles, a funnel and a seive/muslin cloth is needed, or improvise with what you have. Adjust the amount according to the number of flowers you have picked.
- 450g unrefined caster sugar
- 1.5 litres boiling water
- 20 elderflower heads (flowers left on stalks)
- 2 unwaxed lemons
- 1 orange
- 4 tbsp honey
- 2-3oz citric acid (if you’re going to store the cordial for a whole
Ideally pick the flowers in full sun. Place sugar in a pan and pour boiling water over, stirring until dissolved. Place the elderflowers (check to remove bugs) in a clean bucket and pour hot sugar mixture over it. Grate the lemon and orange zest, then cut the fruits into slices, squeeze, and plop into the container (it could be a saucepan, or a large heat-proof bowl). Stir, in the honey until dissolved, cover, and leave for 24-48 hours, stirring occasionally. Strain the mixture through a sieve, or preferably a fine muslin cloth, and funnel into clean bottles, or dilute and serve immediately!
(Photo: Elderflowers cooked in a summer fruits pudding)
Having watched spring slowly arrive over winter, in the last few weeks it has speeded up & fully arrived in all its glory. I love spring, perhaps because it's the season I was born, or maybe because of those lovely bouncy baby lambs in the fields... Then there's the increase of day light & all the spring foraging to enjoy too. An abundance of smells, tastes, textures & goodness - all oozing with vitamins & minerals. Basically a multitude of reasons to have a spring in my step & that madness of energy that's associated with this time of year.
Teaching foraging is largely seasonal, mainly because people want to forage to certain times of year, rather than there being a lack of plants during the winter months. As my season starts of kick off, my days feel fuller - bookings, organising & planning. At the end of the day there's nothing fresher for me than to take a walk, get away from the computer & amble along, lazily picking as I go. It's relaxing, valuable time-out, all with a flavour of spring madness of the plants I have to choose from as I walk.
Ooooh, what catches my eye today? So much to choose from. Today I chose just a few spring greens for supper - nettles, cleavers, & tri-cornered leek for soup. Chickweed & yarrow for frittata. I could go on about the bounty to enjoy, though really I just want to sit & eat, then do it all again tomorrow! Wishing you wonderful spring foraging - this really is the time to go mad out there & forage to your hearts content.
Shopping down the supermarket aisle? Not for me, in spring all my greens come from the hedgerow.