Rachel Lambert: forager, author, guide
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A roll of freshly made Spring wild herb butter

This is so easy and a great way to use wild herbs and smother baked potatoes, toast, fish or anything you wish with foraged goodness. The butter can either be used within one week or frozen and sliced as needed.

mixing wild herbs and butter together

When to make herb butters

Spring is often when an abundance of herbs appear and are at their best. In summer most flower and seed late-summer to autumn. You may find a new bounty in Autumn but bear the flurry of spring greens in mind!

Ingredients

60 g butter, room temperature
1 tbsp wild herbs

rolling herb butter

Herbs you could use:

  • sorrel
  • wild chervil
  • wild garlic
  • mints
  • scurvy grass
  • wild mustard
  • hairy bittercress
  • fennel
  • yarrow leaves

Method: Wash and dry the herb you are going to use, this minimises the water which doesn't blend brilliantly with fat! I pat mine dry on a tea towel. Finely chop and blend thoroughly with the butter. Use immediately, or if you're going to keep or freeze it, I wrap mine in greaseproof paper and roll into a sausage-shape. Once in a sausage-shape, it it is easy to slice from fresh or frozen and watch melt over hot food.

Herb butter ready to freeze and use on demand

All the herbs mentioned are taught on my foraging courses, especially in Spring but perhaps not all on the same course! You can also keep up to date with what I'm foraging, making or cooking at @rachellambertwildfoodforaging

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Allium triquetrium and Rumex acetosa

Spring is full of wild ingredients that are perfect for adding into, oh so many different recipes. Farinata - a savoury bake made out of chickpea flour - is a great carrier for these spring wilds. Like an omelette, though egg-less, baked in the oven and extremely tasty, it happens to be vegan and gluten-free too and is easy to add shoots, leaves and flowers, and even seaweed to. Here's my spring version, feel free to add different wilds. I've made a version with hogweed shoots and rosemary too, which was equally delicious.

Wild Spring Farinata Recipe

Makes 7-8 farinatas

Ingredients

  • 300 g chickpea flour
  • 1 litre water
  • 1 heaped tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp ground seaweed (I used bladderwrack/popweed, Fucus vesiculosus)
  • Light olive oil or vegetable oil
  • Large handful three-cornered leek/wild garlic, chopped
  • Small handful common sorrel leaves and stems, chopped

In a large bowl mix the chickpea flour, water, salt and seaweed. Whisk well to combine. Leave to sit for at least an hour, ideally overnight, it will also keep well in the fridge for up to 4 days. Preheat the oven to 220°C. Using a heavy-bottom, oven proof pan, generously add oil and heat over a medium to high heat, till almost smoking.

Spoon in a couple of ladles full of the mixture, coating the pan with a thin layer, about 0.5-1 cm thick. Sprinkle over some three-cornered leek, allow to cook for 5 mintues, sprinkle on the sorrel and place in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and slice off with a fish slice or similar. Re-oil the pan and repeat with another couple of ladles full and follow until you have enough to eat! Best eaten fresh. Like I mentioned, the mixture keeps well in the fridge well for a few days in the fridge, so you don't have to finish it all in one go.

with common sorrel and three-cornered leek

Works well as a snack (shared it on the beach with a foraging group), I also shared it with a friend, served with a potato salad and well-dressed green salad for supper. I run monthly foraging courses which always include homemade, wild tasters.  I'm also available for private forays, looking at the weeds on your land, in your area or just for a holiday delight.

Song, verse, sound and rhyme have been used by humans for thousands of years to communicate, respond and express. Sound is an integral part of our daily landscape. It has been used functionally (to explain things) as well as for fun and as an essential part of celebrations across the world. Rachel Lambert is a foraging teacher who has sung all her life. She sings on her own on the moor, with friends, with family, to mourn and to celebrate life. Since childhood she has learnt songs and made up songs, feeling happy to hit the right or wrong note and just enjoy singing!

Why wild singing

There is much scientific evidence to suggest that singing is good for the brain, heart, gets creative juices running, sends feel good endorphins round the body and can help counter anxiety and loneliness. Coupled with the great outdoors, which can legitimately claim similar health and well-being benefits, wild singing is a pretty good boost for the body and soul.

The benefits of using song to learn about plants

Singing about plants and nature is also part of our historical tapestry. When Rachel Lambert (Wild Walks South West) has researched past uses of plants she’s often come across poems and songs. Songs tell of plant uses, claims of curing ills, bringing love and of old traditions. Rachel has taken this idea and created new songs to tell of plant qualities she often shares with participants on her foraging courses. Songs can be a great way to remember things, as well as just enjoying the moment.

If you'd like to see snippets of other songs, or read more about this experience, you may want to view my other Wild Singing blogs. I run The Singing Forager Experience for anyone who'd like to listen to, hum along or join in. Dates for these are here; The Singing Forager Experience and details of how to book is here.

Follow the #singingforager to find out or hear more.

Spring is exciting - a combination of warmth and light gets plants, animals and human-animals going. Sometimes, for me, too going. The term mad march hare feels too close to home for me, as I prance around the hedgerows picking wild greens as if there is no tomorrow, or as if spring won't last forever, which of course it won't. Lets face it, we've often being waiting a while for it to come too.

Many wild greens respond well to being plucked, for example when the tops of nettles are snipped off this stimulates more growth and leaf tops to grow. So below I've chosen 5 common wild foods that arrive every year, a plenty and are happy to be plucked, appreciated and eaten.

Here are my top 5 pick-ables (non-technical term :)) for this spring, I have loads of nuggets of information and recipes to share on each of them, though for now I'll keep it brief.

My Top Five Spring Wild Foods

1. Stinging Nettles Urtica dioica

Never under-estimate a common plant, believe me, nettles are a valuable food and we are lucky to have them. Their nutrition and versatility makes them easy to use (just avoid being stung) and they are (in my humble opinion and according to nutritional facts) better for you than spinach or cabbage.

2. Wild Garlic Allium family

The wild onion, garlic and leek family is vast and too large to go into here, though their commonalities include a wonderful garlic taste (and smell), anti bacterial properties and support for the heart. The whole of the plant can be used and it can be used raw or cooked - raw is stronger. It is one of the key edibles of spring.

3. Cleavers/Goosegrass Galium aparine

Cleavers spread. They grow up to 1 metre long and can be collected without a bag (let them stick to you). The leaves are a wonderful spring cleanser and support the urinary and lymphatic system, though best cooked to avoid the not so pleasant hairy texture when raw and use in small amounts. I like to just pluck the tops and sweat them with nettles in butter or oil.

4. Alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum

Writing this from the south coast of Cornwall, Alexanders are definitely on my list. Abundant and often considered an invasive (land managers around Bristol have also practically pleaded with me to pick and eat them too). Nutritious and versatile, if you just know how to use them and pick them early on in spring.

5. Common Sorrel Rumex acetosa

Sorrel sap is tart and lemony and at its best in spring, and once you get your eye in, you'll start to see it everywhere. Delicious added to so many savoury and sweet dishes, though don't eat too much as it contains oxalic acid which isn't good to eat in large amounts. A little is fine though.

So there you have it, my five favourite wild greens, and yes greens are best in spring. Next spring, maybe I'll share a different five, as there's always more to share.

Unique Island Foraging

Really, like nowhere else.

Sudi Pigott, food journalist and author compared Gourmet Foraging and Dining on Scilly to an experience at Noma - Rene Redzepi's  Copenhagen restaurant, which, at least twice has won best restaurant in the world awards (S. Pellegrino 50). Noma specialises in using foraged and seasonal produce and has a world renown reputation.

According to Sudi, we were on a level with Noma (Daily Express, 2011).

Travelling to the Isles of Scilly always feels magical to me. I couldn't get much closer really (well not much) and still live on the mainland. The Scillonian ferry is 10 minutes walk away from my house, and standing in the right place I could watch the boat leave and return daily, in season.

Foraging can appeal to such a wide reach of people, from foodies to wildlife enthusiasts, and Scilly really is the perfect environment for it. A series of islands, low population numbers and a priority for wildlife including birds, plants and sea life, plus a distinct lack of cars and motor vehicles is ideal for foraging to flourish in the clean air and land. Indeed, foraging has happened a-plenty in Scilly in the past, piles of empty limpet shells on (the now uninhabited island of Samson) pays testament to that.

(The Foragers: Hell Bay Gourmet Foraging and Dining Break, Isles of Scilly)

And what about now? Like elsewhere in the UK, foraging has largely been forgotten, and the Coop (the largest food shop on Scilly) is perhaps an over-used substitute for the wild stuff. Local foods are still used though, when available. Though I can't help casting my eye across all those beautiful fresh ingredients, forgotten in the hedgerow, fields and coastline.

When I first approach Hell Bay with the idea of doing gourmet foraging events, I wanted the best. The best chef, environment and eating experience that would allow the wild ingredients to really be appreciated for what they are - special.  Special, abundant and worth rediscovering.

Our group of enthusiast guests, felt similarly (I hoped), and joined me for 3 days, 3 islands, 3 walks and 3, 5 course gourmet dinners - including the ingredients we'd foraged during the day. Travelling from various areas of the UK, foraging became our common ground, oh, and discussions about the hotel's enviable art collection.

We may not have looked like foragers, though looks aren't everything, and in a way, foraging was just the medium we used -  the chosen lense to appreciate the islands and the natural abundance they had to offer. Indeed, both people's adventurous spirits, and the wild plants themselves came up trumps, my favourite being when we focused on the seashore...

Foraging for seaweeds is tide dependent and on the islands it is also dependent on the times of the boats. On our final day of foraging we got the boat to St Martins island.  A sensitive juggling; this wasn't the first time we'd got dropped at the opposite end of the island to expected and planned for! A low tide is perfect for seaweed foraging, though not for mooring boats - oh well, we got to the island, were wellied up, well some of us, while others dared it with bare feet or trainers.  Thankfully the coastline of St Martins came up with the goods.

It amazes me that pottering around just one collection of rocks enabled us to forage for a wide range of seaweeds to accompany our dinner.

Sea Spaghetti before harvesting for supper

I had a 'shopping list' of 7 seaweeds, which we snipped off with scissors and took, happily back to the hotel kitchen. Idyll memories of aisles of sandy beaches, rock pools, paddling expeditions and a little clambering, looking under kelp forests and getting faces up close to the splish, sploshing water around us. Those who chose to, watched from a distance, enjoying the sun while the wellied ones paddled out to find the freshest finds. We laid out are proud findings on the rocks (who ever took photos - I'd love a copy!) before revising their names and bundling them into our baskets before heading off to lunch.

The evening's menu was always greeted with satisfying ooohs and aaahs - all the excitment you would expect from a special dinner party. I love that part - although we forage together, I like to keep the evening's menu a surprise. It's like revealing a new painting - we've worked creatively behind the scenes - myself helping design the menu and advise processes, then leaving the chefs to use their talents and skills to create 5 bespoke courses with a range of colours, textures and visual arrangements. Like art, food comes down to personal taste, though the variety and skill seemded to be enough to please everyone...

Hell Bay Hotel, Bryher, Isles of Scilly (our foraging base)

However.

Some dishes were a hit, while others had a mixed response that might be expected from more experimental cuisine. Personally, Sea Spaghetti (Spaghetti-like seaweed) with Grilled Turbot and pangretta with sea lettuce, followed by Rice Pudding with crystalised Alexander stems were hits with me. Though some disagreed! Other's loved the hogweed seed biscuits that accompanied Cornish cheeses - for me, I was completely satisfied already and had no room for anymore. All created within the style and quality you expect at Hell Bay.

Unique Scilly foraging it is.

I could list all the dishes of each evening, though just as a taster, here's the menu we enjoyed on our second evening after foraging on the Island of Tresco and an afternoon free to enjoy the Tresco Abbey Gardens.

  • Sorrel & Wall Oxalis Soup
  • Fennel Tempura Fillet of Hake, dressed White Crab Meat, steamed Rock Samphire,
  • Pan roasted fillet of Venison, Nettle Gnoochi, Frosted Orache, Three-cornered Leek puree, Chocolate & Yarrow Jus.
  • Gorse Flower Creme Brulee with Blackberry Leaf Sorbet
  • Cornish Cheeses with Hogweed & Alexander Seeded Biscuits

I offer bespoke foraging experiences on the Isles of Scilly, my availability is limited, and especially limited in high-season when the chefs are exceptionally busy. Luckily, foraging is best in early spring and autumn - do bear this inmind if you'd like to experience the wild side of these beautiful islands.

Single leaf of Common Sorrel

Once you know Common Sorrel (rumex acetosa) it's perfectly normal to start seeing it pop up all over the place; in hedgerows, lawns, fields, grass verges. It really is so common, that  you'll be amazed you never spotted it before!

Of course, each plant has its own characteristics, making it unique and easily identifiable, though to me it is as if each plant also develops its own character too. Or perhaps I just start to see each plant as a character. In the early days of foraging I would regularly take walking breaks to help clear my head and gain perspective again - life becomes a lot simpler I find, if I go for a walk. I would mindlessly begin spotting plants as if they were landmarks or a way to orientate myself in the landscape, whether I knew the walk well, or it was completely new to me. Somehow being able recognise plants along the way helped me feel comfortable and at home.

It was a bleak, non-descript kind of February day that I comforted myself by the fresh greenery around me, and feeling particularly inspired, or who knows, maybe the plant spoke to me, these words started to flow. Perhaps it reflects those early days of identifying and getting to know the plants, anyway, I wrote this poem in honour of Common Sorrel.

 

I met a friend today,
A familiar face in the hedgerow.
Smooth skin, tall and straight,
A tailored jacket and spear shaped hat.

He promised me tangy company, tarty surprises
And melt in the mouth experiences.
Though his delicate demeanour hid a sharp taste, addictive and tantalising.
Oozing witht As, Cs and Iron strength.

I plucked him from his familiar home,
Twirling him between my fingertips.
I watched his tails flutter in the wind, till his jacket became limp and a sour expression covered his face.

One bite and I am hooked on you dear sorrel
Your lemony tang is un-mistakable,
Your taste, instilled in my taste buds
And I will dance to see a sight of you in the hedgerows again.

 

Sorrel is a great winter, spring & autumn salad leaf, it has a great tarty, lemony taste & traditionally has been used in sorrel soup, in omlettes & even in sweet tarts. There is two things to be wary of with sorrel; firstly identification, secondly not to eat too much of it. I've heard some stories of people mistaking lords & ladies for common sorrel (not a pleasant mistake), & eating too much of it can bind up valuable nutrients in the body - hardly the desired effect! Enjoy in moderation & be sure you're identifying the right plant.

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