Most of my day today was spent foraging. Taking a large rucksack, some bags, gardening gloves and a pair of scissors, I headed to various spots in and around Nottingham to see what I could rustle up.
I’m still a bit of a beginner at foraging. I tend to stick to things that are easy to identify and plentiful. For a while I was stuck on blackberries. However, I have begun in the last couple of seasons to branch out a little and am slowly building up my repertoire.
Even so, if something isn’t broken, don’t fix it! I peddled down to the University Campus and filled a bag with nettles. Good for tea and any recipe that requires leafy greens I absolutely love these.
Nettles peacefully growing around a tree.
Lining the banks of the small river.
I’ve written about deadnettles before. As far as I’m concerned, they can be used interchangeably with nettles. As I had a pair of sturdy gloves to protect me from their stings, I exclusively picked alive and stinging nettles today.
Nettles (background, left) and their friendlier cousin, Dead Nettles (foreground, right).
Something that’s in season right now and that I’m very excited about is wild garlic. This grows in shady spots near river banks from about now (early May) to sometime in June. It’s another good ‘entry level’ forageable, as it has a very distinct smell and is consequently easy to identify. If you rub some in your fingers, smell it and still aren’t sure if it’s wild garlic- then it probably isn’t! It has a strong, sharp, garlicky smell that is unmistakable. I have yet to find a savoury dish that I don’t like this Summer weed in.
Wild garlic- has distinctive flowers and smelling leaves.
Something else which appears plentiful at the moment is ‘garlic mustard’ or alliaria petiolata – also called jack-by-the-hedge. As well as growing on campus along the riverside, I’ve seen lots of this creeping into flower beds next to pavements. It’s a little bitter, but has quite an interesting flavour. I’ve used it to balk out sauces and stews, but it was a little bit overpowering for me personally without other veg to balance it out.
I’ve also noticed on part of Jubilee campus (one of the newer university sites) some handy ornamental boxes containing various herbs. As this isn’t strictly foraging and they are carefully cultivated for aesthetics, I was a bit more judicious in selecting and taking from them!
Flower box, overlooking the lake on Jubilee Campus (Nottingham, May 2015)
Oregano (left), sage (right) and rosemary (top).
Finds in these boxes included oregano, sage (purple and regular type) and oodles of Rosemary. Rosemary seems to be used in a lot of ornamental displays. I also found lots growing near the university hospital building as I popped to the library for an errand.
University of Nottingham, medical school main entrance – flowerbed with an abundance of rosemary.
Some people dislike taking herbs from cultivated borders- or indeed foraging at all. I have a fairly liberal attitude to property and ownership of plants! In addition to this, I feel it is well justified. As long as you are fairly responsible about not taking too much, there are plenty of weeds and plants to go around for all. This includes wildlife. Plus there’s a positive ecological impact to the reduction in waste caused by you not eating something commercially grown and transported to you. Still, there are examples of people going overboard – such as restaurants in the New Forest decimating wild mushroom populations. Although I think I would have to do far more work than I am generally inclined to on a forage to make this level of impact, it’s probably wise to exercise good judgement. My personal rule is to try to not take so much of anything that it looks obvious that foraging has taken place. If a casual glance would tell you that anything more than a woodland creature had been grazing, I feel I’ve taken too much.
My bags full of delicious greens I headed home. I stopped by at the site of some wild fennel I happened upon about a week ago to see if it was still there. Happily, it was!
Wild fennel growing on unused land, Wollaton Road (Nottingham, May 2015).
Poking out from through a fence, this is just about accessible from the pavement. This particular patch is next to a fairly busy road. Some people advise against taking anything from sites that overlook roads, particularly large ones with heavy traffic. The reasoning is that they are growing near a site of high pollution. I tend to ignore this, although I do see the logic of it. I think it probably does have an impact on what is found in the plants, although I suspect it is negligible compared to living in and breathing in such pollution. One thing I am weary of however, is not picking things that you think might have been exposed to weedkiller. It is probably quite easy to eat a fairly high concentration of something not meant to be consumed by humans and designed to poison other creatures this way!
Once back home and laden down with my ‘harvest’ I began to plot what I could make with it all. I intended to dry some of the nettles as tea, use the herbs throughout the week to flavour my general cooking and maybe turn the nettles and wild garlic in to burgers and/ or some sort of delicious soup!
Herb haul from today’s forage.
I hope this inspires some people to try foraging. I find it’s a fun, cheap and environment-friendly way to be a ‘foodie’.
*Update 10.05.2015* Have cobbled together a recipe I rather like for wild garlic and mixed herb scones, which you can find here.