Wild eating: foraging for edibles in the city

Karen Wood

10 April 2014

Sick of bagged salads? You'll be amazed what you can find in your own back garden.

I love leafy greens, so when the chance came to do a “Walk in the woods” foraging event run by Monica Wilde of Napiers, in collaboration with The Caravan Club, I was all over it like poison ivy on a stray hiker.

I met my other newbie foragers at the Abbey Wood Caravan Club in south east London, along with Monica, who has been eating wild edibles since she was a child.

There are 3 types of wild garlic in the UK - this is hedge garlic.

Before we’d even left the carpark we’d been introduced to bittercress (grows everywhere, and most people just rip it out of their gardens), nettles (its tea is great for hayfever sufferers as the stingy leaves contain histamines) and daisies (plonk closed-petalled ones into your guests’ soup and they will open up to surprise and charm).

The leaves of lesser celandine are edible.

As our gang of intrepid nibblers carefully made its way across a busy road and into a nearby park, I couldn’t help but wonder how much Monica sees that we don’t. How much knowledge of the natural world, the seasons, of growing our own food has been lost? In recent years, there's been a definite resurgence of interest in foraging, but I wonder if it will be enough to keep the knowledge alive for future generations?

Cherry blossoms taste a bit like marzipan - only you won't get the fruit if you eat the flowers.

We soon found some brambles, and the young leaves are especially interesting. They're high in tannins so at first taste like an old, wet tea bag - stick with me here - but if you keep going, it magically turns into a coconut flavour. Amazing.

Another favourite was clove root. Monica dug one up and carefully cleaned and washed the roots, then nipped off a bit for each of us to try. The taste instantly reminded me of Christmas.

Monica cleaning off our haul of clove root.

It was a great afternoon at a leisurely pace, paying attention to the leaves and buds and flowers that were just starting to appear. In summer you’d go more for mature fruit and veg, and in autumn for nuts and berries and mushrooms. But the spring is for those newly sprouted living, nutritious plants that wake you up from the long, sleepy winter.

We stumbled up on some Alexanders, apparently a rare delicacy for foragers.

If you’d like to know more about what you can (and shouldn’t) eat, Monica suggests getting some good guide books and having a go yourself. Get more of a flavour of when wild foods are in season in our monthly food for free guide.

Just avoid anything with purple blotches or spots; its nature’s way of saying you really don’t want to eat me. I think I’ll stick to my coconut brambles.

Karen Simmons, Digital Communications Officer

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