Is the dropping value of the pound making your weekly food shop more expensive? It’s time to take action and go foraging for food.
Being hunter-gatherers is in our DNA: we may have chosen the sofa as the place to spend most of our free time, but we need to remember that we used to go out and look for food if we wanted to eat. Luckily, we don’t have to expend so much energy to procure our food anymore, but with the declining value of the pound we don’t have the same purchasing power that we had before the EU referendum.
It’s time to become more creative in the kitchen, including integrating our food supplies with foraged vegetables. This way we can save money, save the environment and get some exercise.
What Is Safe to Eat
Every time I mention foraging to friends and family, the reaction is always the same: they ask me if I am going to poison myself with unfamiliar wild plants. With foraging, you first need to put in the work and really do your research, memorising which plants are edible and which plants are toxic or poisonous. It is unwise to go foraging without doing your homework first. Book, manuals and apps are great foraging companions to help you identify plants. The rule of thumb is simple: if something is not easy to identify and you have any doubt, don’t pick it and don’t eat it.
There is so much information out there so there’s no excuse not to put in some hours of study: the investment will pay back in terms of volume of fresh food you didn’t have to pay for. Of course, foraging is not allowed on private property or on public land subject to specific regulation so please find out first where you are allowed to pick wild plants for eating.
So many humble weeds we don’t even notice while we walk are actually edible and good for us, starting from dandelion (which many ruthlessly kill with chemicals to keep their lawns pristine) all the way to wild garlic.
In terms of nutritious plant-based food you can’t beat mushrooms: they are a great source of protein and vitamin D. Unfortunately you need to spend a long time studying them before you can confidently identify edible mushrooms but you can speed up the learning process by going out foraging with an expert guide.
Generally speaking, edible mushrooms are safe but in a small percentage of cases even safe mushrooms can cause allergic reactions (especially when consumed with alcohol).
After years of studying, collecting mushrooms and taking pictures and spore prints, I have picked, cooked and eaten a variety of wild mushrooms:
- Laccaria amethystina or amethyst deceiver
- Agaricus campestris or field mushroom (a relative of the button mushroom and Portobello mushroom you find in supermarkets)
- Leccinum scabrum or birch bolete
- Marasmius oreades or fairy ring mushrooms
- Fistulina epatica or beefsteak mushroom
- Grifola frondosa or hen of the woods
- Armillaria mellea or honey fungus
- Auricularia auricula-judae or Judas’ ear mushroom
- Lepista nuda or blewit mushroom
As you can see, at the time of writing I am still alive! But seriously, if you ask a mushroom expert during a guided walk to explain what is safe to eat you will start gathering a wealth of knowledge (as well as a nice basket of food to take home).
Good Foraging Plants for Beginners
Dandelion is an acquired taste (you must really enjoy bitter foods) so here is a list of safe foraging foods to experiment with in the kitchen:
- Sow thistle, great for soups, risotto, deep fried as a side dish
- Mallow, great in stews and salads
- Nettle, great in soups, risotto, omelettes and deep fried
- Wild chives and wild garlic, whose aroma can enhance any type of food requiring garlic and onion
- Dock leaves, which you can use to make Greek dolmades or crisp up in the oven as a snack
Once you have picked some wild vegetables, the question is: how to cook with them? Find inspiration in my book The Foraging Home Cook.