Foraging – the act of gathering wild food for free. Something our ancestors would have done long ago and with the added knowledge of their health and medicinal properties. We were lucky enough to Join Kerry from The Foraging Course Company for a taster session on foraging. Keep reading to find out more about the amazing plants around us and what we can eat!
Are you looking to forage for food on a regular basis, as a hobby or want knowledge to help you identify plants? We teamed up with Kerry from the Foraging Course Company to share the experience with you.
Sat in a pub garden near in Coventry a group started to gather. An unlikely mix of older gentleman in their finest professional walking gear, a gentleman who had been brought an experience by his daughter and 2 young ladies dressed up to the 9’s looking like they had taken a wrong turn and should have been in a salon. I was surprised seeing the diversity of this group. It proved that all walks of life were interested in foraging. This enabled the group to communicate in interesting ways. Old and new coming together with a varied knowledge of foraging.
Foraging course – Do’s and Donts’
Kerry introduced herself and gave us a quick health and safety talk. The main one being “If I give you stuff – don’t put it in your gob unless I tell you you can eat it!” Some plants are very dangerous and can make you very very sick – if not kill you. It is VITAL that you do not eat anything unless you are more than 100% sure it is what you think it is. Some plants can look very similar. There are many laws and regulations covering foraging and most land is owned by someone – even public areas like parks. Do not take it for granted that you can take food from any areas and always ask permission. Do check local bylaws and never take food if there not an abundance of it. The preservation and maintenance of the wild food must be at the forefront of our minds.
Can you describe this?
Kerry had a small cutting of a cherry tree in her hand. Full of beautiful blossom it’s the first thing you see! Kerry asked all of us (there must have been about 16 of us) to describe something about the cutting. It had to be an observation about its appearance. The first few had it rather easy – It has blossom. There are yellow stamens. It has Bark. By the time they got around to us (at the back of course!) it was more of a challenge . However there were still so many things that you could identify once you started to look. The exercise was one that made study the identifying features of petals, leaf formations, smell and textures of the bark.
We soon set off on our walk, surprised at the abrupt stop before we had left the car park. An old silver birch tree stood proud at the exit of the car park. Kerry told us about some of the health benefits this tree had to offer and when this could be harvested. We learned that sap can be harvested in Feb/March which has micro nutrients. Birch sap can, in small doses, be very good for you however is also a diuretic and laxative. Birch has been used in the treatment of many different ailments. It is not suggested to be used by people with weak hearts or Kidneys.
There are over 300 species of Bramble!
Less than 5 meters from here we stopped at the Bramble. Most people are able to identify a blackberry but did you know there are over 300 species of bramble in the UK? This can account for the difference in tastes that we experience. We all know that you can make blackberry and apple pie, and that its a fact it tastes better if you have been out to pick the fruit yourself! Did you know that you could also make cordials and wines, chutney and fruit leather from it too? It was here that Kerry told us a very important rule. The Great Dane Rule!
Most brambles (and other plants) grow at low levels and we can be tempted to pick what is closest to us – however these can be easily contaminated. Remember that if a Great Dane could cock its leg and pee on it, it’s not a safe zone!
Other edible plants we learned about on the foraging course included Chickweed, Hairy Bittercress, Pignut’s, Sorrel, Hawthorn, Dandelion, Wild Garlic, Nettle and Lords and Ladies (Stay well away from this one! It’s not edible but you need to be able to identify it as it looks similar to one you can eat.) I would love to share some of the things I have learnt with you but I really want you go find out for yourself and not spoil anything!
There were a few history lessons added in too as to where these plants came from and how they ended up here. We have the Romans to thank for some of the plants but also for some of the science too. Roman soldiers used to flog themselves with nettles to keep them warm as it brings the blood to the surface and also to aid in the healing of ailments such as shin splints. Scientists are now looking into this more as clinical trials have shown this to have positive effects. This is possibly due to the brain not fully understanding what the body has endured and therefore throwing all it has to the area. The Romans concluded the pain in their legs was reduced following a regular flogging to the affected areas.
We spent well over 3 hours talking about these plants and having wonderful taters that Kerry had brought with her. We tasted Hawthorn Ketchup, Wild Garlic Pesto, Nettle Cordial and Dandelion coffee! Kerry really added to the experience with these extras.
There is so much to learn and we only covered a tiny area. Guidebooks can give you some reference however – these will show you a picture of one plant on one day and not give you the full information. Downloadable apps are on the market to help you identify mushrooms. Don’t trust them as gospel. These have been shown to be inaccurate and with serious consequences. Some species of mushroom are known to cause reactions in up to 1 in 4 people.
Try for yourself Or buy a Gift Voucher
If you are interested in foraging (or know someone who is), I would recommend you book a course and speak to an expert. Learn in a way where they teach you specific identifying features. Many species have not so edible look-a-likes and being able to distinguish them is very important. A guide book is just that, a guide, not a reference. Learn from the experts, don’t take a risk. As I said above the consequences of getting it wrong far outweigh the benefit of a gamble.
Kerry said “There’s loads of fantastic resources out there in the form of books, videos, internet forums, and enthusiast groups. But, there is nothing quite like somebody handing you a plant or mushroom so you can see it, feel it, and smell it for yourself. That’s what really makes you familiar with a new species.” and we couldn’t agree more!
Where is the foraging course run?
Don’t worry if you are not in Coventry, Kerry runs courses all over the UK and at different times of the year so that you can learn about different food during different seasons. Starting at just £35 per person Kerry’s foraging courses are both affordable and and investment. We will be booking to go on another one later in the year to learn about fungus and mushrooms.
Kerry was a fantastic teacher and took her time to ensure all members of the group had tasted, seen, touched and grasped all of the information required. Kerry also followed up a few days later with an email about the plants and trees we had encountered (as well as some recipes that we can’t wait to try).
Where else have we been near by? check our Locations page