Foraging – Monkey Puzzle Nuts

Some awesome research here and a great recipe. We have these up in Plantation Woods…

Urban Huntress

Well, I’ll be a monkey’s niece! Monkey Puzzle trees produce these amazing big edible nuts!

Okay. They’re actually seeds, but I like calling them nuts since we’re all familiar with pine nuts. And, yes, those are actually seeds as well.

Araucaria araucana (a.k.a. monkey puzzle tree, monkey tail tree, Chilean pine, or pehuén) is an evergreen tree which can reach over 150 feet in height and can live to be a thousand years old. These trees take twenty years to reach sexual maturity and similar to other ancient trees like gingko biloba, and fellow Araucaria genus member the bunya, they are dioecious having distinct male and female trees with different cones. This means it takes a male and a female to produce their nut-like seeds. The pollen from the oblong-shaped male cones is blown by the wind to the female cones. This feature of the tree…

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Winter Meat

This being hunting season, when greens are scarce and meat would have sustained us, I will share some of my wild game stories with you. Traditionally the meat that would have been available to the Commoners (that’s us) would have been Rabbit and Wood Pigeon, with Pheasants poached from the rich people…

Pheasant that gave his life (to someone’s car) so we could eat.


The first time I ate Rabbit was when the owner of a greyhound handed a dead rabbit to me and my friends on the GU canal in Brentford. The dog had raced off and killed the rabbit of its’ own accord. I skinned it with the help of my then boyfriend, he cut off the head with an axe whilst I skinned. I peeled the skin from the hind legs up to the neck. I kept wondering how it would feel if it was done to me. It did make me squirm. We boiled it in a pot in a tipi on our shared Permaculture allotment and whist we were waiting, a very sensitive vegan type we knew came and had a chat. She couldn’t even handle someone eating a supermarket chicken sandwitch.

“What’s in the pot?” she kept saying.

We didn’t have the heart to tell her, we kept fibbing.

It tasted like chicken, but more tender.


Myself and my then boyfriend were on a bike ride along the North Downs Way when the car in front of us hit a male Pheasant. He was still warm, but his neck was broken and he was gone. I admired his chestnut and satiny green-blue beauty, his feathers light and warm gossamer. I said a prayer then put him in a pannier. We camped in Guildford Woods (illicitly) and I plucked him, I can’t honestly remember if I gutted him or not. We cooked him on a spit over a camp fire, with roast potatoes and carrots in the embers and a Cep mushroom I had found in the woods at the end. In the morning we got kicked out by a ranger who had spotted our fire smoke.

He tasted like bloody chicken again. Tasty though.


I was gifted two shot wood pigeon when I moored my boat in Rugby. A local boaty guy had an air rifle and had been catching them for food. Wood pigeon has been known through the centuries as the poor man’s food, so I wasn’t expecting much. But what a surprise!

I plucked the two birds (I didn’t hang them or anything, letting maggots drop out is not my idea of appetising), then basted them with a blob of butter and honey and roasted them for 40 mins in my vintage 1970’s boat oven. They are only little, so you may get away with less than this, but I was being cautious.

The dark meat was delicious, rich and gamey. this has to rank as my favourite wild game, and I have had deer too, but good pigeon is still my favourite.

As far as ethics go ,I feel happier eating something when I know it has had a good life doing what it does rather than being farmed.

What do others think? Im aware this a controversial topic!

Winter Meat

Wrestling with Burdock

Even through snow and ice, if you know where the burdock patches are you can still get to the all important roots, stuffed with carbs and starch to keep energy up in the cold. Arctium lappa/minus (Greater and Lesser Burdock respectively) can be used in just the same ways as each other.

Burdock in Spring & Summer

Those giant cabbagy leaves are a giveaway, with their wavy, scalloped edges and white, suede-like underneath. They are thick and have a leather feel. They come from a central rosette low on the ground. What we are looking for is the first year plant (Burdock is a biennial plant), without a central flowering stem. A second year plant won’t kill you, but its root will be tough and fibrous instead of tender!

Bring a ruddy great spade, as the root can easily go down to 2m underground. if your’e not sure where to dig, look for the tall second year dried seedheads. There are usually some first year plants nearby.

Remember, all the energy of the plant has gone down to its root to prepare for next year, so don’t expect glamour from the aerial parts at this time of year (this was taken in December). In fact, Burdock looks like something you wouldn’t wipe your bum with right now, but that’s not the part you’ll be eating, so try not to worry. Dig all around the root to two or three spade depths, or whatever you can manage. (I hope you asked the landowner for permission, too!) Leave some of the root in the ground so the plant can regrow. This is also far easier than digging it all out…

WARNING! BURDOCK SEED IS EVIL! It will stick to your clothes and hair and butt and is extremely difficult to remove…this is how the plant spreads its seeds. It is also VERY ITCHY! If you can get beyond these drawbacks, the seeds are an important Chinese medicine for clearing toxins out of the body. I tried this and got the seed hairs, which are like glass fibre, in my eyes. Best leave that to the experts.

So here comes the even more entertaining part…making this into something my 6 year old son will eat.

Burdock root can be chopped like parsnip, boiled for 5 mins then braised with butter and a little honey to glaze. it has a naturally sweet flavour, (like aniseed crossed with parsnip). But i’ve done that before, so I decided to make Burdock & Pine Nut Latkes. A latke is a Swedish fritter made with grated or mandolin’ed root veg and eggs plus a little flour. These are great with strongly flavoured fish and some salad.


350g (or 2 x 20cm pieces) Burdock root

1 large carrot

3 eggs

flour to taste

salt and pepper

1 tsp cumin powder

handful of pine nuts (I used wild Monterey Pine)

Groundnut or sunflower oil

Clove of garlic

  1. Clean and scrape the burdock roots. Grate on a large grater together with the carrot. There will be a core which is too tough, throw this in the compost!
  2. Put in a bowl and beat the eggs in. Mix. Add 2 tblsp flour, pine nuts, cumin, salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Chop and fry the garlic in the oil.
  4. Squish the mixture into patties the size of a small burger.
  5. Pat both sides with flour.
  6. Heat the oil then fry the patties til crispy and brown, flipping over once. This takes roughly 10 minutes.
  7. Pat dry with paper towel, then serve warm with sour cream or yoghurt. I made a salad with tinned mackerel in tomato sauce and cucumber cut up small.
  8. Enjoy! Burdock root helps you eliminate toxins from your body, too – great for that post Xmas hangover.

So my son’s verdict? “It’s ok.” he admits, and eats half of one Latke before going back to his frankfurters. One thing I would say is make sure you scrub those roots well, otherwise you get some crunchy soil in there too…but that’s good for you too, isn’t it. 😉

Wrestling with Burdock

Edible Tree of the Week: Monterey Pine

Now’s the time of year to celebrate our evergreens. So here we have the Monterey Pine, or Pinus radiata. This beautiful, lush 3 needle pine has spreading branches that can hang low down. When I say ‘3 needle’ I mean that the needles are arranged in bunches of 3, and they are around 15cm long. It can grow around 30 to 45m tall.

These are the trees that sheltered John Steinbeck’s homeless, alcoholic ex soldiers in his classic novel ‘Tortilla Flat’, set in Monterey, California! It hails from a small section of the California coastline, but is planted in milder parts of the UK. I have been nicking pollen off the ones at my local lake for several years now!

So onto edibility.

Make a Vitamin C rich tea by boiling the needles. Cut the freshest, most bright green ones, rinse, and erm..boil, until the water changes colour and the needles go from green to dull umber. Trappers and hunters would use pine needle tea to prevent scurvy (and other awful things that happen to people that don’t eat any fruit).

Something more substantial, you say?

Most pines have Edible seeds, but many are pretty small and a faff to use and harvest. Monterey Pine cones are large, ripening to 15cm long and 9cm across. The seeds are sealed in these things until a ruddy great bush fire comes along and causes the cones to pop open, scattering the seeds over what is (by now) a lovely nutritious layer of ash. You can help nature along by heating the cones on top of your stove or in your oven.

The pine nuts that drop out are nutritious, rich in good fats, omega 3, vitamin E which helps skin and hair stay healthy, iron,magnesium and fibre.

They need rubbing in the fingers to separate the wings from the dark nuts, then ‘micro winnowing’ (stick them in a bowl, then blow on them…the lighter papery wings will fly off and leave the nuts behind, all over your kitchen).

Lightly toast them in a pan then sprinkle on soups or salads. (or stay tuned for my Pine Nut recipes)! Im not sure how accurate this story is, but a young Japanese girl ran into the forest during the war and spent several years subsisting on pine nuts and needle tea, too afraid to return her village. She was eventually found once the war had ended. However, she was in good health (and I’m assuming she had great skin and hair!).

What I got from 3 cones…

But that’s not all our Monterey Pine has to offer.

In Spring the male parts of the tree release a bright, sulphur yellow pollen.This contains quite a lot of testosterone, so It makes a great tonic for those who wish for hairier chests, deeper voices and a heightened sex drive! Obviously one to avoid if you are not wanting these, or if pregnant or breastfeeding. The pollen can be added to flour to make cakes and breads to spike your man with (NB: The author is joking, spiking is naughty. Tell them first.) You can also eat the catkins as they are.

Collecting It is fun: tap the catkins into a plastic bag or large jam jar. The pollen will puff out in a yellow cloud.

Check later in the week for my Monterey Pine Nut & Burdock Latke experiments!

For more recipes with Pine Pollen in Spring, follow my blog

Have fun!

Monterey Pine Nut & Burdock Latkes…earthy, aniseedy, crunchy!

Edible Tree of the Week: Monterey Pine

Ravishing Rosehip Crudites

Now is the time to go out gathering rosehips, the fruit of our native wild Dog Rose, (Rosa canina). Once the frosts have come, the previously rock-hard hips are ‘bletted’ , which means they go soft and ripe, ready for picking. So how can you recognize when they are ready? It’ll take a bit of trial and error, but soon you will notice the ripe ones have gone from red and very shiny to a matte, duller finish. As soon as you touch it it will be squidgy and come off the stem easily…though also check whether the hip has ‘gone over’ – runny liquid and smell should let you know soon enough!

Once you’ve picked a load, traditional recipes involve boiling them down in just enough water to cover and adding sugar, which makes a lovely jam, but gets rid of all that lovely Vitamin C that rosehips are famous for. (Rosehips contain 5 times more Vitamin C weight by weight than oranges, and were part of out staple diet during WW1 and 2.)

You can also make a raw rosehip syrup – stuff a sterilised jam jar with alternate layers of uncooked rose hips and white sugar. Prick the rose hips with a fork first to help things along. Make sure the last layer on top is sugar.

For immediate gratification, healthy eating and artistic flair, try my Ravishing Rosehip Crudites recipe.

(Not to blow my own trumpet too much…)

You will need:

Thinly sliced rye sourdough,

bletted (soft ) rosehips,

soft cheese such as Philadelphia or vegan scheese,

butter or margarine,

🥒 cucumber!

1)Toast the sourdough slices,butter them and cut into 3cm squares.

2)Dollop the soft cheese into a piping bag (or, if your’e not into fripperies, make your own out of a plastic document wallet, as I did)

3)Squeeze a blob of soft cheese onto each little rye toast.

4)Pointing the end which came off the stem down (you will see the hole,not the scruffy little star thing), squeeze the red paste out of the rose hip and onto the soft cheese blob. This can be fiddly! IMPORTANT: Do not eat the seeds! They make you itch! Give the rest of the rosehip back to the wild.

5)Cut one round of cucumber into tiny little pizza wedge slices (8 is a nice number). Garnish each crudite with a cucumber wedge pushed into the cheese, and arrange some rose hips. A voilà!

6)Enjoy with drinks of choice!

Ravishing Rosehip Crudites