Had a lovely day taking some already quite knowledgable people out for an Autumn Foraging Course. (Thankfully I was still able to teach them something!) Two were returners from my Summer courses. We traversed the towpath, taking in the delights of Ground Elder (Aegopodium podagraria), which is a maligned and invasive superfood brought over by the Romans. There’s still a lot of wild greens this time of year, often in their ‘second spring’ where they have regrown after being mown over. We also found Common Mallow, Ground Ivy, and Jack By The Hedge.
I led the way past fat Hawthorn berries (Crateagus monogyna), where we stopped to try my fruit leather made from crab apples, said hawthorn berries and elderberries (and 150g of sugar, still it could be worse). Admittedly it was a bit thicker than the last one I made, and you could have turned it into a stained glass window! At least I didn’t have to throw any oven trays of welded on fruit away this time…
Next was the exciting hunt for Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandifera) seeds, which we narrowed down to one of the last strongholds on the River Ouzel that Friends of the Earth haven’t got their claws into yet. Their balsam-bashing zeal is understandable, since it is very invasive and smothers out our native flora. Still, all the more reason to imbibe the delicious, walnut tasting seeds, which everyone enjoyed catching as they burst out of their pods in a Bacchanalian display of plenty! Luckily none of us got too keen and fell in the river, as I don’t want to get sued. These can be easily dried and stored, then sprinkled on salads, soups and stir fries with gleeful abandon.
We stopped for a Crab Apple Jelly snack with cream cheese on crackers.
We debated whether to traipse down to the Horseradish patches, as none of my group liked hot food, but in the end we were glad we did as identifying this plant was a real eye opener It’s the sort of plant that’s everywhere but gets overlooked or mistaken for dock…though if you look closer, the tall thin frilly leaves in the centre and jagged edges of the leaves are a giveaway. As is the phenomenally hot taste of the root!! We stopped to sit on a massive tree trunk and eat oatmeal biscuits with ham/vegan ham and horseradish sauce…despite apparent dislike of foodie heat, all proclaimed it delicious and asked for seconds!
After that it was about-face towards Plantation Woods along Plantation road, where we eyed up some edible yet out of season Ice Plant (Sedum) in someone’s front yard.
We were in for a real treat in the woods…or so I had thought, having recce’d the place mere days before to find fresh and tasty Oyster Mushrooms. Unfortunately these were a vertiginous scramble up a scree slope, so my intention was to go up there and bring some down for my more mature participants. As I reached the promised manna, most was nowhere to be seen and I found only a shrivelled and slug decorated stump. Arggh! Meanwhile my adventurous folk had come most of the way up the scree of beech husks and sand, whereupon I cheerfully announced we would be returning down to the path. We all held hands and nobody died…
We did find some Beech nut husks – in a good year the Beech (Fagus sylvatica) are chock full of tasty nuts, but this year it seemed to be the turn of the acorns. Acorns can be eaten, but with a fair amount of processing (i.e. boiling then thrown away the water about 8 times, or chopping them up then leaving them a clean stream in a pillowcase). Quite honestly, I can rarely be bothered/or have time to do this. Back in the day, myself and my old boyfriend made a nut roast from acorns and cobnuts which took us two full days of our lives over a simmering pot. Better to wait for the chestnuts. However, if you have a Holm Oak nearby, those acorns have a lot less tannin to get rid of, so are worth trying.
We also found a Red Cracked Bolete – not poisonous, not amazingly edible. Boletes are easy to recognise as most of the family (with a few exceptions) have pores like a sponge underneath instead of gills.
On the way back to the pub (always a good idea) I gave out tapas of Fermented Plantain (Plantago major) with Himalayan Balsam seeds. Lacto-fermentation needs a course all to itself, and it will get one…don’t get a fridge! turn plants into yoghurt instead!! Even better, you need virtually nothing except salt and a jam jar! Think ‘sauerkraut’ if you are confused.
We learnt about Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) and its’ pain relieving properties. Plus lots of other very distracting plants which I can’t remember now.
What didn’t work so well…the Rose Hip Crudites! We tried to squidge out the tangy paste in vain, which was a bit embarrassing (for me). It is just too early for them yet. I tried cheating by bletting them in my neighbour’s freezer, but it seems there is no cheating with rose hips…we will enjoy them after the first frosts!
We finished by finding some Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) which can improve the condition of your skin and hair as it contains silica.
Everyone enjoyed themselves and some of the folks have sent me pictures of foraged lunches they have made soon after!