Running your own foraging walk

 

If you are thinking about doing some foraging of your own then this is the post for you! A complete guide to make the most of your own forging walk.  The dos and don’ts and other tips to help you successfully forage and use all of the stuff you collect.

Equipment

It may sound odd but having the right tools to harvest what you are seeking is key to both your comfort and efficiency while foraging. Obviously, the exact equipment will vary depending on what your target plants but here’s a list of the things I always bring with me.

cropped-20170408160036

Bags are great for collecting leafy things. Small scissors are also a must.

Equipment List

  1. Scissors – These are crucial to harvest leafy plants such as nettles and wild garlic. They also help prevent damage to the plants’ root systems by reducing the need for pulling on plant stems.
  2. Bags and Containers – These allow you to transport your harvest home and store it, if necessary. I recommend bags for leafy items and containers for more fragile items such as berries.
  3. Gloves – Gardening gloves are best but even washing up gloves are better than nothing. This is particularly important when you are foraging for or near plants that sting or have thorns such as nettles or brambles.
  4. Plant Identification Guide – This is important so that you can as sure as possible that what you’re picking is the tasty stuff rather than the potentially poisonous stuff!

Location

Choosing the right location for your foraging walk is key to its success. The areas that usually work best are places with a high density of diverse habitats. This gives you the best chance of finding the greatest variety of plants to forage. It is best to do it on public land such as country parks – for example, Roslyn Glen Country Park.

roslin map

A map of where your foraging can help you navigate and see the areas of habitat best for foraging different species.(http://burdigala777.canalblog.com/archives/2011/04/10/20857763.html)

Plan

Before setting out on your foraging walk think about what you plan to forage and what you will use it for. The seasonal nature of foraging means that what is available is always changing – so make sure you check what is in season. You can find this info on my first blog post “In the beginning”. It’s also important to plan what you will do with what you collect. There’s very little point in taking things you have no use for. This simply involves looking up recipes online or for the very adventurous trying to create your own recipes with foraged produce.

brambles.png

Stronger containers work better for berries as they protect them for damage

Rules

This may sound dull but there are some key rules to remember when foraging.

  1. Never pick and eat something unless you know it’s safe to eat. This is important for your safety.
  2. Only take what you will use. This helps protect foraged environments from over harvesting and reduces food waste and you’ll have less carry. Everyone wins!
  3. Don’t remove plants from the ground. This allows plants to regrow and recover and prevents unnecessary environmental damage and erosion.

That’s just about all you need to know to have your own foraging walk. Happy foraging!

Cooking Up a Storm

The cookery class was held in the large, airy and bright kitchen in Priestfields Parish Church. I woke early to go and collect the nettles for that day’s soup-making – off to the Hermitage of Braid Park. It was bright and sunny as I cycled round the shops collecting the last few ingredients. I arrived at the church to set up half an hour early. I had six people attending, so set up three workstations with all of the ingredients they needed. As people began to arrive, I was pleased to see that a diverse group had turned up – students, a PhD tutor, someone on their gap year and an NHS worker. Everyone was paired up and the cooking began!

better ingredients

Everything you’ll need!

If you want to try doing this at home then simply follow the recipe below.

Nettle Soup Recipe

Ingredients

Nettles – 10 cups

Leeks – 3 Large

Oat cream – 2 cartons

Olive oil – 1 splash

Stock cubes – 2

Directions

Step 1 – Cook down the leeks in a large pan with the oil until soft.

Step 2 – Meanwhile, prepare the nettles by removing the leaves from the stems and wash the leaves thoroughly.

Step 3 – Add the nettles to the leeks.

Step 4 – Cook these down then add the stock and then the oat cream and cook on a medium heat for 20 minutes.

Step 5 – Blend using a hand blender.

Step 6 – Either enjoy immediately topped with garlic pesto or chill and enjoy later.

 

Garlic Pesto Recipe

Ingredients

Wild garlic leaves – 100g

Sunflower seeds – 3 tablespoons

Olive oil – 3 tablespoons

Lemon juice – 1 teaspoon (or a foraged alternative: sorrel – 10 leaves)

Salt – 1 teaspoon

Directions

Step 1 – Grind all of the ingredients into a smooth pesto. This is best achieved in a food processor. If using a mortar and pestle, grind the seeds first and the add all of the other ingredients.

Step 2 – Put the pesto in an air-tight container and store in the fridge if you are not using it immediately.

nettle prep

Nettle prep and pesto making

We started prepping the nettles by removing the tough stems and leaving the tender young leaves (with gloves on of course). We discussed how healthy nettles are with similar nutritional properties to spinach with high levels of vitamins A, C, and also protein & iron. Preparing nettles is quite time consuming even with 2 pairs of hands but everyone worked well and we were soon washing the nettles thoroughly in some large colanders. This is crucial to remove any insects and clean the nettle of anything else that they might have picked up before you picked them. While we were doing this, the leeks were simmering away. Soon the nettles were added, cooking them down and destroying all of the potency in their stings.

leeks

Leeks waiting to meet some nettles

While the soup was cooking, everyone started work on their wild garlic pesto. Surprisingly, this turned out to be the more difficult activity of the afternoon. Everyone chopped up their garlic leaves and placed everything in the mortar and pestle. However, one of the cooks discovered that a better method was to grind the seeds first and then slowly add the wild garlic. This gave a smoother pesto with a better texture.

pesto making

Pesto progress!

With the additions of oat cream and stock, the three large pots of soup cooking on the stove were starting to smell very good indeed. The soup was cooked for a further 20 minutes and then it was time for the tasting! Everyone grabbed a bowl and tucked in – everyone enjoyed the taste. “Unusual but not unpleasant“. Probably because no one had eaten nettles before and it was a totally new flavour to them.

tasting

The moment of truth

After the workshop, I emailed surveys to the foragers and cooks asking what they thought of the respective events and what they thought they had got out of it.

I thought the cooking class was a great follow up to the foraging walk. It allowed me to use the materials I gathered in a really practical setting.

I enjoyed the class because it showed how you could use foraged ingredients to make delicious food at home. It has encouraged me to try more foraging and cook with what I find.

I’m delighted people enjoyed my workshop because I certainly did! For all of you that didn’t make it along I hope this post gives you the courage to try making nettle soup at home.

Fruits (well leaves) of the forest

roslin glen

View down into Roslin Glen at the start of the walk 

Starting Off

It was a sunny and very pleasant Friday afternoon when we set out on our foraging walk. Winter had appeared to finally have desisted and spring was definitely in the air. I was looking forward finally getting out and seeing what the woods in Roslyn glen had to offer. It was a slow bus but by the time we were passed the by-pass the city had faded to countryside and it felt like we had really escaped the confines of Edinburgh. We waited outside Rosslyn chapel where the rest of the group joined us.

The Finding Begins 

From the second we set off I could already see plenty to forage with the road verge leading to the glen was clocked in wild garlic with its bright leaves and white flowers. We reached the entrance to the glen which gave us a great view of the woodland down to the stream at the bottom of the glen. The glen is a particularly good foraging spot because of the diversity of habitats in a small area. There are open areas good for sorrel and gorse while more wooded areas provide an abundance of wild garlic with the forest edges being best for nettles.

gorse

The yellow gorse flowers can be used to infuse flavour in thing like tea and ice cream!

Meadow Delight better finding sorrell

Sorrel was the tastiest thing we found on our walk (I think so anyway!)

We started in the more open areas were we quickly came across a patch of nettles. They were still quite young which was ideal as this is when they are most tender and best for cooking. While we picked the nettles I noticed a flowering wild strawberry right next to the nettle patch. This was just one of the things I saw that will soon be ripe to be foraged as well some others were elder flowers, raspberry plant and brambles. After we’d pick picked our fill of nettles we continued the walk and quickly came across some gorse bushes in full bloom. We picked some of the flowers which can be used to make tea and if you’re very ambitious to flavour ice cream. Gorse has a characteristic coconut smell which was commented on by many of the group.

elder flower

The elder tree (on the right) will soon be covered in fragrant flower and later berries

Into the Woods

After the gorse we walk further into an area of meadow where we quickly came across sorrel. This small plant is not very well known but is in my opinion one of the nicest and tastiest herbs you can find in Scotland. It has a lemony, sour apple sort of taste which work well as a replacement for lemon. It can be used in salads and works well with fish. I also enjoy eating it just as it is while I’m foraging. Following our brief sorrel snack we walked down into the woods. We were greeted there by a sea of wild garlic. Wild garlic leaves are a potent substitute for shop bought bulbs and can be directly substituted in most recipes or used to make wild garlic pesto. It can also be frozen and then used throughout the year. This helps extend its short season which runs late March to late May.better wild garlic

Wild garlic as far as the foraging eye can see

We ended the walk with a wonder around the castle ruins which were also covered in wild garlic. After which we head back to the bus laden with all our foraged goodies.

In the beginning

I’m writing this blog to show everyone that outside, not that far away from you, right now (probably) is something you can eat completely free and all you have to do is go out and find it! I’m not saying that you can eat it straight away or that it will always be easy to find but if you look and persevere, foraging can be one of the most rewarding and filling things you can do.

I’ll start with me. I’m a fourth year ecologist at Edinburgh University. I’ve always loved being outside particularly in the forest. I also love food either the making or baking of it and the inevitable consumption. Anyway this blog going to aim to teach about when to forage what and why. Then I’ll be sharing ways of using the things you find. Probably to make tasty food or though it may be to make entirely frivolous like a wreath instead.

This first post is going to outline all the different thing you can forage seasonally in Scotland. So here goes.

Spring

IMG_20170501_121752051_HDR

Spring is a time of new leaves and in the foraging world the term spring greens really applies. There is a great variety with nettles, wild garlic, goosegrass, dandelions, and even Japanese knotweed!

Summer

IMG_20170726_184736177_HDR

Early summer is a time for flowers which can often be infused into this to add colour and flavor to food. These flowers range from coconut tones of gorse to fragrant elderflower. While late summer is a time for berries with raspberries, wild strawberries, and blaeberries all being abundant. These berries can all be used for a wide range of jams, crumbles, and pies.

Autumn

20171020220645

Autumn again is a time of plenty with many berries and nut ripening in abundance. Some of the things on offer are beech nuts, sloes, brambles, rose hips, crab apples and sweet chestnuts.  

Winter

20171213040517

Winter may be a more challenging time for foraging however many of the thing that can be found in autumn are still around into January. Otherwise there are many things you can use to spruce up your home just as collecting willow and holly to use for wreath making.

I hope this post has given you a flavour of what this blog is going to be all about and I’ll be back soon with some of my own foraging experiences and recipes!

(all photos my own)