I am a keen vegetable and herb grower, but also love to forage. Foraging is not only a useful add on but requires none of the investment of growing which can involve heart-breaking failures despite the gardener's very best efforts.
In the springtime, the hedgerows and fields abound with nutritious, cleansing leaves, all for free! Here in Cornwall I only have to walk into my lane to collect a bowl of herbs and leaves, so much better than the bags of bleach rinsed leaves from the supermarkets.
Foraging can be thought of as a merry go round. As I write this is late March, the ramsons (wild garlic) are in leaf but not yet in flower, so an ideal time to gather them and blend them into a fantastic pesto with so many uses and really inexpensive to make. Once the trees come into leaf they will quickly go over and the window of opportunity will be lost. The pesto will keep for a few weeks in the cool, with a layer of oil on top, and the fresh leaves can also be frozen for later use.
Wild Garlic Pesto Recipe
50g leaves (Ramsons, three cornered leek or any surplus leafy herbs you have)
30g hard cheese
30g nuts e.g. cashew nuts
80mls olive oil
Salt to taste.
Blitz everything except the oil in a food processor or by hand with a pestle and mortar. Drizzle the oil in to the mix, pot up into sterilised jars and put a layer of oil on the top. It will last a few weeks like this or can be frozen.
Take nettles; there are so many uses that they can be put to and during the war and before were highly valued. The young tips are full of iron and can be made into soup, pesto, salsa and much more, with the stings disappearing in the processing. The stems contain a fibre which can be made into string, and the whole plant yields a lovely bright yellow dye. Nettles are a great food source for the larvae of several butterflies, and if you coppice them off when they get tough later in the season, they grow again.
I am very keen on collecting store cupboard medicines to dry and have to hand in the winter. Meadowsweet is prolific in damp places and the whole plant contains salicylic acid - a natural, mild form of 'aspirin'. Add to elder flowers which are an anti-inflammatory and decongestant, and create a free and natural alternative to the many branded and expensive cold remedies on sale. Between the food for free and collecting your own herbs for remedies, learning to forage is a great experience of taking back our own power, rather than being fed what the food and drug companies want us to buy.
A vital part of foraging is accurate plant identification and I am really keen to inspire people to go forth and develop their field skills. I suggest setting yourself some modest targets and learn a few more plants every year with the aid of the many good floras and web resources out there. Getting to know your own patch has a lot to commend it so that you can strike forth from your home with confidence. There is also the prospect of trips out to collect special treats such as elderflowers in May or a trip to the seashore for seaweeds, samphire and sea beet.
I hope this taste of foraging will set you on a path of reclaiming the knowledge and skills that would once have been natural to all of us, and to avail ourselves of "Nature's Larder".
Foraging courses at The Sustainability Centre: www.sustainability-centre.org/medicinal-herb-workshops.html