Category Archives: foraging

the forager’s diary: spring (april) salad, dartmoor

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Well, the grass is ris and the bird is on the wing. So time for a wander around the surrounding woodland margins to see what detoxifying superfood salad I can forage from the new spring shoots.

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Clockwise from midday: jack-by-the-hedge (garlic-mustard), pennywort, chickweed, dandelion leaves and flowers, cow parsley, daisy, young beech leaves, young hawthorn leaves, sweet cecily, greater plantain, common sorrel, pink purslane and flowers, primrose and flowers. Then garnished with roughly chopped spruce buds. 14 plants in all.

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Jack by the hedge gives a garlic-mustard kick, pennywort a fleshy mange-tout, chickweed tastes of mild lettuce, dandelion a nice bitter kick from the lettuce-like leaves, with its dismembered florets run through the salad for colour. Cow parsley is also called wild chervil and has the vague spiciness of its garden cousin, daisy is for garnish, beech leaves have a slightly bitter, nutty and lemony twist, plantain has a slight bitterness too, but more in a tannic way, the young hawthorn also has a nutty, astringent bite to it and a background of almond, sweet cecily is sweet and aniseed, sorrel is all tart lemon and the pink purslane a wonderful earthy beetroot. Finally primrose has a turkish delight or rosewater quality to it that balances the whole salad. The final garnish of spruce buds gives a bright lemony dressing to the ensemble. This salad packs a punch. Washed down with a fresh, new season cider. Perfect.

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survival hall of fame: the birch polypore fungus

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Piptoporus betulinus, is also known as the birch polypore or razor strop fungus. It is one of the most common polyporous bracket fungi and grows almost exclusively on birch trees. It is therefore an inhabitant of northern forests around the world. And as such an ideal resource for those travelling in the wilderness.

Its bracket-like fruiting bodies can last for more than year and although it is classed as inedible (due to its toughness and bitterness) it is medicinal and has been used both externally as a ‘band-aid’ and topical application for inflamation and internally, as a tea, for a range of conditions including whipworm.

The surface and the layer beneath the surface has been widely used to put the fine finishing edge on a razor, a knife or an axe. In fact cutting these will dull your blade quite quickly.

This was the fungus that was carried by “Ötzi the Iceman” – the 5,000 year old mummy found in the Tyrol – and points to its long-standing use in fire-lighting. It can also be used as a ‘smudge’ (as in smudge stick or smudge pot) as it smoulders, giving off a pungent smoke that effectively repels insects.

Due to the host of uses this fungus surely deserves to a place in the Wilderness Guide’s Survival Hall of Fame.

As a plaster

The fungus has anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-septic, anti-inflammatory and absorbant properties that when used externally can make it a useful plaster for small cuts and abrasions.

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As a blade strop

Slice the fungus, dry it and either use as is or fix it to a board or backing. Here a piece is glued to the back of my bow-drill hearth-board.

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As a tinder

Either finely flaked, powdered or sliced it takes a spark from a modern firesteel.

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Or as an insect-repelling smudge

Either sliced finely of even used as a thick block BPF smoulders and gives off quite a bit of thick smoke which has proven very effective to repel insects from an area. It needs a still, windless environment to work well. I have also noticed that there is a tar-like residue left on the pot/dish after burning which points to it containing tar, which might have possibly been sequestered from the birch itself and its oil-rich bark.

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rosehip syrup (2)

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rosie pink delight

I recently came across a Ministry of Food (1943) recipe for Rose Syrup. During WW2, rationing made for more imaginative ways of getting your nutrition. Their pamplet Hedgrow Harvest encouraged people to make the most use of this free source of vitimin C. Rose Hips have up to 20 times more VitC than oranges. It also contains vitamins A, D and E, and antioxidants.

Easy to make, this versatile syrup can be used as a pour-over on ice-cream, pancakes or waffles, as an addition to fizz to make a ‘kir’, frozen as fancy ice cubes for a cocktail or as a hot or cold cordial to keep winter colds at bay.

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A good tip is to wait until a hard frost has softened and ‘sweetened’ the hips. Alternatively you can freeze them first before preparing the syrup.

  • 1lb rosehips, washed and chopped
  • 1lb caster sugar
  • 2 + 1 pints of water

You can scale this up or down depending on how many rosehips you have

You will also need a muslin bag (or a cotton cloth and a sieve)

  1. Put two pints of water in a large pan and bring to the boil.
  2. Boil rosehips – don’t boil them too hard. You can place them in, bring to a boil, let simmer for a few minutes then put to one side to allow to soften. To make this easier you might eant to first chop the hips.
  3. Mash the soft hips. Add some extra water to loosen the mixture so it will go through a sieve more easily
  4. Initially strain the mixture through a seive and by forcing it though with the back of a ladle
  5. Then take the remaining pulp in the seive and strain it through a muslin or place a fine cotton cloth. Make sure none of he pulp with the rosehip ‘hairs’ get into your extracted juice. You don’t want to be eating them as they are an irritant.
  6. You now have a choice to skip this step or filter the liquid through a paper coffee filter to clarify it. You can skip this step if you want.
  7. Take the free-run juice, return to the pan and bring to a near boil –  this is to re-sterilise it
  8. Add sugar and ensure it has dissolved.
  9. Decant into sterile bottles. Cork.

Store in a dark place.
This juice only lasts about a week or three once opened. After opening keep in fridge

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boiled and mashed hips

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extra water added to loosen pulp then seived

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strained through a cloth

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add sugar to the juice.

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rosehup syrup on pancakes!


foraging – a special selection

To celebrate over 400 pages of posts and 55,000 visits to Mark the Wilderness Guide I will be publishing a selection of postings on various subjects – all in one place – to browse. These postings and articles date back a couple of years. Every few days a new selection on a different subject will be posted. Today it is ‘foraging’.

  1. on that green blur outside
  2. the gatherer
  3. book review: the hunter-gatherer way
  4. the forager’s wild food diary – spider crab, prawn, winkle, dog whelk and limpet
  5. the forager’s wild food diary – July 21st south devon coast
  6. a forage with a food, wine and travel writer
  7. the forager’s wild food diary – 9th May: riverine and urban fringe forage
  8. active dartmoor foraging feature – blog version
  9. wildcraft perspectives: gathering and foraging
  10. ‘black’ plantain porridge
  11. pendulus sedge bread
  12. hazel milk and hazel cookies
  13. magical rowan
  14. budleigh forage day
  15. sea-beet spanakopita
  16. spider crab, laver and oat patties
  17. steamed and buttered samphire
  18. soused sea purslane
  19. sugar kelp crisps
  20. spring-infused spirits
  21. primrose and dandelion wine
  22. ground elder soup
  23. grandpa’s nettle beer
  24. bittercress soup and Bittercress, Sorrel, Dandelion, Cat’s Ear, Primrose and Nettle Soup
  25. alexander root soup, salad and tisane
  26. birch syrup
  27. douglas fir vodka, soda, birch sap and sweet cecily ice-cubes
  28. trout baked with alexander leaves in a goosegrass bundle and garnished with wood sorrel, served with a wild garlic, bittercress and common sorrel salsa verde, steamed alexander stems and a navelwort salad
  29. young hogweed fried in toasted sesame oil and oak-smoked welsh salt; steamed and buttered chickweed, cleavers and golden saxifrage; pesto of wavy bittercress, swine-cress, charlock, sorrel and wild chervil; and salad of sorrel, navelwort, daisy, hawkbit, lamb’s lettuce, bittercress, nipplewort, wild chervil lightly dressed in a rapeseed and cider vinegar dressing.
  30. dried douglas fir tea
  31. tapping birch for spring sap
  32. christmas tree vodka
  33. winter rosehip syrup
  34. wild service tree jam
  35. breasting a pigeon
  36. late summer forage in the axe valley
  37. laver breakfast patties
  38. lime tree tea
  39. darwin’s barberry jelly
  40. bilberry jam
  41. hudson bay company spruce beer
  42. gorse flower wine
  43. beech leaf noyau
  44. limpet and crispy seaweed on sourdough
  45. moor food than meets the eye
  46. for evergreen tea
  47. roasting cat-tail root
  48. cleaver coffee
  49. acorn coffee
  50. hawthorn & rose turkish delight
  51. wild cannelini
  52. elderflower champagne
  53. steamed wild hop tips with butter
  54. ramson salsa verde and pickled buds
  55. sycamore sap tapping

‘black’ plantain porridge

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Greater or broadleaf plantain (Plantago major) is a species of Plantago, family Plantaginaceae. It is native to most of Europe and northern and central Asia, but has widely naturalised elsewhere in the world. In north America, the habit of the seeds to lodge in the soles of boots gave its name ‘white man’s footsteps’ by Native Americans because it seemed to sprout up wherever ‘white man’ went.

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Greater Plantain is one of the most abundant medicinal crops in the world. A poultice of the leaves can be applied to wounds, stings, and sores in order to encourage healing and prevent infection. The active constituents are a anti-microbial agent, a chemical that stimulates cellular growth and tissue regeneration and mucilage (which reduces pain and discomfort). Plantain has astringent properties, and a tea made from the leaves can be drunk to treat diarrhea and soothe internal membranes. It is its anti-histamine qualities that makes it great for nettle and wasp/bee stings.

Broadleaf plantain is also a very nutritious wild edible, that is high in calcium and vitamins A, C, and K. The young leaves can be eaten raw and as they get tougher and stringier when they are older then can be added to a potage.

It is however the seed that it of interest to me today. One of the qualities of the seed is that is develops a mucilage around the outside and looks a bit like dark tapioca pearls when cooked. You can grind the seed (very hard) to make a flour to add as a bulking agent, you can use it as a thickener in soups or stews or you can make it into a nutrious porridge.

It is a very easy process.

Here is a step by step guide.

  • Pick and dry plantain seed heads

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  • When they are dry they are easy to de-husk. You can use the husk as a fibre addition to your diet but it is pretty insoluable.

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  • After winnowing and separating the seed from the chaff – either by tossing in the air, putting through a sieve or swirling in a bowl to separate the heavier grains from the husks

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  • You can lightly grind the seeds which helps release the mucilage when whater is added  – but they are tough to do – or just proceed onto the next step.
  • Add boiling water and/or heat with water in a pot. If you are making a savoury ‘gruel’ then you can use some flavoured, salted stock instead of water.
  • You will see that the water is absorbed and the mucilage forms on the outside of the grains.

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  • You are left with a dark  or ‘black’ porridge.
  • Add some flavour – sugar/syrup, salt, butter/cream.
  • The flavour is immediately a little (very, very slightly) ummmm…seaweedy….but this soon dissappears (or you get used to it!) and what you have is an interesting and nutrious porridge not unlike a flax porridge or something made from polenta but with the texture of slightly crunchy tapioca pearls.

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Disclaimer – This article is NOT telling you to go out and eat wild plants without proper instruction! DO NOT use this article as a guide as to what is safe for you or others to eat. Learn from other sources and know absolutely (110%) what you are picking and consuming and what affect it might have on you and others – before you go off and test your knowledge! The author accepts no responsibility for any errors or omissions in this article. Eating wild plants is entirely at your own risk. Just because I have eaten them and/or they are mentioned in this article does not mean that they are safe for anyone to eat. Do not feed wild plants to other people without taking the necessary precautions.


pendulus sedge bread

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Pendulus Sedge (Carex Pendula) is often seen in woodland, scrub and along watercourses. Sometimes you can come across large swathes of them. Which is useful because the seed – or grain – is edible and easily harvested. Our hunter-gather ancestors may have harvested the seeds from this plant in a past when it was damper: ideal conditions for the plant. It is one of the few seeded plants that is very easy to harvest; simply running your hand along the flower head is enough. Another advantage of this grain is that it does not suffer, like many grasses, from the dangerous ergot fungus so it is less risky to harvest.

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Not wanting to just harvest it and make into ‘worthy’ (ie: hair shirt wearing) damper bread I decided to make it into a mini-loaf with the addition of allowing wild yeasts to let it ferment. Easier though I expect is to use some commercial yeast to get it going.

Here is a step-by-step guide to processing this useful and delicious plant.

  • Harvest the grains

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  •       Parch (heat/singe) the grains so the husks loosen

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  • Rub vigourously between your hands using a ‘hand wringing’ motion concentrating on using the ‘heels’ of your palm. This will release the inner ‘nut’

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  • Then separate the ‘wheat’ from the ‘chaff’ by tossing into the air and letting the light kernal blow away in the breeze and the heavier ‘nut’ falling back into your recepticle.

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  • Grind the remaining seed using a pestle and mortar or a grinding stone to make a flour

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  • Add some water and leave (if you want wild yeasts to take hold) – otherwise add some bakers yeast. Add some salt if you have some after the yeast has become active.
  • Mix and kneed for a couple of minutes until the (limited) glutens are released then add some fat (oil, lard, dripping, butter)
  • Kneed for a further 5 minutes.
  • Form into a loaf or bun and cover with something so it does not dry out then bake in dutch oven (like this)
  • Enjoy!

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Disclaimer – This article is NOT telling you to go out and eat wild plants without proper instruction! DO NOT use this article as a guide as to what is safe for you or others to eat. Learn from other sources and know absolutely (110%) what you are picking and consuming and what affect it might have on you and others – before you go off and test your knowledge! The author accepts no responsibility for any errors or omissions in this article. Eating wild plants is entirely at your own risk. Just because I have eaten them and/or they are mentioned in this article does not mean that they are safe for anyone to eat. Do not feed wild plants to other people without taking the necessary precautions.


hazel milk and hazel cookies

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Cob nuts or hazelnuts are commonplace at this time of year along the leafy lanes of Dartmoor. If the squirrels have not got to them already then the odds are that those are left behind are empty in their shells. However if you strike lucky you will have found an amazing food. This nut would have been a staple food for our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Nuts were an extremely important survival food giving huge quantities of the necessary calories and rich in fats, carbs and proteins with a whole range of useful vitamins and minerals – useful for the impending onset of winter.

But don’t just shell them and eat them. You can make a delicious nut milk and also make cookies with the leftovers.

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Here is a step-by-step guide:

Shell the nuts and crush them finely with a pestle and mortar. The finer and more granular the better. Although cheating (a bit!) you can more effectively get them to a fine grit by using a blender.

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Add water (a litre/quart per 100g of shelled nuts or less water if you want a richer milk). Mix and macerate. If the grind is quite course then leaving it to soak for several hours in a corked/stoppered bottle that you can vigorously shake occasionally may be your best option. The result will probably be a grey-brown milk liquid.

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Strain through muslin and you will be left with a lovely, slightly off white milk. You can sweeten with honey or a birch/maple syrup if you like.

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Don’t throw away the remaining solid matter. Make sure it is thoroughly squeezed out and not too moist. Then add a knob of hard fat (lard, dripping, butter) and a good dollop of honey, maple syrup or in this instance some home-made birch syrup.

Mix, shape into thin cookies and cook in a dutch oven, over the campfire, or in your kitchen until golden brown.

The result of all that shelling is a delicious bedtime glass of milk and a couple of cookies.

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Disclaimer – This article is NOT telling you to go out and eat wild plants without proper instruction! DO NOT use this article as a guide as to what is safe for you or others to eat. Learn from other sources and know absolutely (110%) what you are picking and consuming and what affect it might have on you and others – before you go off and test your knowledge! The author accepts no responsibility for any errors or omissions in this article. Eating wild plants is entirely at your own risk. Just because I have eaten them and/or they are mentioned in this article does not mean that they are safe for anyone to eat. Do not feed wild plants to other people without taking the necessary precautions.


magical rowan

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This time of year I really notice the Rowan or Mountain Ash. Probably because of its garishly bright red berries. I should pay more attention to it because it is one of those rare companions of the high moorland that I find myself passing, leaning against or camping under. It is our highest (altitude) growing deciduous tree. Finding the cold, windswept slopes a place few others dare to call home.

Rowan is a member of the Sorbus species, a sub-set of the Rosaceae (Rose) family and relation to the Malus (Apple). If you look closely you will see the fruits are like tiny apples in shape and form. Rowan’s closest relatives are the Whitebeams and the Service Trees. All three of these species have had their fruits used as foods. Rowan contains the alcohol sugar sorbitol.

In certain far flung places they will make or infuse wine with the berries. They can have quite an astringent quality about them. For this reason I tend to make a jelly with them to go with cold cuts of meat. The sweetness and the astringency acting a foil for game or goose or fatty pork.

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The berries over here on Dartmoor ripen end of September and early October. Having the first frost on them (if possible) helps moderate the bitterness of the berries. However you can freeze the berries (or freeze the subsequent juice) to the same effect, because sometimes waiting for the first frost will mean all the berries have been eaten by the birds! However many do not bother with freezing and just go ahead an appreciate the tartness of the final jelly.

The recipe is simple. Take your harvest, put in pan and put just enough water in to cover 3/4 of the berries. Chuck in a couple of diced apples or apple cores for added pectin. Cover and boil until soft and mushy. Remove and strain through muslin. Measure the juice and add around the same again in sugar so you have a 50:50 mix (the proportion of sugar will increase as you further reduce volume through boiling). Boil/simmer until it starts to get viscous then on a chilled plate (put a couple of plates in a cold place like the freezer or outdoors and rotate using them as testers) and then place a small dash of the liquid on the plate, leave it for a minute in a cool place (outside or the fridge) and push it with your finger to see if it wrinkles as it sets and forms a skin.) Continue using cold plates until it does. If it does this obviously then it is ready to ‘bottle’ into sterilised jars. Simple!jams-etc_20130912050311456

The leaves of the Rowan look a bit like Ash (hence the name Mountain Ash), and the wood is similarly tough and flexible. Here I am making a use of these qualities by making a quick wilderness bowsaw:

But it is its finer grain, its smoother, harder, denser and altogether more beautiful qualities that I like the most. It makes for a great carving wood, as you can see here with this ‘barley twist’ coffee spoon.

Of course you are not restricted to just carving spoons. Due to the trees ability to ward off spirits of evil intent it makes an excellent magical wand too!


budleigh forage day

Budleigh Salterton, on the the mouth of the River Otter is quite possibly one of the best places for subsistence hunting and gathering.

The combination of rich sea life (at this time of year the mackerel are fairly hopping out onto the beach and sea bass are easy pickings even with a carefully cast hobo line on the turn of the incoming tide), the seaweed draped rock shelf, the crab and prawn rock pools of the intertidal zone, the salt marsh succulents, and the fruitiful banks of the river otter are all close to hand. In the space of a single mile there is enough to support a small community from foraging alone.

I can really imagine early man settling here then moving upstream to colonise the hinterland.

Today was a very special day. I took two clients out, Penny & Pete, for an afternoon of foraging and cooking. This was our stage. And wasn’t it wonderful! The feedback was excellent:

“We didn’t just enjoy yesterday we had an AMAZING day,  thank you sooo much! We both feel we’ve learnt alot & will certainly put the information you gave us to good use & carry on foraging”

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I served a four course lunch with appetisers:

  • Nettle beer with a selection of seaweed crisps (sugar kelp, dulse and gutweed)
  • Spanakopita of filo, feta, water mint, wild spinach, wild watercress, fat hen, common sorrel, crow garlic and dandelion
  • Wavy and wood bittercress soup
  • Smoked oat and purple laver patties with maple syrup
  • Caragheen and vanilla panna cotta

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Later that day we snacked on sea purslane, samphire and lightly steamed sea beet.

Here is the list of some of the flora and fauna we spotted, picked (or in some cases avoided!). Quite a few species were passed over because we did not have enough time.

  1. Hottentot Fig – buds and leaves
  2. Pineapple Mayweed – leaves
  3. Goji berry or Wolfberry or Duke of Argyll’s Tea Plant – fruit
  4. Burdock – root
  5. Common Mallow – leaves and seed cheeses
  6. Horseradish – root and leaves
  7. Black Mustard – leaves and seeds
  8. Alexanders – roots, leaves, seeds
  9. Blackthorn – fruits (mainly) – but other parts used
  10. Dog Rose – petals and hips
  11. Hawthorn – fruits and young leaves and flowers
  12. Field Madder + Cleavers – ink and also as a member of the coffee family the cleaver burrs can be used to make an apple scented coffee – will send you a link)
  13. Oak Galls  – oak gall ink
  14. Yarrow – leaves
  15. Meadowsweet – roots, leaves, flowers
  16. Comfrey (Knitbone) – avoid internal use now
  17. Great Willowherb – look for Rosebay Willowherb, much more useful
  18. Water Mint – leaves)
  19. Greater Plantain – leaves and seeds
  20. Hogweed (care needed) – young shoots, unfurled heads and and young leaves
  21. Fat Hen – leaves
  22. Black Nightshade (poisonous)
  23. Field Penny Cress – leaves
  24. Marsh Woundwort (not edible)
  25. Hemlock Water Dropwort (v. poisonous)
  26. Wild Carrot – root
  27. Chicory / Endive – root
  28. Sycamore (Sap – which I use to make beer or syrup etc.)
  29. Scots Pine/Coastal Pine (needle tea)
  30. Rock Samphire (great for stuffing into fish – it can be pickled but very strong flavour)
  31. Gutweed (edible seaweed)
  32. Sugar Kelp(edible seaweed)
  33. Purple Laver(edible seaweed)
  34. Sea Lettuce(edible seaweed)
  35. Toothed Wrack (edible but a bit tough)
  36. Winkle (shellfish)
  37. Dog Whelk (shellfish)
  38. Limpet (shellfish)
  39. Carragheen (edible seaweed – to be used as a thickener/gelatine though)
  40. Sea Beet (Wild Spinach) – leaves and root
  41. Sea Purslane – leaves
  42. Glasswort (Samphire) – stem
  43. Annual sea blight – leaves
  44. Sea Aster – leaves

Various dishes have been made from the produce of this foraging environment – just demonstrating the breadth of what it has to offer. These are listed here:

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the forager’s wild food diary – July 21st south devon coast

Yesterday was a fantastic opportunity to get to the South Coast. A sweltering 29 degrees (C) meant the moderating influence of the coast was much sought after. This time we headed for Budleigh Salterton with its shingle beach, rock shelf and salt marsh – right at the mouth of the River Otter. This kind of place is almost perfect foraging – there are a number of different habitats all of which have the potential to yield food for most of the year. The sea, the inter-tidal zone, the area just above the high tide mark, the salt marsh and the river with its banks meandering inland. All bordered by grassland and woodland.

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Today we hit the rock pools at low tide – skipping the shellfish because of the warmth of the weather (there are many mussles, winkles, dog whelks and limpets to be had). Prawns were harvested from the seaweed margins of the rock pools. Sugar Kelp, Dulse, Sea Lettuce, Laver, Carageenan (Irish Moss) and False Irish Moss were foraged in quantity for various planned dishes. As the tide came back in we reteated to higher ground and picked sea purlsane, annual sea blight and marsh samphire (glasswort) from the saltmarsh along. To rounds things off we headed briefly inland picking some common orache, some elderflower, some rose petals, crow garlic, wild carrot, hottentot figs and some meadowsweet.

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Back home I set to creating a range of appetisers, snacks and dishes from the forage – links to the dishes and recipes are below.

Panna Cotta