Foraging for free food

dandellion and other flowers

Food comes in many different packages these days if you purchase goods from a supermarket, the local store or even online via the world wide web, these can then be delivered straight to your door, there are many conveniences these differing shopping spaces offer. 

We all pretty much use some sort of mass-produced muti-branded conglomerate food and beverages – there is no getting away from this really due to our social and spatial then commercial ‘evolution’.

There is no need to entirely go this route, steps can be taken to lessen the load, from not only our pockets but as well from an environmental and personal standpoint, too.

How is this possible? Well, you know the saying “The world is your oyster”, literally that is what it means with encompassing the means to produce or collect your own food, there are many connotations of this and possibilities that may well need adhering to in certain times.

Home gardens and their produce are not only a therapeutic pastime, but they are also beneficial as what goes into the food is known (there are no nasty pesticides or additives if you grow from seed). Whether you have a few herbs on a windowsill or a full garden with a rotating harvest, whatever your level, it all adds up. 

If, right now you do not want to, or have the time to start a garden , let’s take a look at some easy to obtain food and beverage products from the outside worlds wild spaces around you – some of these foodstuffs are regional and seasonal, thus they are not available all the time so do your research with the growing spaces around you and availability. There are many forageable foods that can be sought and they vary from different edible plants to nuts, berries, spices, mushrooms, seaweed and shellfish.

Just a word of warning in that there are edible and inedible varieties, some taste amazing with natural textures, some are horrid to eat being entirely unpalatable, there are also poisonous varieties too! Don’t just go picking willy-nilly but research what you’d like to try, gain local knowledge if you can. Photos are good on the internet but in the wild with regional factors, everything can look a little different, even if just growing on a different type of soil.

Let’s start with common plants that can be found in some gardens, onto adjoining and then wild unkept natural (or manmade) greenspaces. 

  • Blackberries
  • Blackcurrants
  • Garlic (wild) Easily identified by just the smell alone
  • Gooseberries
  • Mint
  • Raspberries
  • Redcurrants
  • Sloes
  • Strawberries (wild)

You have probably seen some of the above and can identify those correctly, but just think of all the hidden unknown goodies just waiting to be foraged out there.

It is probably best to point out which foodstuffs are out in the wild and available now! (being October 2019) in the Northern hemisphere.

Beech (tree) nuts

Nuts from beech trees are ready to be harvested from copper and the normal green varieties. The nuts themselves are encased in a hard hairy husk, after cracking open the outer layer easily, the nut is inside. It can be eaten straight away raw, fried, added to soups, winter salads, complimenting stews being a versatile foodstuff.

Blackberry (Rubus and Idaeobatus)

Growing along hedgerows, alleys and alongside woodland plants and trees, blackberries are easily identifiable and a very immediate food source. When in a collective space, they are a group of bushes are referred to as ‘brambles’,  they are also called caneberry but this can mean both blackberries and raspberries. To differentiate between the two, when picking – the torus or stem stays with the fruit, with a raspberry a hole is left leaving a hollow core. They are relatives of each other so if you find both fruits be sure to pick them.

Blackberries and raspberries can be boiled down in jam, placed in tarts with apples, brown sugar and cinnamon or just eaten fresh, with cream if you are feeling extravagant. 

Dandelion (Taraxacum) 

These wildflowers, or weeds if you view them that way are very abundant particularly now as well as throughout the year. With long leaves and a bright yellow flower that turns to seed in the form of those plants as a child, you blew to disperse and make a wish.. The common name comes from French dent-de-lion, meaning “lion’s tooth” and is given to members of the genus.

All parts of the plant are edible including the roots, if you like, once cleaned of soil and washed under running water.

The leaves are peppery and can be added whole or chopped for salads, the flower can be used as a garnish and eaten too.

Elderberry (Sambucus)

Fruits from this tree are available in an abundance this time of year after flowering, they can be used in jams, cakes, gateaus and tarts. Elderberry wine can be made too, it has a light flowery taste.

Elderberries are rich in anthocyanidins, they combine to give elderberry juice its distinctive blue-purple colouration that turns red when it is diluted with water. These pigmants are used in the food industry as an organic allowed substance.

The ripe, cooked berries with their pulp and skin of most species of Sambucus are edible. Uncooked berries and other parts of the plant are poisonous; the leaves, twigs, bark, flowers, roots and berries produce cyanogenic glycosides that have toxic properties that if ingested in significant quantities and can have adverse effects such as nausea, weakness, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. 

Rowan (Tree) berries (Sorbus aucuparia)

Fruits of the European rowan tree can be picked and made into a slightly bitter jam on its own or with other fruits which are traditionally eaten as an accompaniment to game meat such as pheasant, rabbit and woodpigeon. It can be made into preserves and even used as a substitute for coffee and has many uses in alcoholic beverages to flavor liqueurs and cordials, to produce wine and even to flavor ale.  

The fruits should not be eaten raw as they contain parasorbic acid which causes indigestion and could lead to kidney damage. Heat treatment or even to a lesser extent, freezing, renders it non-toxic by changing the compound to benign sorbic acid.

If you collect them after a first frost, or place in the freezer when harvested; this greatly cuts down on the bitterness for their use.

Summary:

How many of the above five foodstuffs did you know about, what others are there out there you like to forage for? 

Thanks for reading, add your comments below!

Please do make sure you can positively identify the above or other plants and flowers BEFORE consumption, a Collins guide is available from Amazon to assist with this, the smaller field-sized guide is available from https://amzn.to/35fQXli with a hardcover version from https://amzn.to/2AO2Xws