Yesterday this gorgeous book dropped into my postbox: Forage by Liz Knight. Part plant guide part cookbook, the lovely thing about this book is that it shares an infectious sense of curiosity and wonder about the delicious wild treasures to be found right under our feet. I have already learnt a lot from Liz even before her book came out: her Instagram videos don't just reveal amazing wild plant secrets (did you know nettle seeds are a delicacy?) but are also a masterclass on how to be fully down-to-earth-yourself when talking to a camera (I hope I can pull that off myself one day!)
I have been teaching myself how to forage for a while now - sadly this was not a skill my parents/grandparents knew how to teach me, even though in Greece wild greens (horta) are still eaten very commonly. It wasn't until I found myself surrounded by the lush hedgrows of rural North Wales that I started noticing the abundance of wild plants popping up everywhere through the seasons. And I couldn't help wanting to know what they are... and how they can be used as food or medicine. While it would have been so much better to learn from a mentor this hasn't been possible in my case, so I have practiced with the help of books and videos.
One thing I learned on this journey: there is no need to fear the wild as long as you remember to respect the power of nature. Sure, some plants and mushrooms are indeed poisonous, even deadly. And sometimes they grow right next to a perfectly edible lookalike. So being vague about your identification is just not good enough. So I have some rules: I need to confidently identify every single stem I pick, not just the 'patch' I gather from. And I never eat something that I'm not 200% sure of. So this a slow process... to 'learn' a new plant usually takes me weeks of looking and checking and learning and looking again more closely. But this carefully fearless attitude has brought me much joy and excitement in picking and eating both mushrooms and greens. Instead of avoiding the possible dangers of foraging I learned to triple check everything twice - because the thing is, if you learn what to look for (or rather, what several things to look for) it is quite easy to tell apart even the lookalikes.
Disclaimer: I do not recommend you gather anything unless you know what you are doing. Always do your homework and be respectful of nature and your environment.
True, the whole procedure of learning, searching, finding, identifying and picking takes some time. But it is exactly that effort you put into 'making dinner happen' that brings so much more excitement, fun and joy to cooking - and eating: there is something about 'working for your dinner' that makes it so much more exhilarating and satisfying. And I suspect the adventure of trying something new adds to the thrill too.
But... you don't need to forage to experience that kind of excitement in the kitchen. Approach all your cooking with the curious eyes of a forager, open yourself up to new experiences and appreciate the little extra effort that goes into preparing your meal with care. It makes everything taste so much more exciting because, in the end, it's all about the journey!
Some of my favourite foraging resources:
Robin Harford www.eatweeds.co.uk
Liz Knight @foragefinefoods
River Cottage Handbooks: Hedgerow & Mushrooms