Friday, 9 March 2012

Wild Food & Natural Resources Course - March - Set One

So, here you are with your first month of getting in to foraging. If you recall from A New Outdoor Diet, I am publishing a series of articles relating to my simple and progressive method of getting into foraging for wild food. Many people, including myself, have found that buying a bunch of books and hoping to absorb them whilst wandering around the woods and meadows is an epic fail waiting to happen. Not only can't you carry all the books, but having sat reading them all evening, you're filled with pictures of plants from all seasons, many of which are not even be anywhere near you.

The difference with this course is that I'm going give you a few things to look for each month with photos of what it looks like in that month. I'm choosing things that are all over the place, and in the first set, things that are almost impossible to get wrong, as far as confusion species go.

As each month progresses, you'll not only get a new set to look for, but be able to watch the progress of your previous sets. I'll ultimately be compiling an online database to map this, rather than littering the blog with a post per resource per month. Watch this space for a link.

As an aside, there is much to learn about nature, habitat and wildlife as well as just foraging and wild food. I'll be putting up two articles a month, each representing a set consisting of one plant, one tree and one edible fungus. Each of these will be a wild food, but also represent a useful natural resource. There will also be articles on habitat, weather, wildlife, food preservation, medicine, etc. I'll not be presenting each and every fact about the item in question, just enough to be absorbed, and more importantly - remembered.

If you're hardly out, try to keep to one set per month, if you're going out more often, try to take in both sets and if you're reading this a year or so later then there will be sets three, four and onward posted.

Righto, that's the waffle over, let's get down to it. Here's your first set for March.

Plant - Nettle

Stinging Nettle - Spring
The humble stinging nettle. Chances are you already now what these look like, but let's start to take notice of where they grow; most likely not in meadow or in woodland, but on the fringes of both where they can still get light, but their roots have not been restricted.

The nettle will be around for months and months and and chances are, if you've seen one, you've seen a whole load, so always pick the best looking examples. You only want the top section, no lower than that illustrated in the picture. The rest is full of acids that will give you the squits,

From a recreational foraging perspective, these can be used to make a refreshing tea, soup or as a tasty leafy vegetable in a stew or casserole. To make a tea, take a few heads, and use like a tea bag. Make your tea without milk, of course, but feel free to add sugar, berries or lemon. Simple.

From a survival viewpoint, these are a super food and should be eaten every day. High in vitamins and minerals; containing more iron than spinach and having more protein by weight than any other temperate leafy plant, this is a life saver. Add to every stew and if making a tea, be sure you eat the leaves. This sting will have gone, so no worries there.

Fact: nettles were used to make dye for camo nets.

Tree - Beech

Beech - March
Why have I chosen this tree you might wonder, since it's not going to produce nuts until Autumn. Well, it's little known fact, but some trees produce quite palatable leaves and sometimes buds. Also, the Beech is a good starting tree, because it's easily recognisable at this time of year and has distinctive characteristics. 

You'll find Beech simply as, other than conifers, it's likely to be the only tree that still has leaves, and almost certainly the only one that has Autumn leaves still attached. This makes it easy to see from a distance. Take note of the leaf shape, as this will be a give away later.

The buds are very pointy and have a characteristic criss-cross pattern. Remember the location of this tree as it's going to provide you with food and firewood throughout the year. Beech is about to become a useful foodstuff, so start to take note of the bark and branch structure before those leaves finally fall. You'll need to be able to recognise the new leaves when the old have passed and the buds are no longer.

Fact: Beech rots from the inside, so branches fall without warning. You can only spot these potentially fatal branches when they lack the leaves that the rest of the tree has, Thankfully, since Beech retains its leaves, they are often quite easy to spot, but let's not take risks, just in case.

Fungus - Jew's Ear

Jew's Ear Fungus
I've already mentioned this fungus in Make No Mistake as it's so easy to get right. With fungi being such a dangerous foodstuff to get wrong, this one is a simple starter. 

Found on dead Elder, these are an easy foodstuff and in my opinion, best shredded and added to stews and casseroles. They are high in B vitamins and many minerals not all of which are available in leafy plants, so form an essential part of a survival diet. 

Jew's Ear Fungus Dry
Whilst revered in the Far East, these mushrooms are an "acquired taste" in the West. They are available, together with Cloud Ears, which are both collectively known as Wood Ears, in a dried form in many Chinese and Far-Eastern supermarkets. 

The photos show the same fungi a week apart, the second being after a particularly sunny spell. A week later, they might be back to  their fully hydrated form. Soak dried ones in water and if they swell, they are fine; if not, they are dead and should be avoided.

That's the set for this month. Try not to take a printout, don't carry a book and don't make notes. This is the key to getting it all to sink in.I'll be posting another set this month, but don't try to go go too fast. If you find it all too much, just slow down the progress. It's better to remember fewer, than to forget many.

As the month progresses, try to predict locations of these from a distance.  Spot the Beech from its leaves, guess where the best nettles grow and try to identify dead Elder from a distance, as this is much easier to find than Jew's Ear itself.

Next month, there will be more to look for, but don't forget these gems. Keep an eye on their progress and see how they change throughout the year. I'll be posting updates on these as well as other things to look out for and further posts on useful plants, wild medicine and natural resources. 

To ensure you don't miss anything, you can always check my post on this Natural Resources Course or simply Wild Food. The best bet is to simply subscribe to this blog  here or on the Survival's Cool Facebook page.

Happy foraging, feel free to comment and let us all know your progress.

REMEMBER: Do no pick or eat anything you can't positively identify as safe and legal

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