Saturday, 17 March 2012

Wild Food & Natural Resources Course - March - Set Two

Welcome to the second set of natural resources for March. If you are reading this then you have already read the following posts and are confident with their content.

A New Outdoor Diet

Wild Food & Natural Resources Course - March - Set One

If you've not, then I suggest that you head on back to have a look then come back to this post in a week or so, when you're happy you can recognise them. The idea of this course is to be progressive, not drowning you with information, much of which you'll forget. So, this post is a bit extra for those who have got through set one and looking for more.

Recognise all those from the last set? Good good. It's now important to reinforce this set by not ditching it and moving on, rather we keep reminding ourselves of them, keep watching their progress and start filing them in our memory, so we simply know them.

The Beech may now have lost its leaves to the wind, but by now you should be able to recognise its buds. Have a look at the ground, the leaves will likely still be there. You might be able to recognise it from a afar, from its branches. Try to spot it from a distance and confirm when you get closer.

The Nettle will have grown, but the top set of leaves will look very similar to the new growth. You should be able to predict the location of these from a distance now. Have you made tea with them yet, or a soup, or chucked some in a stew? Remember, you just want the top couple of sets of leaves. At this time, they will still be lighter green. Remember what they were used for in the war?

As for the Jew's Ear, did you find some? Did you note the tree it was on? It was mostly likely a dead Elder. Did you find it easier to spot this companion rather than the fungus itself? I bet you did. As the weather warms up, you might find these dried. Remember how to test if they are dead?

I get to repeat the facts whilst teaching, which reinforces it for me, but at this time, you need to actively repeat the information or it'll be lost. It's a real "use it or lose it" situation. You'll be amazed how much better the info sinks in if you say it out loud, so tell the kids, the dog or even the plant itself. Try not to impress your friends at this stage or they'll ask you a ton of questions about other things, and that can get awkward.

So, if you've got that all going on, let's move on to the next set. Remember, don't overload. It's still better to remember few than forget many, so if you're still not sure, come back to this another day.

Plant - Navelwort or Pennywort

New and Old Pennywort
This is an easy on to spot as it can be found on walls all over the place but also on rock outcrops and in crevices. Succulent and crunchy, this is a handy plant you can browse on as you go by as it requires no cooking, though in a survival context, you might not want to take the risk. As always with recreational foraging, ensure that you pick high enough off of the ground to miss the dog pee. 

The picture shows the new growth coming through next to the old, both of which are still edible. Try them both and see which flavour you prefer. Leaves and stems are both edible.

Tree - Ash

Distinctive Black Ash Buds
Ash has no edible parts, but is a companion to other  resources as well have having many uses itself. A hard wood with a straight grain, it's very good for construction and tool making. Chances are that handle on your broom is made from Ash. 

Most usefully, Ash can be burnt green, meaning straight from the live tree, which means you can use any offcuts from construction on the fire. It burns nice and slow this way, and green logs can be used as a component of a fire you want to burn through the night.

The reason I've chosen you this one is because it's another one with a distinctive bud structure. As you can see from the picture, the buds are black and like no other. 

Look out for the buds and use those as a reference to the tree itself. Take not of the bark and branch configuration. As always, try to spot from a distance and confirm.

Fungus - Morel

No image for this one for a very good reason. I like to use my own photos and I've not got a good one because North Devon is riddled with clay soils which are a massive turn off for Morels. There are three species to look out for, but they are all roughly the same. Have a look at Morels on Google Images to get the idea. They all have the same look and the real deal has a hollow body. ALL MORELS MUST BE COOKED throughly as they are poisonous raw.

I've chosen this mushroom for two good reasons. The first is that it's one of the few that grows at this time of year. The second is that it's another of those which is pretty much impossible to get wrong. There is are False Morels, which pretty much only grow in Scotland and on the South Coast, but if you take a look at False Morel on Wikipedia you'll see they are totally different. You won't get that wrong, will you?

So where do we find them? Here in lies the rub, these are a right bugger to find. The common factor with all is they grow in rich soil, often where there has been decay or fire. Look out for areas of cleared woodland or where there are many fallen branches, lots of leaf litter or needles. They require warmth and humidity, so don't start looking too early in the year if you're way up North. They are best looked for early one sunny morning after the rain. There is no guarantee you're going to find any of these, but of you do, they are worth it. Sometimes, you find them by accident in the stupidest of places, like under the roses on the garden.

To increase your chances, ferns are good indicator of Morels and decaying ferns make for good soil, so keep and out for those and carry a stick for turning the leaves. The mushrooms are quite small, rarely growing to 10cm and can easily be passed by. In a survival situation, you're likely to take more energy looking for them than you get from them, but worth knowing, in case you bump into them. Recreational foragers might like to take  picnic.

Common Morels can be found in woodland as well as scrub and favour chalky soil. Poppies and Corn Flowers (later in the year) are good indicators for chalk and Ash thrives there too. Unfortunately, Ash doesn't mind clay either. Since Rhododendron and Heathers hate chalk, their presence can be considered a good indicator for the lack of Common Morels. Black Morels favour coniferous woodlands and the acid soil they produce. Semi-free morels are not as tasty as the other two, but can be found in both woodland and grassland as well as paths and canal sides.

You're probably getting the idea that the sets of plants, trees and fungi that you are being tasked with finding are only part of what we're beginning to understand. We're starting to learn about habitat, soil, companion species and indicators, which allow us to zone in on what we're looking for. Not only are we learning the habitat and indicators for what we're looking for, but by taking note of what we find with these sets, we start to use them as indicators themselves.

Keep your eyes peeled and your mind active and you'll begin to learn by yourself. Next month I'll not only post another couple of sets, but update you on things to look out for from those learnt in March.

Happy foraging.

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

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