Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Wild Food & Natural Resources Course - June - Set One

Welcome to the first of the Summer instalments of this Free Wild Food and Natural Resources Course. The weather is hot which is great for the coast, which is where I've been, which is why this is late, for which I apologise. The sun is bright, which is great for some of the plants and trees, but shocking for photography, for which I apologise. 

For those joining us anew, I'll be going over some old ground and referring back to former articles for more detail. Please do not try to catch up, it's insane. The idea of this course is to be light weight and progressive. To catch up the whole of a season which spanned about twelve articles will only lead to information overload and very little will be retained. As I've said before, it's better to remember a little than it is to forget a lot. Stick with the course and pick up Spring next year and all will be well. In any case, what's the point of learning things that have either passed over or progressed when there is so much to take in that's current.

Plant - Wild Mint(s)

A Wild Mint
There are loads of different mints; about fourteen species in the UK and many many more throughout the world. Here, they are all edible, as far as I know. Many are found on the fringes of hedgerows, with generally purple flowers (in various formations) and generally thick looking, hairy leaves with toothed margins (wonky edges). 

The most distinguishing feature is that they smell and taste of mint. If you are unsure about your potential mint, crush a leaf in your fingers and give it a sniff. If it's not minty, it's not a mint. Then give it a little taste. If it's not minty, it's not a mint. If the taste is particularly strong, bitter or something tells you it's not right, then you should either photograph and double check or seek the opinion of an expert. 

Mint can be used as a culinary herb, but also works well as a tea. Especially good for calming the stomach. 

Tree - Elder

We've already looked at Elder as when dead it's a good indicator for Jew's Ear fungi. So you may recognise it from its branch structure. At this time, however, it's blooming and in full leaf. 

The leaves are Pinnate, that is to say the leaf stem has many opposite pairs. This is also the case with Ash and Rowan, but not many other native trees. Ash you should be able to distinguish from previous courses and Rowan leaves have far more serration.  The flowers are heavily clustered and quite unmistakeable

The flowers can be eaten as they are, but their form often supports many insects, so have a check first. They can be frittered, used in a tea, but more traditionally turned into cordial or wine; yes the flowers as well as the berries. 

Dead elder not only support fungi, but makes an excellent wood for stating fires. It's light and hollow and takes to flame easily. Not so good for cooking or stating through the night though. The branches can be used to blow into the base of a fire like a straw, invigorating it when it's looking a bit sorry for itself, or if fresh wood has been put on and you want to give it a hand. Top tip ... don't suck. If you throw on the some leaves, they really do niff, which is good if you're in the West of Scotland, where there are tons of midges.

Fungus - Chicken of the Woods

Chicken of the Woods
Here's as easy one to spot and is almost impossible to confuse with others. It grows on both live and dead trees. They can grow singly, in groups and often in lines. I was warned once not to take it if it's growing on Yew (which you can not go and look up, because it's dead easy to identify) which is highly toxic and that seems like sound advice to me. 

This fungus is said to taste of chicken, but I don't think it does. It certainly has the texture of chicken though. You should take the tenderest parts for the best eating. Don't rip it from the tree or it won't grow back next year, rather, take a large chunk down to the bark level and leave the internals alone.

Chicken of the Woods needs no special preparation. Simply brush it clean, slice and fry in butter. It works well in risottos, curries and casserole.

Happy foraging and keep an eye out for complementarity articles.

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

NOTE: This article was written from a UK perspective and identification will almost certainly differ in other places around the world. Seek local advice to confirm positive identification.

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