Friday, 28 September 2012

Wild Food & Natural Resources Course - September

September heralds the beginning of Autumn. Some would say it starts on the first, while others the 22nd, at the Autumn Equinox when the nights begin to dominate the days. I say that we've had a pretty rubbish summer, and it's felt like autumn for most of August, let alone September. As autumn arrives, so do the fungi, with these few months being rife with many species, edible and deadly. It is now that we have to start paying extra attention to detail, but fear not, I will continue to provide you with many a  tasty treat which, if care is taken, can't me mixed up with anything nasty.

I was very happy to be invited to a patch of woodland near Dartmoor to try out some new patter for my wild food foraging courses. A small plot of less than ten acres of mixed birch and pine, with a few sweet chestnut and occasional oak, we were far from the beech and ash dominated woods that I'm used to up on the north coast of Devon. Although the light, moisture and even soil acidity aspects of this woodland habitat were very similar to my own, the change of species combined with inland air had a dramatic effect on the plants and fungi.

John Wright, in his River Cottage Handbook on Mushrooms, wrote that children are the best fungi spotters and I thought he was joking. It turns out, they are incredible. Maybe it's because they are closer to the ground, or maybe more competitive than us, but I hadn't even managed to pluck the first mushroom before they had found another and yet another species. We spent most of the day on catchup as they steamed ahead to find something new. By the end of the walk, they had spotted at least 20 different species of fungi, which isn't bad for such a small area. It's hardly surprising that fungi have such a good relationship with these particular trees, as in ancient times, they would would have dominated the land throughout most of Britain.

Here then, are a set of edibles from the weekend.

Plant - Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus)

Why, you may ask, have I suddenly started using the Latin names? Very simply, there are a number of species of plant called Bilberry and number of common and colloquial names for the species that I'm talking about, including wortleberry, winberry and blaeberry, amongst others. By using the Latin name, there can be no doubt at the plant we are talking about, should you wish to find another reference.

The genus Vaccinium contains many other shrubs with berries, such as cranberry and blueberry, all of which grow in largely acidic soils with habitats ranging from woodland to heath and bog in generally colder areas, be they further north or at higher altitude, as is the case with Dartmoor. The family of plants to which this genus belongs (Ericaceae) also contains many heathers, as well as rhododendron, so it's not surprising that are all also found in the same region.

Almost leafless Bilberry bush
The bilberry season is short, lasting only a month or so. Depending on where you are, it can start in late July or run into mid September. With so little sunshine this year, the berries are quite late, so bilberries are still available, albeit not in the quantities required to make a winter's worth of jam.

Bilberries, like many berries, can be munched on the trail, dried, made into jam, pies, cordial, shoved into gin or frozen for another day. With such a short picking season, it's worth getting as many as you can on one go. Like most fruit, they are high in vitamins and sugars. Medicinally, they have been said to be good for the eyes, but claims of improving night vision have not held up in experiments.

Fungus - Common Yellow Brittle Gill (Russula ochroleuca)

A fungus with many names, including Ochre Brittle Gill and more throughout Europe and the Americas. The Russula genus is huge, with many brightly coloured mushrooms which have very brittle, generally white or pale gills which snap easily when bent. The Milk Caps (Lactarius) look similar and also have brittle flesh, but exude a liquid when cut. The chief distinguishing difference is that the milk caps have decurrent gills (running down the stem) like False Chanterelle, unlike the Brittle Gills, which range from free (not touching the stem) through adnexed (only just touching the stem) to adnate (touching the stem, but not running down it). The equally brittle, non fibrous, stems of both are thick and lack a ring or vulva (cup at the bottom) and are generally white or pale. Russula caps are generally smooth, sometimes sticky, but range from convex (normal mushroom looking) to flat or depressed (with dip in the middle) which can make them difficult to identify.

The great thing about both of these genera, which both fall under the family Russulaceae, is none of them are considered toxic except for possibly one found in Taiwan. This does not mean you can simply chow down on all of them, oh no, some are so peppery and hot that they can give you raging stomach ache. This is the slight difference between poisonous and inedible, of which many from this family are. However, a simple taste (not swallow) of a tiny portion will let you know if you've got one of the peppery ones and you can take a mental note and discard it. This is unusual for mushrooms, so do read on.

With all this information, you might still make mistakes. The Funnel and Web caps look similar, rings might have fallen from some nasty Amanita mushroom and by pulling up or cutting the stem, you might miss the vulva. It is essential that you can make a positive identification before proceeding to consume. It is essential that you have picked the mushroom right down to the ground and that you have seen many of the same in the same place to ensure you've not got a special case. Only once you are super confident in identifying the genus can you even consider beginning to experiment within it. So don't, until you are, or there could be deadly consequences.

Back to the Common Yellow Brittle Gill. It has an affinity with Birch, so if it's under an Ash or Beech tree, it's unlikely to be right. It has a dull yellow, ochre cap. It can be confused with the Yellow Swamp Brittle Gill (Russula claroflava), which I would have preferred to have found, because it tastes nicer. The distinguishing features are pale yellow gills and a bright yellow cap. Similarly, the Yellow Brittle Gill (Russula lutea), which is slightly smaller and has very much more yellow gills and will give you a stomach ache. Mental note, avoid darker gills. The Geranium Brittle Gill (Russula fellea) is another, this time with uniform colouration of gills, cap and stem. It smells of geraniums, unlike the Common Yellow, which has no distinct smell and has that bitter taste.

Like all Brittle Gills and Milk Caps, Common Yellows should be cooked. The taste is slightly acrid, but that can be removed with a little parboiling before cooking.

So, make sure you get this one right. It's not that difficult, but you do have to have your head screwed on. Make a concious effort to spot, check, photograph and double check. This is probably your first step into danger, but with a sharp mind, and all of the above information, which will ultimately become second nature, you will gain confidence. Once again, take no risks.

Tree - Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa)

After that barrage of information, this one is going to be a lot easier. You may already know the Sweet Chestnut, which is distinct from the Horse Chestnut (conker tree), as a tree with spiky leaves and spikey nut cases. And basically, that's what it is. The trees are massive and have hollow trunks, which could be used for shelter, if you don't mind sharing with the creepy crawlies.

The nuts are sweet and can be eaten raw, boiled, roasted, pounded into flour or any other way you fancy. Like all nuts, they are an important source of fats and vitamins, but lack the protein content of other nuts. The best way to preserve them, like many nuts, is to dry them.

Though the season is not really until October, it's worth getting your eye in now, since like Hazel, the squirrels are gonna race you for them. Chestnut wood burns well with few sparks and a pleasant odour. It's very durable good for tools and construction.

So, that was my trip to a small patch of Dartmoor forest. A complete change from the norm, it has given me the opportunity to present you with a few treats not available to me locally. I feel a trip to Exmoor coming on.

So what can we say about this habitat that we might recognise it again elsewhere and keep our eyes peeled? A mixed woodland of climax trees in well drained (quite a good slope) acidic soil (indicated by pine, birch and rhododendron). Dabbled shade and good covering of leaf litter, ivy and mosses. This type of patch is not going to be uncommon, so should you find yourself in such a place, take a look around and see what you can find and how it differs from other patches.

Happy foraging and look out for further articles.

REMEMBER: Do not pick or eat anything you can't positively identify as safe and legal.

BE AWARE: There is an inherent risk in the consumption of all new foods, both wild and cultivated. Ensure they are cooked as prescribed and begin by eating a little of only one new food at a time in case you have an intolerance or adverse reaction. If you are taking any medication or have a current or family history of any allergy or medical issue, seek advice from a medical practitioner before eating any new wild foods.

NOTE: All articles are written from a UK perspective. Common names and identifying features will almost certainly differ in other places around the world. Seek local advise to confirm positive identification.

DON'T FORGET: You can get updates and share comments on the Survival's Cool Facebook Page.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Sciences of Survival

Survival Science in Action
There is a game you can play on Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia. You start with a random article and click on the first link in the first true paragraph which is not in brackets and is not a footnote. You then repeat this action, counting as you go until you inevitably reach philosophy where you find yourself in a loop between that and reality. The object of the game is to find the article which is furthest from philosophy in terms of clicks or one which does not link to philosophy at all. Here’s an example rooted at my favourite pudding, cheesecake, dessert, food, plant, life, objects, physics, natural science, science, knowledge, facts, experience, concept and finally philosophy. Another with Kevin Bacon, Animal House, comedy film, film, recording, cave painting, painting, paint, liquid, state of matter, phase, physical science, natural science and ultimately philosophy, although by a slightly convoluted route. Let’s have one more starting with Japan, island nation, country, political geography, human geography, geography, science and so forth. Try it some time.

What we see is that all things (bar very few exceptions) do in fact, lead to philosophy by successive wider definition, but that is not the whole story. Apart from a few philosophy related starting points, almost all of the routes travel through science or mathematics, a formal science. At some point or another science gets involved, determining how the universe works, how all the parts interact with each other and how everything progresses through time and space. Without science, we’d have no understanding and with no understanding, we’d have no way to make informed decisions. That’s not to say that we each need a degree in all fields of science in order to get by, but each of us, throughout the day make assessments and decisions based on some level of understanding of science, be it working out change, guessing if it’s going to rain, driving a car, cooking a meal, building a house or performing brain surgery. Just because you’re not thinking about equations, doesn’t mean you’re not using science.

In a survival situation, decisions are crucial and can mean the difference between life and death. Although hands on skills are important for execution of the actions we decide to perform, it’s the knowledge we have that helps up make the right decisions in the first place. It may be that you’re an expert climber, but climbing costs energy and has an associated risk. However, there’s good vantage and potential resources at the top of the cliff, so what do you do? A basic assessment and risk analysis will give you the costs and benefits of making the climb. From there you can make a decision. And how do you make such an assessment? Knowledge. Knowledge about health, energy, physics and bit of mathematics will have the right decision made in no time.

There are many fields of science, each covering its own area. There are many overlaps and  specialisations and then whole fields of non-sciencey sounding disciplines like Search and Rescue, which involve a wide variety of science and mathematics. Not all science is physics, chemistry and biology, there is also geography, sociology and psychology, amongst other, and we also have a lot to learn from economics and political science. These help us understand more about where we are, navigation and how people work together.

Science has a lot to teach us about survival, so let me demystify some of the fields and terms.

Formal science or formal systems cover logic, mathematics and statistics including operational research, game theory and decision theory. These might sound a bit scary, but they are simple umbrella terms. The formal sciences are what we’ll be using to make the decisions, based on assessments we make using other sciences. Fields such as probability, geometry and other aspects of mathematics form the building blocks of most natural sciences and engineering.

Natural science is a broad church covering physical, earth and life sciences. They all cross over a little. The physical sciences include physics, of course, which is concerned with matter, materials, motion, forces and energy, including chemical energy, electricity, light and heat, the last of which is very important to us. Chemistry in general is a little low level for our needs, but will help us understand contamination, purification and fire, for instance. Astronomy is a little high level, but can aid navigation and combined with oceanography, tidal prediction.  

Earth sciences, including ecology, geology, geography and other environmental sciences develop our understanding of our surroundings and predict how they may change. Climatology too, and in conjunction with meteorology, an insight into the weather. Hydrology will tell us about our water systems, which could be vital to our survival if water is not readily available.

Life sciences, or at least the ones that interest us, are based largely around biology. An insight into anatomy, physiology, health and medicine will tell us about how we and other animals function. This will aid us greatly in assessing our water, energy and food needs. Botany, zoology and food science will give us all we require to choose the right diet and make compromises, when necessary.

Engineering is the application of science and mathematics to design and manufacturing. Civil engineering will help us build structures such shelters, boats and signals. Electrical and mechanical  engineering allow us to understand, utilise, build and repair electronic and mechanical devices, such as torches, radios, gears, pumps and tools. Engineering principles, such as leverage and pulley systems allow us to work smart, saving vital energy.

Behavioural science is more concerned with individuals and small groups. Psychology is an obvious addition and in conjunction with anthropology, communication and management skills will help us in survival situations involving groups of people. Ethology, or animal behaviour, will not only help us avoid dangerous game, but place traps and also find water.

Social science, including sociology, economics and politics will teach us about large groups of people. This may seem an unlikely science to study, but will give us clues about where we might find people, who might be our only way of self rescue. Education helped me write this blog and the books. The principles, if you heed them, will allow you to retain information for when you need it. Of course, history teaches us a lot about what has worked or otherwise in the past.

There is a lot to learn about survival from science.

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Saturday, 15 September 2012

Wild Food & Natural Resources Course - Summer Round up

Six months and two seasons through this course and I'm glad you're still with me. I imagine you've had an opportunity to locate and in many cases sample most of what has been covered. I hope too that even though many of the Spring plants have passed, your diligent practice has allowed you to retain the knowledge you gained along the way. I trust you've been reading the supporting articles and are not looking at the world in a different way, constantly seeing clues as to the habitat of a potential feast.

For those who are joining late, and those wanting to verify their continued observations, I'd like to take this opportunity to plot the history of all that has gone so far this Summer and then to discuss the progress of our Spring subject as the next season came.

Summer Trees

By Summer, most trees and shrubs are in full leaf and flowers are abundant. Many leave are not tough an unpalatable, but some offshoots are still producing young, lush leaves. Fruit begins to form and in the case of stone fruits and some berries, ripen early. Some nuts are edible and very tasty in their green state. Towards the end of the season, as seeds, fruit and nuts form, so the leaves have done their job and begin to change colour and die ready to fall with the advent of Autumn.

Elder - An abundance of flowers will have seen Bushcrafters and Hedgerow Cooks out collecting to make cordials, wine and 'champagne'. Now past, they have given way to as yet unripe berries which will ultimately generate a new season of wine making.

Common Lime - A new discovery for most with leaves and flowers both available, again giving rise to fruits which although bitter, can be used in a survival diet or to make a cocoa substitute.

Hazel - Seeming to appear from nowhere with a number of straight offshoots and edible green nuts which are now in the annoying middle state on the road to maturity when a collection race with the squirrels with ensue.

Summer Plants

Edible summer plants are either late developers, have flavoursome hardy leaves or are those which bare soft fruits and berries. With their season governed by the sunshine, everything has come a bit late this summer due to excessive rain and cloud cover. Wind too had blown away some blossom before it's had a chance to do its work.

Wild Mint - Still available now, and for some time providing a trail snack, dish flavouring and excellent tea.

Wild Strawberry - Almost entirely passed now, these beauties hardly ever make it home having been munched on sight.

Blackberry (Bramble) - One would have expected their to be a mass of blackberries by now, but the lack of sun has stretched their season and they are still looking predominantly green. We can only hope that early Autumn will bring enough sun to ripen the full crop rather than see it wither.

Summer Fungi

There are relatively few fungi available in Summer, and the excessive rain has kept many at bay with few showing where other years they might be found in abundance. Thankfully, the true season starts in Autumn.

Chicken of the Woods - So simple to find, there's some in most woodland somewhere. It's one you bump into still, even when walking the dog and not on a definite fungi foray.

Giant Puffball - If you're lucky enough to find one, you're likely to find more. Unless coveted by others, they can be left in situ as they are likely to be around until October. Keep an eye on the colour to ensure you don't leave them too late.

Chanterelle - Now you've got the knack of the habitat, you'll be parking the car mid journey to check that bank just in case. Thankfully, these excellent mushrooms will be be around until around the end of the year.

Summer Extra - Meadowsweet

As a special treat for keeping with the course, I'm adding in an extra little something as a bonus.

Meadowsweet is another plant which has multiple edibles in different seasons, in this case, late Summer and Spring. The reason I'm presenting it this way around it because the flowers are frankly much easier to recognise than the leaves and by seeing them together, you should be in good shape to find the plant once more next Spring.

Oddly, meadowsweet does not grow in meadows, preferring damp areas near streams and rivers, but also in hedgerows associated with ditches. Take note of the distinctive leaf pattern and you'll never mix it up with any of the nasty umbellifers which inhabit similar areas.

The flowers themselves have similar uses to those of Elder, and come conveniently as the Elder flowers pass. Leaves are excellent in Spring and some eat them later. Keep an eye out and take not of the shape.

Spring Round Up II

Much has changed as Spring has long since past. Many of the plants and fungi have been and gone, but the trees have simply gone through their cycle. Some plants, however, have a second season and are coming good again. 

Spring Trees

Beech - The lush young leaves have long since past, having matured into tough, dark green counterparts. Beech has a tendency to hang onto its dead branches, but at this time of year, it's very easy to spot them, as they are without leaves and rather sad looking. Beech masts (nuts) are not yet mature, but the closed green prickly cases can be clearly seen.

Ash - From black buds to crazy looking flowers and now in seed, Ash has no edible parts, but I'm sure  you're now confident to distinguish it from Elder or Rowan, say.

Goat Willow (Sallow) - Damp loving Willow has thrived. Having gone from catkins to seed in Spring, its leaves and bark have harboured the larvae of many butterflies. The leaves themselves will hang around for while yet.

Silver Birch - The bark has remained largely the same and isn't really going to change much throughout the year. You will hopefully have had the chance to take in the small, double toothed leaves, these can be made into a tea, though I've never tried it myself. Dainty winged seeds came after the catkins, there will be hundreds of thousands of them.

Oak - Many insects and subsequently birds are attracted to Oak. More excitingly, however, is that Oak, as well as Beech, have a relationship with many many fungi, so these will be a good are to scan around come Autumn.

Spring Plants

Nettle - I do hope you remembered to only eat the top few sets of leaves. These have long since gone to seed and the leaves are almost withered. The seeds are still a source of nutrition, however, and they don't sting, which is nice.

Pennywort - Never really went away and is still about now, though they did get a bitter as time went on. Did you see those bizarre seed structures, how mad were they?!

Gorse - The flowers are still hanging around, but not for long.

Ramsoms (Wild Garlic) and Three Cornered Leek (Wild Onion) are both bulb plants and hence came and went quite early on. Hopefully, you've kept a note of their location, because the bulbs are very good. Of course, it's against the law to dig them up willy nilly, so hopefully a badger will have done the work for you.

Jack by The Hedge (Garlic Mustard) - Came and went and will be back. Now you know the leaf structure, you can spot them early next season. The pre-flowering roots (if dug up by something else) can be used like radishes and the seeds like any mustard seeds.

Wood Sorrel - Never seems to disappear, but has good and bad times.

Common Sorrel - Lasted a while before turning to seed in impressive rusty red stems which are unmistakable and can be seen easily when driving. They can be eaten too or ground up and used as a flour. At the moment, we're getting a second crop, which is nice.

Primrose - Didn't last long and the leaves becoming bitter. Thankfully, the foxgloves got very large and mixing them up became almost impossible.

Dandelion - Flowers came and mostly went, but there are still some about. Leaves got bitter and you'd have to cook them now to get anything vaguely tasty.

Sweet Violet - Another for the Spring only, we can look forward to it next year.

Spring Fungi

Cramp Balls - Now you've seen then once, you won't be able to miss them.

St George's Mushrooms - Pretty much gone by June, but remember the location, like most fungi, they'll be back next year.

Fairy Ring Champignon - The will be around until November, so take a mental note of the habitat and if you find yourself in a similar place, take a moment to cast your eyes around to find some more. As the season changes, it's important to ensure you've got the right ones as new season fungi can cause confusion.


So what's to come in Autumn? Mostly nuts and berries. At this stage of life, the leaves have lost their usefulness and turn wonderful reds and browns before falling. This will be the time to start taking extra note of the structure and bark of the trees so you can continue to identify them through the winter. 

We've also got a lot fungi to come as the damper weather can support less tolerant species. With this, however, will have to come a little more diligence in identification, so make sure you read carefully and only consume when absolutely confident.

Happy foraging and look out for further articles.

REMEMBER: Do not pick or eat anything you can't positively identify as safe and legal.

BE AWARE: There is an inherent risk in the consumption of all new foods, both wild and cultivated. Ensure they are cooked as prescribed and begin by eating a little of only one new food at a time in case you have an intolerance or adverse reaction. If you are taking any medication or have a current or family history of any allergy or medical issue, seek advice from a medical practitioner before eating any new wild foods.

NOTE: All articles are written from a UK perspective and identification will almost certainly differ in other places around the world. Seek local advise to confirm positive identification.

DON'T FORGET: You can get updates and share comments on the Survival's Cool Facebook Page.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Wild Food & Natural Resources Course - July & August

Rather late on the July and August episodes due to excessive work and a terrifying amount of rain, and yes, I'm quite embarrassed about it. With flowers mostly shrivelled, many leaves past their best, and most fruit and nuts not yet ripened, summer is a surprisingly sparse, transitional time for wild food. The saving grace for the learner at this time is normally new season fungi, but it's been a bit wet here in the UK and they've not been out in quite the same force. However, for the committed forager, there is still plenty to be had, you just have to pick the best and keep your eyes peeled for the covert treats. It's a good time to know those habitats and companion plants, giving you that extra clue.

This post will be a double. We'll take a look at a couple of similar trees, some early fruit and nuts and a couple of fungi, one which is rare and impossible to get wrong and one which has a very similar confusion species, but is incredibly tasty. We'll cover a little more about leaf morphology, fungal features and try to get back on track for the coming autumn treats, of which there will be many. Hopefully, the last couple of months have not been terrible for you, with no new posts, and I trust you've kept up the process of identifying and eating the plants and fungi you know, watching them mature and change throughout the summer whilst keeping an eye out of companion plants.

Tree - Common Lime

The Common Lime is hardy and widespread, often found in parks and streets as well as woodlands throughout the UK. People will have you believe that early Beech and Hawthorn leaves are the tastiest of all the trees, but this denies the succulent young leaves of the Lime. These leaves crop in June and July with some still around in August. They are at low level, shiny and inviting. They taste sweet and have body. They are without doubt the best of all. The fruits are edible, but bitter, tasting quite like cocoa. The flowers can be made into a tea, which is a mild sedative, good for calming all over. The sap is also usable, being sweet and nutritious.

Lime wood can be used as a fuel, but burns slowly and not so hot, so not super for high heat or cooking, but adequate for a little sustained light and heat to keep the edge off a cooling summer night. As it's not poisonous, it can be used to make cutlery, as well as other tools. More useful are the straight and supple offshoots which support the most edible leave. Like willow saplings, these are can be woven together into baskets, hurdles or for construction of some of the more elaborate traps. The inner bark is strong and can be woven into cordage as well be being used for strong bindings and even the construction of sandals. 

Lime leaves are mostly round, but slightly heart shaped, having a small cleft at the stem and a slight point to the tip. The edges of the leaves have fine saw teeth and the veins spread from the stem, forking as they go. To use strict terminology, that's a cordate leaf with serrulate margins and palmate venation. Even if you don't remember these terms, it's good to take note of these three elements of leaf construction.

Tree - Hazel

Of shrub-like construction, lacking a distinct trunk, hazel trees grow as a series of flexible, straight poles with few branches from each. This makes it an excellent construction material and has been used for hurdles, thatching and other frameworks as well as tools and weapons including spears and bows. It's also a good firewood, though its lack of thick branches make it more suited to cooking than keeping you warm through the night. It can be found throughout the UK, especially in new woodland, though it also survives well under the canopy of other trees. This is why its catkins come very early in the year before its neighbours overshadow it.   

Hazel leaves are almost round (orbicular) with doubly serrated margins and venation which branch only once from the central vein (pinnate). They have a very small point a the tip, even small than lime, but lack the cleft at the base. Though quite floppy, they have stiff hairs on the underside giving them a rough feel.

The best part of the hazel tree are the nuts. Tasty and high in protein and essentials fats, they are a worth their weight in gold in a survival situation. The problem with hazelnuts is that squirrels like them too and they are far better at finding them, reaching them and ultimately gathering and hiding them. The point at which hazelnuts are mature and you want to gather is the point at which the squirrels have normally bagged them and you're out of luck. You best change for a good haul is in an area of woodland dominated by hazel trees, but even then you've got to be fast. Thankfully, early in the season, hazelnuts can be eaten green, in the immature state. They may be a little smaller, but they are not so appealing to squirrels as they lack storage ability. At this time they have a sweet, milky taste and make an excellent trail snack. The intermediate stage is no use to either as they are neither sweet or nutty and best avoided.

Plant - Wild Strawberry

These are some of the earliest of fruits of the season and are a pleasure to find and munch on the trail. With few other fruits ripening at this time, you'll be competing with the birds for them and as they are a low lying plant, rodents too. Unlike their cultivated counterparts, they are small and spherical, but share the same colouration and sweet taste. High in vitamin C, they are healthy as well as tasty.

As a veracious ground cover plants, they grow in large patches, so if you see one strawberry, chances are there are a few more about and it's worth stopping and taking a closer look. What it needs is moisture and partial shade, so can also be found in sunny areas of sparse woodland or shaded hedgerows, often near water or in boggy areas. The distinctive triplets of slightly spiny margined leaflets advertise this plant well. The flowers are white, having five petals and a yellow centre and can often be seen on one plant as another is fruiting. These patches are worth revisiting throughout the season until all the flowers and fruit have completely gone.

There is a plant with which this can be confused, the Mock Strawberry. Natural to East Asia, you're unlikely to find it in Britain unless it's escaped from a garden. It has very similar leaves, but a wholly yellow flower and the fruit is much more regular with distinct pimples. It's not poisonous, but lacks the sweet flavour of strawberries.

Plant - Blackberry

You probably know the blackberry and have done since childhood. You can probably recognise it from miles away and know that grows in huge patches at the meeting point of meadows, where the grass wins, and woodlands, where the canopy wins, or at the edge of paths or roadways, where the ground is compacted or dominated by tarmac. You probably know that the berries are edible and ripe when they can be pulled off easily. So let me tell you some things you may not know.

The young leaves can be used to make a tea. Some say munch on them, but I don't go for them at all. The thorny winding stems are the bane of the berry picker, often acting as a defence for the ripest of all the fruits. When dry, they become hollow and although a pain (pun intended) to collect, they make excellent tinder for the early stages of fire lighting. When live they have a wire like strength and can be used for binding, should you have suitable hand protection. Live or dead, when packed, the stems can also be used for an tangling type trap. The your shoots are good boiled. The roots can be boiled or roasted and are an excellent source of carbohydrates, though the alleged "coffee substitute" that can be made from the over roasted roots needs a lot of imagination to stretch the definition.

Fungus - Giant Puffball

There are many puffball fungi, all looking quite similar. Some are edible, some will make you really sick. Thankfully, there is a variety which is impossible to get mixed up and that's the giant puffball, so called because it's huge. Most grow to between 20 and 60cm in diameter, but occasionally, they grow up to 1.5m. Found in fields, meadows and hillsides, they can grow in rings or individually. If you find one, you'll know. They are unmistakable.

Cut it open and if the flesh is still solid white, it's perfect. If yellow or brown, then the spores are forming and you risk a tummy upset. Peel and sauté and they are excellent. They don't dry well, but I am told they can be cooked and then frozen. Higher in protein than must mushrooms, it would be a great boon to a survival diet. Medicinally, it can be used as a styptic, which stops bleeding by contracting tissues around the wound site.

The pain with giant puffballs is that they only come up when they fancy, where they fancy and though likely to grow in the same area each season they come up, finding them in the first place can be a bit of  a challenge. I'd like to thank Jeremy Kilar for letting me use one of his photos because this season, I've been out of luck so far.

Fungus - Chanterelle

True Chanterelle - False Gills
If you want to find chanterelles, ask a Frenchman. I did and was informed that in France, people forage for mushrooms with a shotgun. After much enthusiastic discussion and not actually asking him where they can be found (which is internationally considered rude) he divulged a spot where I might look. I took a trip and though unable to find any there, I made a special effort to take in the features of the habitat. Moist banks in partial shade covered in decaying leaves and moss are the place to find these prized beauties. The air smells mushroomy. Best to look on a warm morning after a rainy day. I've had best luck at the edge of beech woods, often intermingled with ivy.

Of course, it's not that easy. The False Chanterelle is very similar indeed to the ones we're looking for but for the following features. True chanterelles smell a little like apricots. False chanterelles have true gills which are fragile, true chanterelles have lumpy gill like structures, which are similar, but look messy. True chanterelles are yellow, false ones more orange with graded colour becoming darker to the centre of the cap which notably curls over the gills at the edges, though this is also a feature of the real deal when young. To be sure, the false chanterelle spore prints white, while the true prints yellow or amber over a period of about six hours.

A more dangerous look-a-like is the Jack O'Lantern, which will give you a really bad stomach.  More deeply orange and growing in clumps, these too have true, knife like gills. Find some pictures and you shouldn't have too much of a hard time distinguishing them. Something to always be aware of is that all three of these can grown in the same patch, so don't assume that because the first you picked was a good one that the rest will also be.

Clean them, pat them dry, fry the and pop them on toast or in an omelette; chanterelles are some of the best eating in the world of wild mushrooms, just make sure you're getting the right ones. Like any fungi, chances are if you find one, you'll find more so if you do spot some, make the effort to slow down and check around. Start lifting some leaves or moss and see if more are hiding. You can't collect too many of these because they can be dried and in that state will last for ages. Some people pickle them, but if you ask me ... pickled mushrooms ... eww!

You patience in waiting for this article has been appreciated and they fact that you've got this far means  I've done at least a reasonable job making up for the delay. September will bring us more fruits and nuts as well and more fungi, though if the rain keeps up, I'll be appealing for good pictures again.

Happy foraging and look out for supporting articles.

REMEMBER: Do not pick or eat anything you can't positively identify as safe and legal.

BE AWARE: There is an inherent risk in the consumption of all new foods, both wild and cultivated. Ensure they are cooked as prescribed and begin by eating a little of only one new food at a time in case you have an intolerance or adverse reaction. If you are taking any medication or have a current or family history of any allergy or medical issue, seek advice from a medical practitioner before eating any new wild foods. 

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

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