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.

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