Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Wild Food & Natural Resources Course - Autumn Round up

Three seasons in and thanks for sticking with it. I hope by now the course has proven itself useful and shown you that by working your way the year in a progressive fashion, you forget less and with a background of the basics of ecology, climate and botanical sciences, it all fixes into place. By now you'll be confidently spotting and hopefully munching wild edibles in a number of habitats. With winter here, you might be going out less, but there is still a lot to learn. You'll have noticed some of your earlier plants coming back, so here's a round up of everything we've learnt in Autumn, together with a look at that which has gone before and how that's faired with passing seasons.

Autumn Trees

Sweet Chestnut, Rowan and Sycamore are all bare having shed their leaves. Now is the time to take note of tree structure and bark in order to hone your skills in identification without leaves, the hardest of all identification methods, but the only one to work all year round. It's not easy and you only really get the answers when the buds and leaves come again in the Spring.

Autumn Plants

Blackthorn is still easily identifiable by its spines, but do look out for twigs which have come down in the wind as they can be rather annoying if they make it into your socks. Bilberry fruits have long gone and with no other edible parts, it's left along until next Autumn. Yarrow is still going strong and still makes a field tea some say is the best of them all.

Autumn Fungi

By winter, Puffballs and Brittle Gills have disappeared, though I was informed by a friend of mine locally that Blewits were still to be found on his patch including a pile of wood chippings on local waste ground. Unfortunately, by the time I got there, they to had passed.

Autumn Extra - Silverweed (Potentilla anserina)

Though looking a bit dog eared now and in some places almost indistinct, Silverweed is something to look out for early in the year because its roots are an Autumn and even Winter crop used in times when others have failed. They have been used as a staple in many countries. A hardy annual, it grows in poor conditions and is most likely to be found at the edge of fields and paths, but also close to dunes where the sandy soil makes it easy to harvest. The distinct leaves have a silvery flash on the underside and can be used raw, cooked or in a tea. The roots too can be eaten raw, boiled or roasted and are an excellent source of carbohydrates.

Summer Trees

Elder is bare, but the bark is still distinctive. Dead Elder is now sporting Jew's Ear once more. Common Lime still has remnants of new growth, making is quite visible. Hazel, now leafless is very obviously a shrub with all its many trunks.

Summer Plants

Wild MintWild Strawberry and Meadowsweet are all gone. Blackberry are a constant pain in the arse. All thorns and no fruits. Only the roots are useful edibles now. Boiled or baked they are a good source of carbs. Some use the as a coffee substitute which I've yet to try.

Summer Fungi

Chicken of the Woods pretty much ended in September, Giant Puffball in November and Chanterelle in November.

Spring Trees

Some Beech trees still have leaves, and buds are on their way.  Ash has no leaves though plenty of distinctive black buds. Goat Willow has yet to start. Goat Willow (Sallow) and Oak no longer have leaves, but are beginning to think about budding. Oak is very distinct in structure now and you should be able to confidently identify it. Silver Birch has plenty of useful bark still being shed and remains an easy one to identify as its distinctive white bark can be seen from a great distance now its neighbouring trees lack leaves.

Spring Plants

Wood Sorrel and Pennywort are still available. Nettle has plenty of new growth and Jack by The Hedge is back, as is Common SorrelRamsoms (Wild Garlic) and Three Cornered Leek (Wild Onion) are not out yet, but if you can remember where the garlic was, you can still use the bulbs. Gorse is still flowering, but not as tasty as other times in the year. Sweet Violet is another one for the Spring only, but we can look forward to it next time round. Primrose is beginning to show through, but make sure you don't confuse it with Foxglove, as that could have horrid consequences. Dandelions are about, but try to avoid dark green leaves as they will be bitter. Roots are still usable, of course.

Spring Fungi

St George's Mushrooms and Fairy Ring Champignon are no longer with us, but Cramp Balls are still available and easier to spot now there is more light through the empty canopy. Morels have such a short season, they are long gone. Jew's Ear, however, is abundant and going strong.


Now mid winter, I know I'm behind, but will throw out a winter article this month as soon as I can find a few gems which I'd like to add in.

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.

Take part in an open discussion about this article on Facebook