The Garden Forager: Edible Delights in your Own Back Yard by Adele Nozedar is a great new addition to the growing number of wild food books. I have mentioned her Hedgerow Handbook in my blog about wild food books and this follows the same format.
Some may say this is not ‘proper’ foraging but these plants are freely available in many gardens and parks so that is fine by me! The plants in The Garden Forager really are the sort of thing that will be familiar to many people.
Common flowers like lavender, calendula, fuschia, lilac and dahlia feature in here as well as many shrubs and ornamental plants. Over 40 plants are mentioned in all including sedum, pyracantha, berberis, hosta, Japanese quince and many more.
The thing I love most about these books is the beautiful pictures by Lizzie Harper. Each one is hand drawn in black and white and then key identifying features are highlighted in colour. This makes it easy to identify things with confidence and each plant has at least one, and often several, recipes for you to try.
If you are new to foraging and want to find wild food close to home this is a great book to start with.
Writer and forager Andy Hamilton talks about Wild Booze in this BBC Food Programme on Radio 4 and leads a journey hunting for plants to make incredible drinks, and encourages us to looks again at the wild world all around us.
Andy Hamilton is a keen forager and maker of wild booze. See more about him on his website The Other Andy Hamilton. His book Booze for Free is brilliant and full of simple (and mainly alcoholic) recipes to try.
One of his alcohol free recipes which I do make often is a sticky willy tonic.. recipe on Forage Kent blog
Or have a look at the book page for some book suggestions on brewing with herbs and foraged goodies.
I have talked about sea kale and sea beet in a previous blog and although I don’t eat shellfish of any kind there is much more than leaves and seaweed to be found on the seashore.
Scallops, mussels, limpets, clams, oysters and more can be found around the British coast. There are certain date restrictions on when you can pick and you also need think about where you find them. Shellfish like the warm waters round sewage outflow pipes but eating those could make you very ill! If you are interested in shellfish picking then get a good book or do a course so you can confidently identify shellfish, know how to wash them out and cook them properly.
A few people around the country organise seashore and shellfish foraging trips including Taste the Wild on the North Yorkshire coast at Staithes and South Lakes near Morecambe, Robin Harford of Eat Weeds does seashore courses in Kent, in Pembrokeshire Don and Ed run Seashore Forage and Feast days
This is a short video with John Wright talking about how to ‘hunt’ razor clams. A very simple technique 🙂
If you live near the coast and/or want to learn more about shellfish and seashore foraging then Edible Seashore is an essential book from John Wright. Click on the image below and it will take you to the book on Amazon – however, I quite understand many people have issues with Amazon and prefer to shop elsewhere. If so, have a look at Alibris UK which is like Amazon but nicer and full of independent booksellers.
We live in the Yorkshire Dales which is a really long way from the sea so its great to do a bit of seashore foraging every now and then. As with all wild food, consider where you find seashore plants.. chemical plants and nuclear power stations are often found on the coast.. so think before you pick!
Thanks to Angie Pedley for the photos – these were taken on Walney Island in Cumbria.
There are many easily identifiable goodies to be found along the seashore and the most common and recognisable is sea beet. The latin name is Beta vulgaris subsp. maritima sea beet looks like and tastes like spinach but is a bit firmer and waxier. Use it in any recipe where you might use spinach. It can be foraged most of the year and we have found some good specimens at the end of November on Anglesey. The flavour is not so good after it has flowered.
Sea kale is a fairly common seashore plant and the leaves, roots, stalks and flowers are all edible either raw or cooked. It is a member of the cabbage family and high in vitamin C – the botanic name is Crambe maritima. The stems can be quite thick and I prefer to strip the leaves from the stems, chop the stems up and cook them a bit longer than the leaves. Young leaves are tender and fine eaten raw in salads. If you pick the flowers just before they open they can be cooked and eaten like broccoli.
If you live near the coast and/or want to learn more about seashore foraging then Edible Seashore is an essential book from John Wright. Click on the image below and it will take you to the book on Amazon – however, I quite understand many people have issues with Amazon and prefer to shop elsewhere. If so, have a look at Alibris UK which is like Amazon but nicer and full of independent booksellers.
Several old monasteries and castles have medicinal or poison gardens and one of the most famous is at Alnwick Castle better known as the location for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films.
Poison Garden is a fantastic website from John Robertson the former Poison Garden Warden at Alnwick. It includes a vast amount of information, much of it gleaned while he was researching plants to be planted in the garden there.
Whilst many wild plants and flowers are edible some are extremely poisonous. Aconite in the picture above is also known as monkshood and is very toxic – it has very pretty purple flowers and is commonly found in gardens – the picture above was taken in a council car park!
Aconite is used in herbal medicine in many parts of the world and widely used in homeopathy but never, ever try and make your own medicine from the fresh plant.
The Poison Garden website has an excellent A to Z of poisonous plants as well as many short videos like the one above with key identification points, folklore and uses of some of the plants.
Many poisonous plants have a great deal of folklore or old stories attached and if you would like to find out more about that sort of thing I highly recommend Dangerous Garden: The Quest for Plants to Change Our Lives. David Stuart has crafted a fascinating and engaging read full of stories of poisonings, plague, medicines, mass hysteria and a wonderful insight into the role poisons play in our lives. Click on the image below and it will take you to the book on Amazon – however, I quite understand many peoples have issues with Amazon and prefer to shop elsewhere. If so, have a look at Alibris UK which is like Amazon but nicer and full of independent booksellers.
Many commonly found flowers are edible and the tastes vary widely from very mild flavours in flowers like violets, borage or mallow to peppery or fiery ones like nasturtiums, chives and wild garlic.
Always make absolutely certain you know what any flower is before eating anything.
I found a short article on delicious.magazine website about cooking with some easily identifiable edible flowers that you probably have around the house or garden anyway and that is a great place to start.
Here are just a few pictures of things you will recognise that you can eat.
Oxeye and ‘normal’ daisies
Many flowers are lovely just as they are in salads, others make great cakes, syrups or jellies or can be used in pancakes, fritters or other savoury dishes.
If you like the idea of using flowers I really recommend Cooking with Flowers: Sweet and Savory Recipes with Rose Petals, Lilacs, Lavender, and Other Edible Flowers which contains a great mix of sweet and savoury recipes as well as excellent pictures and tips on growing, picking and storing your edible flowers. Click on the image below and it will take you to the book on Amazon – however, I quite understand many peoples have issues with Amazon and prefer to shop elsewhere. If so, have a look at Alibris UK which is like Amazon but nicer and full of independent booksellers.
Elderflowers are a distinctive summer sight and many people make a cordial from the flowers – this is a refreshing sorbet which is very simple to make. There are many recipes out there for elderflower cordial – here is one from my chum Rachel the Vagabond Baker – Summer in a Bottle. Her blog is a fantastic mix of great recipes, photos and her extensive travels so well worth a look anyway!
Elder has very distinctive fragrant flowers and most people are able to confidently identify them but here are some pictures just in case you aren’t sure.
10 elderflower heads (can leave them on the stalks)
1 litre water
2 lemons juice and zest
Dissolve the sugar in the water over a low heat. Add elderflowers and lemon juice and zest. Stir, cover and leave overnight then strain through muslin or a fine sieve.
Pour the strained elderflower liquid into a plastic tub with a lid and put in the freezer for 2 hours. Remove and whisk vigorously with a fork or hand whisk. Return to freezer and whisk again after an hour. Return again to freezer and whisk once more after another hour. By now it should look like sorbet but if it still is a bit mushy just keep freezing and whisking until it does.
Serve as it is or with raspberries or mint leaves and enjoy!
This can be made anytime of the year by cheating and using elderflower cordial. 500ml cordial, 1 litre water and 400g sugar. Dissolve sugar in water over a low heat, remove from heat and add cordial and cool. Follow freezing instructions as above.
My elderflower sorbet was featured in a book Recipes Down the Line which is a collection of recipes from a wide range of farmers, food producers, cafés, restaurants and local people based along the route of the Settle-Carlise Railway. It is available online or can be bought from stations along the railway or Tourist Information offices.
I am often asked about best wild food and foraging books and the basic answer is.. there are loads out there and most people end up with quite a collection. If you do decide to delve into the world of foraging you’ll probably end up with a few favourites you use a lot. See Forage Kent blog for another take on foraging books.. we only have one in common!
Depending on your interests or where you live you may also want some more specialised foraging books. I love making simple medicinal lotions and potions so Hedgerow Medicine is one of my favourites. I live miles from the sea but if you are close by you might want to invest in the excellent Edible Seashore from the lovely River Cottage folk.
One of the huge problems with wild food books is that some are good for identifying things, some have great recipes but there are very few that do both. So.. I suggest you have a rummage in a charity shop or get a couple second hand to get you started.
A common problem with both wild food and herb books is that the plants are often listed under their latin names, the common names will always be in the index but it can be quite off-putting if you aren’t really sure what you are looking for.
Food For Free by Richard Mabey is a great basic book for identifying things and has been around for over 40 years in various editions. We have a normal size and a pocket size one which is handy for foraging trips. I also suggest you get a good herb book. These often have much better photos which makes identifying plants clearer. Many herb books also have recipes, simple medicines, dyes and even things like hand creams so have a nose and see what you like the look of.
A recent addition to my bookshelf is The Hedgerow Handbook: Recipes, Remedies and Rituals which I absolutely love. A bit of mythology, some interesting recipes, plants listed by their common names which are all great .. but the best part is the wonderful plant pictures which highlight some key features so makes identification easier.
I have a books page on this website which links to Amazon but other books and booksellers are available.. these below are ones that I really like for a range of reasons. Some have good pictures, some have good recipes and other have some quirky folklore and stories in them. Many books on Amazon now have a few pages you can look at in a preview.. so if you like the look of one you can browse the first chapter or so and get a feel for whether it might be for you. I quite understand many people have issues with Amazon and prefer to shop elsewhere. If so, have a look at Alibris which is full of independent booksellers.