Our foraging courses have become well-known across North Wales in the last couple of years. They sprang from requests for extra foraging sessions as part of our bushcraft courses, and lasty year we ran a foraging and wild foods course every month from April-November. The first foraging course of 2013 was held last weekend, and it reminded me why these are possibly my favourite one-day event. Combined with our commercial foraging project at Rhug Organic Estate our time spent wandering through fields, woodlands and streams increases every year!
May 5th was the first of our monthly wild food courses for 2013. The foraging courses are always rather informal, starting at 10:00am on a remote Welsh hill-farm near Ruthin. Our clients came from across North Wales, Shropshire and Cheshire and were a mixed bunch of food enthusiasts and outdoor adventurers, keen to learn more about wild food. We began with a tour of a meadow, looking at common edible plants in the hedgerows and field edges, plus a few poisonous species to look out for. This was followed by looking at what is available at the banks of a stream further down the hill. In the hedgerows we mainly found Common Sorrel (small leaves, distinctive shape and tastes like apple peel) and variations on Dandelion leaves. On the banks of the stream there was much more variety available, with Brooklime, Meadowsweet and Golden Saxifrage.
From here we wander up the hill to our temporary camp, where a hot drink and an open fire await them. This year we built a bender – a small, curved structure made from hazel and willow saplings. It makes a fantastic classroom and we used it to escape the wind and passing rain showers. I went through a talk on the legal issues surrounding the carrying of knives and sharp objects in public over a cup of tea and some home-made bread. Following this we trekked into the nearby woodland to look at some Wood Sorrel and a few other woodland plants and then further up the hill to some Gorse bushes to collect the flowers with their distinctive coconut smell. Or vanilla. Depends on the bush really. Whatever your perception of the flavour, they’re pretty damned tasty…
The sun appeared and so did a desire to put something substantial in our stomachs. The menu for the day was simple; pan-fried rainbow trout, a salad of hedgerows greens and garlic bread (well, bread with Garlic Mustard) followed by bannock (complete with Gorse flower topping!). We split into two groups, each getting the chance to tackle the gutting and preparation of the fresh trout and prepare the dough for the bread. Rather than retiring to a comfortable kitchen this was all done ‘in the wild’ – preparing the trout on the river bank and the bannock dough next to the fire. This was shaping up to be the most authentic wild food lunch of the year so far! The salad consisted of Wood Sorrel, Common Sorrel, Brooklime, Golden Saxifrage, Meadowsweet and Dandelion leaves and was absolutely fantastic. If you packaged that in plastic and sold it in a posh supermarket at £5 per tub nobody would bat an eyelid!
After lunch we went on another excursion to gather some more edible plants, then went through the legal and ethical and practical aspects of foraging, such as where and what you can forage for, what you can do with it and how easy it actually would be to live entirely off the land (answer: not very!). We followed this up with a discussion on the legal ways to get some protein – fishing, shooting etc.
The final part of the day was all about guidebooks – the best types to look for, the importance of using more than one guide to identify a plant and the features to look for. I have promised to upload a list of the foraging guidebooks I recommend for North Wales, so if this link works then it means I have managed to find time to do it!
Our foraging courses can only cover what is available during that season. If we pass by a plant that is worth looking out for later in the year (say, Bilberries or Blackthorn) then I will make an effort to point it out. They a perfect introduction to the world of wild food, and provide the participants with all of the information they need to embark on their own foraging adventure.