Foraging is a practice of gathering food from nature that goes back to the beginning of human life on this planet. But with the rapid advancement of commerce and pre-made, processed foods, the practice of foraging has somewhat become a dark art!
In recent years foraging has made a comeback though, as many of us seek ways to reconnect with nature and lower the negative impact of our lifestyles.
I have long been intrigued by foraging, but further, than collecting wild garlic in the spring and early summer, and rounding off with blackberry picking in September I had very little experience or knowledge about foraging.
Some really lovely friends of mine gifted me a half day foraging course with the renowned foraging expert, Emma Gunn. So earlier on in the summer my partner and I set off down the beautiful Pendower Beach on the Roseland Peninsula, Cornwall to meet Emma and learn lots about how to find food in nature.
After a quick but informative introduction into the basics and common rules of foraging, such as not picking anything we are not sure of, and not taking more of anything then is fair to other foragers- be it human or any other animal!
Our adventure began, believe it or not, on the concreted slipway that leads to the beach! In the hedges and planted borders that line the slipway, there was already an abundance of edible delights.
Alexanders – Smyrnium olusatrum
These are categorised under the carrot family and can be found in coastal areas. All parts of this plant are edible but we just popped open the seed pods and munched on the little seeds inside. The seeds ripen between June and August and depending on the wind, the seeds can remain right through to the winter. These have a spicy peppery flavour so would be great used as a seasoning in many dishes!
Common Mallow- Malva sylvestris
These pretty pink flowers have edible leaves and petals and can be found on roadsides, verges, hedgerows and even waste ground! The leaves can be boiled or simmered to eat as a mild flavoured vegetable and the petals can be used to add colour to a salad or why not decorate a cake with them! The leaves can also be dried and used for tea. Who knew that such a common plant had so many edible uses- this is what fascinates me about foraging.
We then headed down to the beach itself. Again in the rough coastal shrubbery and rockfaces that towered over us, Emma was able to show us a whole host of edible plants.
Rock Samphire- Crithmum maritimum
This unassuming green plant can be found growing out of cliffs and rock faces in coastal areas all year round. Historically, in the 16th and 17th centuries people would risk their lives to forage this plant- please don’t do that! It’s perfectly easy to harvest this from ground level! Emma suggests that a nice way to use rock samphire is to pickle it and eat it alongside cheese and crackers.
Next, we wandered down to the shoreline and explored the various types of seaweed, from Sea Lettuce to Bladderwrack. We actually collected some seaweed to bring home and cook- but after a few failed culinary experiments we have decided to go back out and collect some more to try and perfect the cooking methods! (Maybe there will be another blog post about this in particular!)
Pendower beach is a great place to explore in terms of foraging as well as the seashore and the beach, it backs onto meadow and woodland style environments that contain many different varieties of edible plants.
Ramanas Rose- Rosa rugosa
Another pretty pink flower, this one is found on sandy beaches, seashores and hedges. It flowers from June through to August. The petals are edible and have a distinct floral flavour making them perfect for use in jam or syrup. if you find heavily scented ones then you could even make Turkish delight with the petals.
This is only a very limited selection of the plants that Emma showed us, but we could be here all day if I told you about each and everything we found. Emma is so knowledgeable and passionate about foraging and the natural world that it would be impossible to encapsulate all that we learnt into one blog post!
After telling our family members all about our wonderful foraging morning, they very kindly bought me the full set of Emma’s foraging guide book series, Never Mind The Burdocks. Split into four books, one for each season, the set takes you through a full year of foraging in the British Isles. The books are packed full of high-quality photographs, detailed information about various edible plants and also recipes and cooking ideas to inspire you.
You can also check out Emma Gunns Ted Talk– A Foragers Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse
We thoroughly enjoyed our morning with Emma and came away excited and intrigued to get out and about in our local area on the hunt for edible treasures. Now we have the books to take with us on adventures too so that we can learn as we wander and become true foragers!
Have you been foraging before? If not why not explore the options for courses or workshops for beginners in your local area. After all, what’s not to love about free nutritious food!?