A winter gathering of foragers, the annual meet up of the Association of Foragers written up by Andy Hamilton.
Happy gaggle of foragers (photo Mark Williams)
Places have personalities, shaped by the events that happen across their existence. Ice sheets carving then flooding a valley. Followed by flora and then fauna, ever changing. The flora feeding the fauna and fauna fertilising the fauna. Just as we are fertilised by the people we meet and the places we visit. We partner with the land, it enriching us and us enriching it. Just by being somewhere we form a symbiotic bond, on its simplest level we breath out what the trees breath in and vice versa. On a more complex level the colours, smells, sounds and bacteria present are all shaping us. This is why I believe, choosing a good venue is like matchmaking. Get it right and you’ll remember it forever.
Graham Whitehouse chose Torphichen because of its location, near airports, train stations and roads, price and room for unpredictable numbers. But he also picked it because he knew, it was a “beautiful spot that can get under your skin”. I couldn’t disagree, nestled as we were between rock and trees in a place deemed spiritual enough by our ancestors to build sacred ritual structures. Views out across rural Scotland, marsh, field and Lochcote reservoir glistening in the distance. All gave us a serene personality for us to fall in love with, and be comforted by, across one magical weekend.
Arriving in the first car, I got the luxury of meeting the waves of attendees. Many for the first time. AoF members’ nationalities are multiplying and along with it our diversity of skills, knowledge and gifts that we all bring to the group. Talk both during and after the weekend on social media, phone calls and emails was of how welcoming we all are, of how comfortable we are with each other. Chats were plentiful, joyous and educational, from the history of Poland, giggles over long and shite poems, unravelling the education system, the best uses for a duck pancreas to what we think has shaped who we are now.
With our kinship we were offered glimpse of what the world could be if we were in charge. A gift economy, each of us excited about what we could bring to the party instead of what we can take away.
People then were my biggest highlight of the AMU. Followed by workshops, of which there were plenty. We learnt to identify conifers getting to our firs from our spruces, guided by Jennie Martin. Nev Kilkenny showed us how to observe identifying characteristics of mushrooms under microscopes. Amy Rankine organised a visit to Otherworld Brewing and a hands on experiment evaluating different blends of beer with beech. Matthew Rooney led a tour around Cairnpapple Hill and Torphichen Preceptory and other sites where our ancestors trod. Łukasz Łuczaj talked about recording different foods in different societies and countries and what they tasted like, including Tibeten, Eastern Europe, and Korean foods. Drawing on my experience of writing books I (Andy Hamilton) encouraged members to share their knowledge in print with a writing workshop.
Chocolate augmented elf cups in Charlotte Flower's workshop (photo Mark Williams)
Of course there were food workshops: fermentation (Szymon Szyszczakiewicz), butchery (Rupert Waites), preserving, brining (Craig Worrall), the delights of fly agaric (Courtney Tyler), chocolate making (Charlotte Flower), wild flour (Monica Wilde), and I organised a cocktail cabaret. These all were as generously received as they were given. Advance preparation and the guts to stand up in front of our peers (a brave move indeed!) meant all workshop facilitators were received with gratitude and appreciation.
Technical side of a workshop (photo Mark Williams)
Entertainment was also a feature of the AMU. Mark Williams made the poet who is the beating heart of Scottish culture, Robert Burns come alive, as the freshly made haggis was brought to the table..
Exactly a week has passed since and I still feel that the personality of that land, filled with you all, sits within me and has shaped me. A kindly mentor who has prepared me and filled me with excitement for the coming season.
Thank you all again for every little part you played. It could easily feel that the next bit of matchmaking is an uphill struggle, how can any place compete? I’d argue that the pieces are all there, the soil of the AOF that already teams with life. Add to that another year of learning, another year of bonding and growing from these fertile roots and we’ll grow anywhere.
I really look forward to seeing you all again soon, wherever that may be.
Each year the Association of Foragers hold a multi-day meet-up for its members. These are a chance for members to catch up, share knowledge, plan collaborations, concoct wild cocktails, feast and party together. Lisa Cutcliffe of Edulis Wild Foods made this short film about our February 2023 meet-up in West Lothian, Scotland.
(Film shot in portrait for Instagram - full screen recommended!)
How do we agree best foraging practice, and how might we benchmark and accredit it? Mark Williams explores some of the issues and possible ways forward raised by a recent research.
Jointly funded funded by The Association of Foragers and NatureScot (Scotland's public nature agency), a report entitled "Wild Food Accreditation Scheme - Scoping Report" was published in July 2022.
Written by AoF members, the report explores current opportunities and challenges around foraging for both personal and commercial use in the UK, and outlines possible ways forward for promoting and, where helpful, accrediting responsible, safe wild harvesting.
You can read the report here: Wild Food Accreditation Scheme Report_Final-2.pdf
After reviewing research and discussing current tensions and opportunities around foraging, the report identifies several key tenets that should underpin a Wild Food Accreditation Scheme:
Based on these principles, the report proposes a three-tier accreditation structure overseen by a steering group made up of interest groups including foragers, land managers, conservation organisations, food standards, and plant, fungi and seaweed specialists.
The intention of this report is to reach out to individuals, organisations, businesses and landowners with an interest in wild food and foraging to find common ground in order promote the benefits of foraging while minimising any risks or negative impacts, by identifying, benchmarking and, accrediting best practice.
The AoF welcomes any feedback, thoughts, comment and applications to stand on the steering group from anyone who has read the report and has an interest in the ideas and concepts it raises. In particular, insights from the following groups would be most welcome:
Please email email@example.com if you'd like to contribute.
You can read about the context of the report and its intentions by one of its authors here: https://gallowaywildfoods.com/accrediting-foraging-and-wild-food-in-the-uk/
Image ©Mark Williams GallowayWildFoods.com
A journey to sweet tastes of the wild shared by Rachel Lambert
It was back in spring 2010 when it all started – the soil and days were warming up, enabling the plants, my energy and ideas to flow better. I’d been out picking nettle tops that morning. It was a gloriously crisp morning and spending time outdoors picking from a patch of dark green, vibrant leaves felt like a simple kind of heaven for me.
Back in my kitchen I started to wonder about putting nettles in a cake. I’d come across ‘green spinach cake’ and thought it was worth playing with my own version. A couple of hours later I had a finished Nettle and Honey Cake that looked and tasted great! Hmm, what if, I thought, I could create a whole book combining wild ingredients and sweet treats?
‘There’s something about the combination of foraging and sweetness that has always been irresistible to me. I was brought up on homemade cooking, sweet baking and wild adventures. ...Homemade cordials, cakes or treats were a daily affair, punctuating the day and the end of meals; thus my ‘naturally’ sweet tooth was shaped.’ (Extract from Wild and Sweet – forage and make 101 seasonal desserts by Rachel Lambert, p8)
Fast-forward 12 years and in my hands I hold a creation I’m very proud of. It’s the book I’ve always wanted to write and the angle on foraging that comes most naturally to me.
Wild and Sweet is a book that travels through the seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter using weeds from each season and making desserts and sweet treats from them. Leaves, shoots, flowers, seeds, fruits, berries and roots all get utilised to create over 100 dishes. From cordials to cookies, tarts to tray bakes, ice creams to cocktails and sorbets to sponges.
Each plant is described in detail alongside a clear, plant portrait for easy identification. Subheadings here include: main identifying features, when to forage, where to forage, how to forage, cautions and other notable varieties.
Just covering 20 wild plants widely available across Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, Asia and Africa. It offers inspiration to the well-seasoned forager and the newbie. Actually, I carefully chose the range of plants so the book could be used as worldwide as possible.
‘As a cook rather than a chef, I delight in uncomplicated puddings that show off wild aromas – either subtly or boldly. Not only do foraged ingredients bring a sense of adventure and colour to the table, they bring a range of forgotten flavours too.’ (Extract from Wild and Sweet – forage and make 101 seasonal desserts by Rachel Lambert, p10)
Wild and Sweet can be ordered in your local bookshop, if they don't already have it on the shelf, or bought direct from Rachel's website or from Hoxton Mini Press.
Wild and Sweet is illustrated with photos by Elliot White
Foraging teacher and Association of Foragers member Mark Williams of Galloway Wild Foods explores the growing popularity of wild garlic and suggests some strategies to help keep it abundant.
This article focuses on considerate harvesting of wild garlic. For more detailed information around identification, look-alikes, nutrition and culinary uses, see this article: https://gallowaywildfoods.com/wild-garlicramsons-edibility-identification-distribution/
Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) has become a poster-plant for the resurgent interest in foraging in recent years. It isn’t hard to work out why: it is straightforward to identify, very good for you, delicious, versatile in the kitchen, and is abundant across much of the UK and Europe.
It has become the star of thousands of social media posts, foraging websites, cookery columns, and even TV shows, moving it from the relatively niche world of foraging into the mainstream. Everyone is enthusiastic: even conservation organisations are sharing recipes for it and encouraging people to connect with its charms.
In doing so there tends to be a strong focus on its abundance and deliciousness, but not usually much detail on how to harvest it sensitively. Social media posts are often in such a hurry to show how pretty and delicious wild garlic can be that they forget to share more intimate messages around its ecology, and how to forage it in ways that are sensitive to the plant, its environment, and other creatures - including other foragers - that enjoy or rely upon it. Foraging websites do a little better, often mentioning that it should be “foraged responsibly”, but rarely spelling out how that might best be done. I often get asked on my guided walks about what is an appropriate amount to harvest.
The green blanket of wild garlic that covers so many UK woodlands in spring can give the impression of endless abundance that no amount of harvesting will make a dent in. Fishermen used to feel similarly about herring and cod...right up until they were gone!
Its easy - perhaps too easy - to grab a clump of wild garlic and crop it off at the base, repeat, and in so doing fill a carrier bag in a few minutes. Several bag-fulls later and there’s a bit of a bald patch on the forest floor…but no problem - it will be back just fine next year….won’t it?
The principles of the Association of Foragers recognise that each species that is foraged and each location in which foraging takes place require their own set of skills and insights. In this respect it is impractical and undesirable to impose a comprehensive set of rules around foraging. But that doesn't mean its not important to understand the deeper ecological significance of individual species: foraging is as much about learning and cherishing as it is about harvesting and eating.
Below I’ve outlined a few of the less discussed ecological roles of wild garlic, and a little about its life cycle and resilience. I’ve added some thoughts on why and how to considerately harvest it so that, as it grows ever more popular, it won’t suffer from its popularity. I have no doubt that most of these points will be second nature to many foragers, but I hope its helpful to collect them in one place.
Wild garlic is so prolific, and most foragers so considerate, that we are a very long way from there being any issues around general “over- harvesting” of wild garlic in the UK. It would be good to keep it that way. On more local levels, especially near large urban populations, or where it is being harvested commercially, inconsiderate wild garlic harvesting year-on-year has the potential to significantly diminish wild garlic colonies.
Wild garlic is allelopathic, which means it actively deters rival herbaceous plants by releasing volatile compounds which inhibit seed germination and plant growth. This is how colonies can come to dominate large areas of woodland. Its worth noting that the Royal Horticultural Society see's wild garlic mostly as a "weed plant" and much of its web page on the subject is dedicated to ways of controlling, or getting rid of it!
Although these colonies can seem endlessly abundant where they are well established, other species have evolved to rely on that abundance. Wild garlic is grazed by bears and wild boar in continental Europe but in the UK it is of food value primarily to insects, through its nectar. The compounds that make it so attractive as food to humans have actually evolved to deter insects and herbivores from grazing its leaves.
The flowers are pollinated by bees, moths, hoverflies, beetles and other flying insects. Wild garlic is the primary larval host plant for a specialised hoverfly, ramsons hoverfly (Portevinia maculata), which overwinter in the bulbs.
Wild garlic is native to the UK and used as an ancient woodland indicator species This is not to say that its presence alone indicates that a woodland is ancient, but its definitely a sign good of well established damp woods and a rich humus layer.
Wild garlic is a bulbous perennial that reproduces through both bulbs and seeds. Each plant has both male and female organs. It can take as much as 4 years for plants to reach reproductive maturity. Vegetative self-propagation through the production of new bulbs can be responsible for the majority of its reproduction, with seeds being less important, though reproductive strategies appear to vary significantly between localised populations.
It completes most of its growth cycle before the tree canopy opens, and can’t tolerate sustained bright sunlight.
Considerate Harvesting Strategies
If cut, wild garlic will grow back the following year, but repeated cutting year-on-year will weaken its bulbs and eventually erode once dense colonies.
Spend time getting to know your local patches, and spread your picking around different colonies within a season, and from year-to-year. Think of harvesting as thinning abundance, never stripping large areas and gathering from the middle, rather than the edges, of colonies. A good way to judge the impact of your harvesting is to look back over the area you have been harvesting from. If you can’t tell you have been there, you are doing it well.
Resist cutting whole clumps of wild garlic at the base. By thinning rather than clear-felling clumps you will leave plenty of leaves to nourish bulbs, and flower stalks to set seed. This sort of mindful harvesting is not only easier on the plant and your conscience, but helps to keep you safe - leaves of seriously toxic plants such as dog mercury, foxglove or lilly of the valley can easily sneak in to hastily grabbed harvests.
The image above shows a single - and potentially fatal - foxglove leaf, mixed in with a bundle of wild garlic leaves. While these plants aren't particularly similar, hasty or careless harvesting could result in serious illness or even death.
Consider that other foragers may be visiting a location too, and try to develop a sensitivity for which locations are being hit hard, and avoid them.
Tread lightly, especially early in the season, when a lot of shoots may not yet have broken through leaf litter.
Don’t uproot wild garlic – this will definitely and rapidly undermine future populations, and the bulb isn’t really worth eating anyway.
If you are gathering the green seed pods, leave plenty to mature on the plant and return when they are black and ready to fall to spread some in likely habitats further afield (they aren’t reproductively viable at the green stage, and need to mature on the stem).
If you think wild garlic might be on the retreat in your locale, consider seeking out wild leeks instead. Few-flowered leek (Allium paradoxum) and three-cornered leek (Allium triquertum) are both considered to be problematic non-native invasive species in the UK, and wild garlic is one of the species they can displace. You needn’t worry about taking too many wild leeks, and pulling them up root-and-all is actually helpful - but be extremely careful not to introduce them to new locations by putting their seeds or bulbs in your compost.
Foraging done well is reciprocal, not exploitative.
It is possible to promote new wild garlic colonies by dividing a few wild garlic clumps (bulbs intact) from the middle of thriving colonies and introducing them elsewhere. This is not an operation to perform without careful consideration though: you need the land-owner's permission to uproot a plant, and the presence of wild garlic in a new location may not necessarily be a good thing for that locale - you should be very careful to consult any existing conservation management plans. More straightforward would be to introduce wild garlic to your garden, though bear in mind its allelopathic tendencies - you may end up struggling to control it!
Habitat loss and degradation is by far the biggest threat to plants such as wild garlic. You can look after your local patch through small acts of loving stewardship such as litter-picking, and work to protect existing woodland habitats (over zealous drainage and “tidying” up of fallen leaves may be problematic for wild garlic), or better still, supporting community woodlands.
Try to forage as close to home as possible, and consider fellow foragers. Should you bump into other wild garlic harvesters, remember that “your” patch may very well have been “their” patch long before you found it! Most foragers are friendly, but can be initially territorial until they trust the intentions of new arrivals!
Every forager should be an ambassador for foraging. Be ready to gently demonstrate your caring relationship with the things you forage to those that may be curious or suspicious. Should you notice inconsiderate harvesting, try gentle reeducation through example and by politely discussing your relationship with wild garlic beyond the kitchen. Lecturing rarely works - in person or on social media! Use your platforms to spread rounded sensitive insights into the plants you forage.
All images ©GallowayWildFoods.com
Perhaps in January we notice our evergreens more, so lets take a look at Juniper with this excerpt from AoF member Lukasz Luczaj's book on Foraging in Eastern Europe..
Common Juniper Juniperus communis L. Folk name: jałowiec
Juniper is a common coniferous shrub, found mainly on barren soils, usually in pastures, animals do not eat its spiny branches. It is highly light-dependent – the species is now becoming rarer as a result of the disappearance of grazing, as other more quickly growing woodland species grow past it and leave it in shadow.
In Poland the sweet fleshy juniper pseudo-berries are commonly used for food purposes. They are still available in shops, used as a seasoning for bigos (stewed meat and sauerkraut dish usually served in winter), juniper sausage and other meats (comp. Paluch 1984).
Another use of the berries is the preparation of juniper “beer”. In its most primitive form this consisted of grated berries with yeast, but as far as possible it was strengthened with honey or sugar, sometimes hop cones were also added (Moszyński 1929; Chętnik 1936; Malicki 1971; Bohdanowicz 1996; PEA2; PEA6). In the twentieth century the tradition of preparing this beer nearly disappeared. It was the most lively in the Kurpie and Podlasie regions, but it had originally covered almost the whole of Northern Poland, including a part of Pomorze. In the Kurpie region, at the turn of the XX and XXI centuries, the tradition of making this brew, known there as psiwo kozicowe, was significantly revived by tourist interest. It is now made by a few local producers (Madej et al. 2014). Wine was also occasionally made from the cone-berries of juniper in Southern Poland (Szromba-Rysowa 1966; Bohdanowicz 1996), and more often a kind of vodka (Bohdanowicz, PEA VII:361). Chętnik mentions that children ate large amounts of them in the Kurpie area (Chętnik 1936). As Dydowiczowa (1964) mentions, up until the eighteenth century juniper cone-berries were one of the products with which peasants paid taxes.
Juniper gives beer its characteristic flavor and it also probably acquires bacteriostatic properties during the fermentation process. The berries also contain sugar, which was important in the early twentieth century and earlier, when sugar was expensive. Juniper beer was local produce made by poor peasants. Although they made it mainly for festive occasions and weddings, they often could not afford any sugar at all. Thus the proportion of juniper berries, sugar and honey differed depending on the availability of the ingredients. Sometimes the beer was made without any sugar or honey. Nowadays the expensive ingredient is not sugar but juniper berries. Their collection is long, and there are fewer juniper bushes. The typical proportion of ingredients given by people from Kurpie and Podlasie is: 20 l of water, 1 kg of juniper berries (or more if possible), 2 – 2.5 kg of sugar and/or honey (these two ingredients can be added in various proportions), 2 handfuls of hops and 20-60 g yeast. The berries are mashed in a wooden mortar (now also in plastic buckets), mixed with water and left overnight or boiled for 2 hours. Then they are strained through a cloth to separate the seeds and resin. Only the strained liquid is used in the fermentation as the resin is harmful. The liquid is mixed with sugar and honey, heated and cooled. Then the yeast is added. Hops are boiled with little water and an extract from it is added to the container with other ingredients, or is added to juniper berries immediately. Nowadays the beer is fermented in 1.5 l plastic fizzy drink bottles. Originally it was brewed in wooden containers. Psiwo is ready after three days and can be kept in a cool place for another few weeks.
The tradition of fermenting juniper berries in Poland is most likely a very ancient one. A team of researchers, including the famous historian of alcohol Patrick McGovern (McGovern et al. 2013), found remnants of a mixed fermented beverage in three sites from Denmark. The finding dated from 1500 to 200 B.C. Thus the drink may have a history of over three thousand years! It is quite possible that the tradition of juniper beer making in northern Europe has continued uninterrupted since those times. For details of the facts cited in this chapter, see my (and my colleagues’) paper (Madej et al. 2014).
Courtney Tyler of Hips and Haws Wildcrafts shares her enthusiasm for all aspects of one of our most recognisable mushrooms, the fly agaric.
As a forager, like you perhaps, my interest in mushrooms lies most in those that are edible, deadible, and medicinal. And certainly those of entheogenic properties pique my interests. And of course, the Fly Agaric is all of these things.
Kidney beans, olives, coffee beans, chocolate, cashew nuts, puffer fish, raw chicken, raw pork, acorns, yew arils—there are so many foods that we have become accustomed to preparing in a special way to make them edible. Many edible mushrooms are avoided, as we are often not presented with information on which steps of soaking, salting, high heat or drying can render something toxic, unpalatable or indigestible into something edible and delicious. I particularly enjoy Geoff Dann’s Edible Mushrooms of UK and Ireland book as he finally presents one with the preparation methods to render many often avoided species edible.
The spectrum of edibility is something I really enjoy discussing with people on my mushroom walks. The newbies most pressing question: “what is this and is it edible?” can irk a bit as it’s oft repeated thousands of times on any foray or mushroom ID Facebook group. As you know, the answer is often much more complex than a simple yes or no. The species, the age, the condition, the growth of secondary moulds, the person’s constitution/ personal intolerances/ tolerances, allergies, the cooking or preparation methods: salting, boiling, application of high heat, quantity consumed, alcohol consumption etc. all can play a role in determining a delicious dinner from one that has you in the grips of gastrointestinal distress or worse.
Having said all this it is indisputable that fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) does contain toxins. However muscarine and ibutenic acid are not deadly in the quantity that AM contains and can easily be removed.
On the other side, there’s simplicity here too: does a substance contain toxins that are generally dangerous or toxic or indigestible to humans? The death cap is an example something that no matter your preparation methods contains toxins that cannot be neutralized. In contrast the fly agaric in which the toxins can easily be detoxified and the mushroom consumed (and enjoyed).
In February 2020 at the AoF Annual Meet Up I was excited to talk with Fergus Drennan about his experience and experimentation with this very fly agaric. Our conversation grew from words into an event celebrating this mushroom. We explore folklore, mythology and traditional use of fly agaric around the world and separate the facts from fiction. We learn about the herbal medicine uses of its tincture. Of course while considering fly agaric as food we also taste it. Some dishes served up at our last event included: fly agaric and sea buckthorn vegan ice cream, sweet fly agaric sushi rolls with coconut, pumpkin hummus with fly agaric, candied fly agaric crisps, and we also pickled and fermented fly agaric as a group.
A brief note on this year's gathering of foragers, written by AoF member Daniel Butler.
Since at least 2019 it has been traditional to end our meetings with a road kill haggis. Normally this vaguely coincides with Burns Night, but this year we were almost half a year out. With meetings limited by pandemic legislation our annual meet up was also restricted in number. While we successfully held our Annual General Meeting online for official business, we were delighted to be able to gather for an abridged Annual Meet Up. It is wonderful spend time with old friends, but it is possibly even better to forge new friendships and the newcomers are all – without question – great additions to the Association.
This year our events team—Mark, Leanne, Lucy, Lucia, and Amy—arranged three days in early June at AoF members Ben and Deb’s wild camping rewilding site near Kendal in the Southern Lakes. With members from across Britain and Ireland and a growing number of international members our Annual Meet Ups take place in a different location each year. Previously we have got together on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset where seaweed was a star of the agenda, a castle in Scotland, and a farm in Wales.
At Oak Howe we were totally off-grid. A river running through the site provided bathing facilities. Its chilly water made an extremely effective booze fridge—an essential since our members bring equal knowledge and creativity to drinks as we do to food.
Pizzas topped with wild produce was our first meal of the meeting, and a natural introduction to our host Ben’s workshop on cob pizza oven construction. Chicken of the woods and samphire were turned into a vegetarian version of Thai Green Curry by Lisa, whose mushroom expertise is not just taxonomy but also how to use them in the kitchen. Midsummer being less ideal for road kill haggis than January’s cool days and natural refrigeration the bulk of its ingredients were shop-bought. Yet it was still presented with authentic ceremony by Mark and his excellent rendition of ‘Address to a Haggis’.
Eating and drinking foraged ingredients were interspersed with workshops. Monica, a herbalist who runs a Lyme Disease clinic, gave a talk on ticks and Lyme’s Disease. Craig provided a detailed overview on acorns, making the work of leaching their tannins a reasonable trade for their edible merits. Deb led a tour around the site where wild species are supplemented with lightly gardened areas containing useful species that have been introduced to expand the site’s natural medicinal and kitchen cabinet.
Details for the 2022 Annual Meet Up will be circulated to members by November 2021.
After exploring the natural world in ‘Wild Ruins’, ‘ The Self-Sufficientish Bible’, and now foraging in ‘Where the Wild Things Grow’ we talked with Association of Foragers (AoF) member Dave Hamilton to understand the thread that connects his books.
Why divide ‘Where the Wild Things Grow’ into four main sections: man-made, rural, woodland, and water?
“Ordering things by where they grow helps with identification, and planning days out. Places direct how people forage and how they look for things. I’ve always done urban foraging so including that (within man-made) was important to me. ”
When and why did you join the AoF?
“I only became aware of the AoF recently. With this book, like the wild ruins books, I really wanted to travel, and to meet people foraging and feed that into the book. Then the pandemic happened so this become became more personal memoir than about other people and their foraging.”
How did you navigate the different audiences, experts and beginners, interested in reading foraging books?
“Kirty Topiwala, my editor, was really good at deciding what should go in and suggesting ways avenues to take. She wasn’t a forager and helped to construct the book as accessible for someone without the lexicon of foraging. Kirty also encouraged ethnobotanical details in the book. For example Fat Hen (Chenopodium album) grows here in farm and wasteland. It also grew in Russian gulags, where for prisoners it was a valuable addition to their impoverished diet as it was overlooked by prison guards as a weed. Through plants like this we see bits of humanity even in horrible places like the gulag. So fat hen was a secret plant, though growing in plain sight, that people ate. While nerdy details are in the book it is also pragmatic— things like a section on plants that grow in walls. While it might seem obvious to people who know those plants it isn’t obvious if you are getting to these plants and their habits. And while extolling pine needle tea, it is also handy to point out that they are often out of reach, unless you time visiting your local pines for the aftermath of high winds that break branches, which fall to the ground bringing fresh pine needles within reach. There are jokes and ideas in the book that are possibly more obvious to people who are foraging and plant literate. For example Elaegnus x submacrophylla doesn’t have a well known common name, so I’ve given it one that reflects its fruits that foragers are interested in: jelly bean bush.”
You include a whole chapter on ‘Edgeland’, what do these kinds of places mean to you?
“Edgelands are marginal places that aren’t quite countryside or city—canal side, meadow with a flyover— places where the wild crept in and reclaimed spaces. Within in them you can see signs of human life like graffiti and concrete, but also there might be otters (Lutra lutra) or Japanese knotweed (Reynoutria japonica) coming up. In edgelands councils often don’t bother attempting to control Japanese knotweed with herbicides, so they can be a good place for harvesting it free of contamination. Edgelands are definitely more accessible for a lot more people than rural areas. During wandering on their doorstep, prompted by lockdown, people have been finding new places they enjoy. In the chapter on edgelands I introduce what people might be able to forage there. If you forage land you’re connected to it, and if you’re connected to it you want to protect it. It could be the same for bird watchers and butterfly hunters, foraging is another strand to feeling connected to wild places. While we see human influence on edgelands they are still a place for wildlife.”
By definition most people think about trees when they consider woodlands, for you woodlands seem quite mushroomy?
“Yes! Woodland edges are great for foraging, and their interiors are places for mushrooms. Particularly in autumn when everything seems over it is a pleasure to see the forms and shapes of mushrooms coming up feeding on the decay. I built up confidence with mushrooms starting with those that are quite distinctive like chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus).”
How does ‘Where the Wild Things Grow’ fit in with your previous books?
“Foraging was an aspect of what I was doing at the time of writing ‘The Self-Sufficientish Bible’. Ostensibly ‘Grow Your Food for Free’ is about gardening, but within that you want to know your weedy species. ‘Wild Ruins’ followed by ‘Wild Ruins BC’ came out of foraging; I had been out foraging and kept seeing ruins. Writing about ruins was a different sort of writing, not just practical direction but also describing landscapes. In ‘Where the Wild Things Grow’ foraging is situated within landscapes.”
What was your first foraging experience?
“Making nettle soup with nettles from my parents’ garden in the 80s. I have an earlier memory from the late 70s when I was 5 or 6 of picking blackberries and dad falling into the blackberry bush it was funny (N.B. he was ok even if a bit scratched). There was a whole ritual about getting tubs to put blackberries in, finding the thickets, then picking them. I know there are now houses on the place where those blackberries grew. “
How has your foraging evolved?
“In my 20s it was quite obsessive—wanting to know what every plant was. Then going on bike journeys and foraging on the way. Now, that amount of time I had seems luxurious. With kids seeing their enthusiasm (at times) is part of it. Life is a bit busier and foraging is more en route where I can fit it in. Much more casual foraging, for example picking a handful of berries and microwaving them with sugar for a quick jam. Or a handful of garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) picked in the morning that will go in salad at lunch. Those big trips where I set out intending to go and forage have become rarer, and are more often if I am working teaching foraging, which I appreciate as a luxury of the job. “
How do you see foraging having changed in wider society?
“In the 1990s to early 2000s there was not much information around. There wasn’t much on the Internet and apart from Richard Mabey's ‘Food for Free’ and Roger Phillips ‘Wild Food’ there weren’t books on foraging. I remember going into a bookshop and asking for a foraging book. The reply was ‘Do you mean scrabbling round in bushes looking for food?’ and I was directed to John Seymour’s ‘The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency’ that had just a few pages on foraging in it. I would identify plants in wildflower guides and then look them up on PFAF to see if they were edible, but there wouldn’t be recipes I could find. Now you can look at Instagram and instantly find 50 different recipes for one species. People are doing fantastic things teaming up with chefs. Foragers used to be a bit more territorial about where they foraged, and now it seems that information is not quite so guarded. Being a peer group for foragers the AoF has helped to open that up.”
What is the role for foraging books now that information is easier to find online?
“Scrolling online is different to taking information in by reading a book, you don’t get the same level of immersion and escape. A book will take you somewhere much more than being online. It is also too easy to get distracted and jump from one thing to another online. Certainly the Internet has its strengths. Identification videos where they show you all around a mushroom or plant in three dimensions are really helpful learning tools. Both Internet and books are good resources. But, we do spend too much time online. Sitting down and reading quietly is so much nicer with a book than online.”
What are your future plans?
“I enjoy teaching foraging and want to carry on doing that. Working with chefs on the creative frontier of wild foods is something I would like to do. More books are in the pipeline too. “
Where the Wild Things Grow is available at local bookshops, Amazon , and Bookshop.org
Get inspired to harvest the feral by joining in with Wild and Feral Food Week, Association of Foragers member Philip Stark.
The seventh annual global Wild/Feral Food Week will take place May 21--29, 2021.
Wild/Feral Food Week takes place worldwide. For the last two years, we have had participants on every continent except Antarctica, cooperating to get "weeds on plates" (and in cups) around the world.
Wild/Feral Food Week has a number of goals:
• To introduce chefs, bartenders, eaters, and drinkers to new ingredients and "re-normalize" traditional foods that have fallen out of fashion due to industrialized agriculture.
• To establish a supply chain for wild and feral foods, including "harvesting between the rows" on farms.
• To promote foraging and foragers.
• To promote biodiversity on farms and sustainable/regenerative farming practices, including the use of edible cover crops and treating weeds as a resource rather than an enemy.
• To promote biodiversity of our diets--one of the strongest predictors of individual health.
• To remind us of who we are: hunter-gatherers intimately tied to the natural world and its complex abundance.
We would love to promote any public activities or offerings you have planned during that week.
This year, AoF is getting involved officially.
• You do whatever you were already planning to do, or add a special event.
• Submit your event(s) using this form as soon as you can, and we will do what we can to shine a light on it through social media, etc.
Whatever else happens, we will at least build community and document the international interest in wild and feral foods.
Participants must agree to follow the AoF Principles and these tenets.
• Many wild and feral foods are delicious, with flavors and textures that are different from cultivated foods. They provide a special culinary opportunity, specific to season and locale.
• Foraging should be conducted responsibly, in a way that promotes biodiversity, sustainability, and resilience of the food system and of our individual diets. Foraging practices must consider time and place. We endorse and follow the principles of the Association of Foragers.
• Wild and feral foods on farms can provide biodiversity, resilience, delicious nutrition, and income. We encourage farmers to embrace wild and feral foods as economic cover crops, to "harvest between the rows," and to bring wild and feral foods to market.
• By expanding food choices and raising public awareness, we seek to promote a just, inclusive, sustainable, resilient, biodiverse, restorative, nutritious food system that supports public health and reduces the negative consequences of industrial systems of food production.
• We advocate public policies that allow and encourage responsible foraging on public land. In addition to its health and educational benefits, foraging, especially of non-native invasive species, can play an important role in "pest" control.
• Foraging is healthful not only because of the nutrients it puts on the table: the activity itself is good for our bodies and our brains. It promotes healthy ecosystems by encouraging stewardship of natural resources and personal responsibility for our habitat—be it wild, rural, suburban, or urban. It feeds and sustains social, cultural, and economic relationships and ancestral knowledge.
• Food culture is world heritage. Everyone should learn to recognize common edible plants. Knowledge of wild and feral food should be available to all. For this reason, we do not claim any proprietary rights to information about wild and feral foods, and we share all our work using permissive licenses, such as CC-BY.
Many members of AoF have participated in previous years, as have other foragers, wildcrafters, farms and farming cooperatives, noteworthy chefs, thought-leading restaurants, and progressive, ecologically minded businesses including (among others):
Foragers and Wildcrafters
• Galloway Wild Foods (Mark Williams)
• Forage London (John Rensten, Peter Studzinski)
• Forage Frolics (Richard Mawby)
• Edible Leeds (Craig Worrall)
• Forage Fine Foods (Liz Knight)
• Elijah Holland
• "Wildman" Steve Brill
• Life by Lisen (Lisen Sundgren)
• Haandplukk (Kristin Nielsen)
• Savage Kitchen (Sunny Savage)
• Veld and Sea (Roushanna Gray)
• First Hand Experiences (Patricia Nunes)
• Fishing and Foraging Wales (Matt Powell)
• Thalli Foods
• Go Foraging (Martin Bailey)
• Four Season Foraging (Maria Wesserle)
• Mushroom Table (Matthew Rooney)
• Food Evolutions
• No Taste Like Home (Alan Muskat)
• Morcella Wild Foods (Bryan Jessop)
• Aura Cilento (Luca Cella)
• Strong Arm Farm (Heidi Hermann)
• Shared Cultures (Eleana Hsu)
• The Backyard Forager (Ellen Zachos)
• Leeds Indie Food /
• Feral Kevin and more!
Restaurants / Chefs / Caterers
• Chez Panisse
• Restaurante Manu
• The Buck and Birch
• Inver Restaurant
• The Gannett
• Dirt Candy
• Ned Ludd
• Pinoy Heritage
• Hoggorm Pizza
• Shiso Studio at Mrs Phink's House
• Gjelina / Gjusta
• Mission Heirloom
• Mission Chinese
• Orchard Kitchen
• Backyard Forestville
• Fradis Minoris
• The Tasting Kitchen
• The Rare Breed Chef
• Sanchez Cantina
• The Temple Club
• Farmacia dei Sani
• Solare Ristorante
• Sobremesa Culinary Tours and many more!
• Capay Vally Farms
• F.E.E.D. Sonoma
• Five Springs Farm
• Green String Farm
• Holistic Ag
• Honeycutt Farm
• The Living Wild Project
• Ron Finley's "Gangsta Garden"
• Strong Arm Farm
• Top Leaf Farms / Farm the Roof
• Veritable Vegetable
• Feral Heart Farm
• Kiss the Ground Garden
• Live Oak Farm
• Marin Roots Farm
• Resilient Farm
• Sonoma County Herb Exchange
• Seaquoia Wild Seaweeds
• SingleThread Farm and many more!
Distilleries, Breweries, Bars, and Food Makers/Purveyors
• The Botanist / Bruichladdich Distillery
• Oakland Spirits Company
• Native Bar
• Manly Spirits
• Scratch Brewing
• Endorfin Foods
• Volcano Kimchi
• DTU Skylab/FoodLab
• Nordic Food Lab
• Faenza Art District
© The Association Of Foragers 2019 | Follow our activities on social media via the hashtag #AOF