Three years on from the lockdowns and societal change caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, we are reflecting by listening to Rupert Waites story of creating and distributing a syrup that offered more than a foraged taste of hedgerow.
In covid we saw it as the best time to get out and to re-establish a place in the world through foraging, joining in the wider community, giving and receiving and stopping and seeing the beauty in the world.
We donated elderberry and rosehip syrup to care homes for two reasons. Firstly, to offer some immune support to the people that are likely to need it most. But also just to give them something to brighten their day.
When people have dementia it can be a taste or a smell that triggers memories, often transporting folks to happier times. Rosehip in particular was something that always went down well, it raised a smile and brought back happier times.
I used to work in a care home cooking and we always worked hard to try to get the residents outdoors, but it was difficult. We were often more successful in bringing the outdoors in. If you are 95 and suffering a bit, you especially deserve a little joy in any way possible.
The feedback we got mostly came from carers and medical staff. It was a real pick me up for many isolated individuals; something that just said someone cares.
The idea to sell some and give some away is in its infancy but one which we are committed to. Working with Napiers we both have charities that we would like to benefit from the goodness as well as offer it to those who can afford it.
We found it difficult in the pandemic though to find receptive homes for all of it. Some went in via care staff but other homes were reluctant to accept anything at all that wasn't on their books. It was understandable as they were under fire and criticism from all sides. We managed though to get three (care homes) on board and also gave plenty away to day centres, hospital workers, nurseries, scout groups and just everyone that came through our door. It was really time consuming but so great to see everyone come in the door with joy on their face and a story to tell.
Our oldest picker was 83, and she had memories of childhood picking and the commercial rosehip syrup – delrosa. Many of the younger pickers were discovering the joy of foraging for the first time and I loved seeing that generational knowledge gap being bridged.
The work with local landowners is as yet also in its infancy. We have a really successful partnership with Gifford community Woodland and operate on a Birch sap for cash and help with events type arrangement. They allow us access to tap the sap and in turn we donate time , money and some nice plants to help them enhance their offering. It's a win win situation and shows off how you can commercialise a resource, make friends and make the forest a better place for all.
We have a nice relationship with a Highland Croft, and a local regenerative woodland project too. In the past we worked with a local care home ,to plant up things that were both edible and attractive. It’s now a space of joy and wonder for the residents. It attracts people, volunteers, wildlife and gasps of amazement! On top of that it also gave us wild foods to use in our pop up restaurant. We pay for them and put money back into the garden for more plants.
We are currently expanding our horizons, are looking into alternative uses for the Highland Croft, as well as looking into regenerating a run-down farming estate. We’re hoping to make it a more useful resource for us and for the wildlife and people in the surrounding area. It's our belief that only by properly integrating plants people and places will we see things truly thrive. It is of course a work in progress, I hope in time it'll enable us to make great use of everyone's skills to help build toward a much better present. Ever the optimists I see a much brighter future than most and its in these little spaces that we can prove and demonstrate the good ideas.
I feel that as simple a thing as collecting rosehips has so much to offer as a community exercise where all are welcome to share their stories and joy of the landscape. Everyone felt like their efforts were meaningful. We didn't have nearly as much time this year but its something we really want to cement into our calendar and be ready for. Or would hope someone with more time might take it up and run with it. I could see it becoming a national not for profit thing, involving schools, nurseries, and people of all ages regardless. That's my kind of revolution. All starting with rosehips. A Rosehip Revolution. I think the answers to many of life’s problems present themselves in those calm moments in the hedgerows and afterwards round a table in the kitchen. And one of the answers is to ask for less and to give more whilst rejoicing together in the beauty and bounty that surrounds us.
Making your own rosehip syrup is so easy.
Make sure your bottles are sterilised, boil the mixture and decant straight into the hot bottles
Ensure that the sugar content is high
Always use glass bottles with a securely fastening and air tight lid
Bottles can be sterilised by popping them in a moderate oven for 10 minutes or by sealing them full and immersing them in simmering water for 30 minutes to pasteurise
Unpasteurised, it keeps in the freezer
Once opened I keep it in the fridge.
Foraging and ADHD By Sam Webster and Freya Rimmington
My opinion of ADHD has changed, like many I thought was an excuse for lazy, easily distracted kids who didn’t want to go to school. That was partly based on experience, used to work in a school for pupils who had been expelled. I remember one pupil in particular who had ADHD, with hindsight - the school environment was the worst place for her - she was very easily distracted and the tiniest little thing and her head would fling round to see what it was, she couldn’t sit still or stay quiet. Little did I think back then that I could have ADHD too.
I’m quite new to understanding the nuances of living with ADHD, but after to talking to some other neurospicy members of the Association of Foragers I feel like I've found people who get me A huge proportion of professional foragers and other outdoor instructors seem to have ADHD, all experiencing very similar symptoms. Unsurprisingly we all came to the conclusion: Foraging helps.
The art of finding wild food is a hyperfocus activity; foraging for and learning about plants, seaweeds and mushrooms is something that can never get boring and more importantly it can never be “completed”. Psychologist William Dodson, suggests that there are five things that are the top motivating factors for someone with ADHD: Interesting, Novel, Challenging, Urgent, and Passion (INCUP for short). Foraging is a subject that ticks all these boxes for me, it has the motivating factors necessary to keep my ADHD brain engaged.
Foraging coupled with my diagnosis, helps me make peace with who I am as a person: I have learned to rein in my inner critic and to try and find ways to work with my brain rather than fighting against it.
People with ADHD are much more attentive and notice the small fine details (under INCUP rich circumstances). Fellow forager, Freya Rimmington said “often while leading a foraging course she’ll spot a tiny mushroom, thirty paces away, hiding behind a leaf, attendees will look baffled and say to “how the hell did you notice that”. This perceptive impression is somewhat ruined however at the end of the course she is tearing her hair out looking for her car keys that are sitting on the bench right next to her. This high level of competence and perception juxtaposed with almost inexplicable blindsightedness is the dichotomy that is ADHD, it is one of the reasons it can be difficult for those without to understand us and take the condition seriously.
Many of us desperately struggle with - or straight up avoid - the clerical side of running foraging events. Being stuck, sitting down, indoors, looking at a spreadsheet or writing emails is obviously not a stimulating time for anyone, but when you’ve got ADHD it can be EXCRUCIATING! Our brains race to find reasons to stop the necessary task or they invent other incredibly “important” things you could be doing instead, conducting extensive research into all the wild things you can make into paper. But it’s what we’ve got to do in order to run the business we all love! For most of us a few hours in the woods is required post admin to reset our brains.
Foragers with ADHD are blessed with the ability to look everywhere, we tap into small signals, environmental, seasonal, or just good vibes that tell us something good is to be found nearby. It’s enough to send us darting through the countryside on the hunt! Finding the elusive mushroom or herb not only means food but also equates to that dopamine high we are constantly chasing. Result.
Foraging is great for everyone’s mental health, for me when I’m out foraging either on my own or with other foragers I find the constant background noise in my head become calm and quiet, a sense of still and focus floods my brain and all the stresses and responsibilities are forgotten for a few blissful hours. I struggle with the traditional concept of mindfulness and being calm and still, particularly if I’m required to sit quietly, I just wanna jump up and make noise. So the focus I get from foraging is the best type of meditation.
Another fellow forager, Emma Cronin once said to me that the best thing she ever did was take up foraging, it keeps her intrigued, interested and constantly learning.
Nature is incredible and a constant wonder. It’s a pleasure to have a brain that’s wired to embrace it. I think when you have ADHD it hits all the right buttons.
I will always have ADHD and I will always forage.
Sam Webster and Freya Rimmington
An introduction to finding yourself through foraging from AoF member Sam Webster.
When I spot a comfy patch of moss in the woods. I lie on it, I find a river, my shoes are off and I paddle in it, and then walk home barefoot because I didn’t bring a towel. Foraging made me the person I am today. It has taught me more than just how to find food and how to feed myself, foraging has taught me how disconnected we humans are from the rest of the natural world.
Foraging is more than just finding food, medicine or materials. It’s about being aware we share our food with all the other living things that we also share the planet with. Like when you spot a hungry slug munching its way through a perfect porcini. If there are older porcini about, I often move the slugs to other less desirable specimens that I won't be taking home, after all they live a harder life than we do. Foraging is about knowing the weather; mushrooms grow after a few days after rain. This is because mushrooms grow through cell hydration, the more water they absorb the bigger they get. If you go out too early then they will be too small to pick, Flowers are sweeter on a hot sunny day because there are more pollinators about, so the flowers produce more food for them to entice them to come to their flower. This means we are in tune with the seasons, we notice the temperature changes, the length of days changing and the different foods that emerge with the seasonal changes. We notice migratory birds and animals hiding away for winter, this tells our body clock it’s time too for us to slow down for winter. When they return again in the spring, once it starts to warm up, it’s time for us to get excited for the new life spring brings. Being a forager, means excitement, I am constantly excited about all the many aspects of each season.
I believe in the plant world everything is talking to each other through the wood wide fungal web, sending messages to alert one another of changes or dangers around them. Animals have great senses, they can smell, see or hear if a predator is coming. For example, if you wander noisily through a wood, you won't see many animals. But if you sit still and quiet in a wood for long enough, you’ll notice, birds especially robins coming to see what you’re doing. I was once sat in Macclesfield Forest, quietly collecting wood sorrel, when two rutting stags were having a debate. I stayed very still until they got too close and then stood up, they immediately stopped fighting and legged it.
Listening to nature
It’s the norm is our western society to put thick pieces of rubber or plastic on our feet so we feel nothing from the ground. I actually hate wearing shoes and feel much more connected when I walk barefoot in my surroundings. We cover ourselves in overpowering chemical scents, which block out all other natural, wild, important smells. Since I stopped using perfume and scented cleaners my nose has become much more receptive to the smells out there. I can smell the rain coming, or smell a mushroom before I see it. We’re surrounded by noisy machines like cars, so we hear very little. I find it hard to find wild places where there isn't the sound of cars or aeroplanes in my fairly rural area of Cheshire. These droning noises block out the hammer of woodpeckers or calls of insects and birds. We don't notice the gentle song of the wind. These sounds are all around us all of the time and, if we are not careful, we are in danger of missing them. This is a shame as natural sounds are the most calming and relaxing sounds we can listen to. According to the mental health charity Mind time in nature can reduce feelings of loneliness, anxiety, depression and overall improve our mood. However, instead of embracing the calming noises of the natural world and all it can give us we can find ourselves blocking it out in order to listen to recorded meditation apps! I feel most connected with nature when I’m using as many senses as I can, so it helps to have my nose clear, my skin bare and my ears tuned into what the world is trying to tell me
This is why I love to spend time alone in quiet woods connected with my world. A world that has over 8 million other species out there, each being interacting with its neighbouring species, communicating, fighting, sharing, and listening to each other.
I don't know about you but, when I’m not foraging, I can feel really left out of the world I call home. We’ve just had a city break over the holidays, we’ve been to museums and parks etc and I've had less time to forage and explore the natural world. There's been very few green wild spaces, only manicured grass and a few trees surrounded by concrete. It's been loud with the drone of cars and chatter, there's lots of fumes and other man-made smells (though the restaurant smells were pretty good). Getting home I can feel it in my body and my mind, that I'm more tense and not as relaxed and calm. I miss my wild time. I long for the feeling I get from nature, the sense of calm and peace, feeling my heart rate slow, my muscles relax and the cloud of responsibilities and chores float away from my head space. I'm excited to get back to that world, to spot things, to smell things, hear things, feel things and taste things again.
I’d love to be able to understand the world like our ancestors did before we had modern technology, bury my ear in the ground and listen to what's going on, who is talking to who, which species are putting up a fight or sharing what they have with others. I’d draw the line at relying on stars to get me to places because satnav is easier to follow! But is this wrong, to navigate without really looking where we’re going, which way we're travelling, or without really noticing the natural landmarks just following a little arrow along a line on a screen.
We also look at the weather on our phones and tv but rarely look at the actual weather. Noticing changes of the seasons, why things thrive some years and not others, that a red sky at night means we will have dry weather and a red sky in the morning means that it’s going to be changeable. A simple pine cone will show if it’s going to rain soon, as they detect increased humidity caused by the incoming rain evaporating and dispersing in the local area. When the humidity increases water absorbs into the cone and it triggers the fibres to contract closing the cone. All these little acts or bits of knowledge is where the connection with nature comes from, even if it’s something as simple as knowing which way is north. Where you are… which way are you facing right now?
I don't think I would now be questioning how connected to nature I am if I had not become a forager, and for that reason I think foraging is one of the most important things in my life. I am now an ambassador for nature, I want to protect it, preserve it and watch it grow. I wish everyone could feel how I feel about nature because it's the best high you can get.
Sophie Wren shares a sense of place in Yorkshire led by the abundance and taste of bistort.
In the sheltered nook of a valley I kneel by the side of a stream and gather a bunch of large, spade-shaped leaves. The stream’s peaty water slides under a rough stone footbridge and onwards, towards woodland of twisty oaks. This place feels ancient, and I think about the people of old who might have stopped here to gather the very same leaves. The leaves are vibrant green in the sunlight and have a beautiful pink tint to their slender stems. They belong to a plant called common bistort, Bistorta officinalis, which has an abundance of local nicknames including ‘passion dock’, ‘sweet dock’, ‘Easter man giant’, ‘dockings’, ‘ledger’ and ‘snake root’. These many affectionate names hint at the plant’s local significance; it has a long history of being eaten in Calderdale, Yorkshire and is the key ingredient in an Easter time breakfast dish known as ‘dock pudding’.
In search of a Local Legend
Bistort is abundant in parts of Cumbria and Southern Scotland, as well as Calderdale. Elsewhere in the country it can be scarce or absent. I have searched many a stream bank in Northumberland, for example, and only found one small patch.
Look for it on the ‘ledges’: banks of rivers and streams, as well as in damp meadows. It grows in lively congregations and if you ever walk the river path between Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd you will see it carpeting the banks. Looking like the smart cousin of broadleaved dock (Rumex obtusifolius), common bistort has neatly-edged leaves and pink, ‘winged’ stems that differentiate it from members of the dock family.
Where its rhizomes have been exposed by the flow of the water you might see stout and twisted red-brown roots. The people of the past likened these roots to snakes, and their appearance may have been the inspiration for some of its more archaic names, such as ‘adderwort’. Flowers appear in summer and the pretty pink heads have an almost fluffy appearance, growing in spikes on tall, slender stems.
Dock Pudding for Breakfast
The local traditions surrounding common bistort in Calderdale are still very much alive and well. Every year around Easter time, people gather for the World Dock Pudding Championships in the village of Mytholmroyd, where contestants cook up their version of the savoury pudding in front of a crowd, ready for the judges’ taste test. The competition was founded in 1971 to keep the pudding-making tradition alive.
Basic ingredients for the pudding, which is traditionally served as part of a cooked breakfast, are: common bistort, nettles, oatmeal, onions and seasoning. There are many variations and ‘secret ingredients’ included by those who enter the competition. My colleague and good friend Leonie Morris devised an extremely tasty recipe, which is a contemporary twist on the traditional method and includes a spoonful of miso paste.
If you are interested in a unique way to enjoy this tasty wild food, check out my bistort bhajis video and recipe. The bhajis include two wild ingredients and cost just 50p to make.
There is something extremely special about gathering bistort along local stream banks, and cooking up dock pudding over a campfire, with our Live Wild foraging groups. Perhaps it is the feeling of being closer to our ancestors as we wander well-worn paths, chatting and laughing, nibbling the raw leaves and collecting handfuls in our baskets. There is also a sense of creating new stories that are part of a future legacy. Who knows, perhaps over time some new nicknames for this plant might even emerge!
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).
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