Outdoors: From hedgerows and woods to coastal paths, Scotland’s bounty awaits the forager
It doesn’t have shopping trolleys, stacked aisles or checkouts, but if you look at it in the right light, Scotland’s natural landscape is effectively a secret supermarket.
Food, drink, medicine, fuel and lots more are out there waiting to be found, if you know where to look and what to look for. Interest in foraging continues to grow, with many people keen to learn which of the green leaves in a hedgerow are edible; to track down a recipe for crab apple jelly or even to learn how to brew up some elderflower champagne. But for all the enthusiasm there are still worries – have you identified a species correctly and is it sustainable or even legal to harvest it? This month’s publication of A Handbook of Scotland’s Wild Harvests (Saraband, £12.99) looks set to address concerns and fill would-be foragers with enthusiasm.
The book has been produced in association with two organisations – Reforesting Scotland and the Scottish Wild Harvests Association – and its chapters have been written by some of the most experienced of Scotland’s foragers. The first surprise is how long the list of harvestable plants is – from wild mushrooms, seaweeds, fruits and nuts to medicinal plants, firewood and natural dyes. In one chapter you’ll find a long list of potential leaves for wild salads, such as ground elder, dandelion and sorrel, while the potential of plants to create teas, cordials and wines results in a whole different chapter – spruce beer, birch sap wine and spring gorse cordial are just a few of the recipes featured. The book’s editor, Fi Martynoga, says that despite being surrounded by such a wild bounty, many of us never even notice it. “We overlook the obvious and ubiquitous, like nettles and burdock, we even overlook delicious brambles,” she says. “One of the best sites I know is at the foot of Arthur’s Seat and there is always fruit to be had in the autumn, despite its proximity to well-used paths.”
Despite having foraged since she was a child, Martynoga says that the number of edible plants featured in the book surprised her. “I had no idea that native hogweed stalks would be so tasty or that the young shoots of several vetches are delicious to munch straight off the plant,” she says. “However, people need guidance. Giant hogweed is not edible and, famously causes nasty skin rashes. The pretty wee pods of the wild vetches are to be avoided, too, as the seeds of some species could be toxic.” As well as helping us get to know what edible plants are out there, the book takes the next step and also includes recipes, such as sea buckthorn salad dressing, mushroom ketchup and “weeds in the hole”, which replaces sausages with wild garlic, ground elder and bistort.
One chapter is devoted to seaweed, which Martynoga points out is “extremely nutritious and high in vitamins and minerals, so it has to be a food for the future.” During the course of road-testing the book, one of her tasks was to go out and learn to identify six or seven different types of seaweed. “It put me in the position of so many people who would like to start to forage a little but lack confidence and experience,” she says. “Our book will put them in the picture and guide them to the reference books they will need for specialist subjects like seaweeds and wild mushrooms.”
A Handbook of Scotland’s Wild Harvests goes beyond the edible, with chapters devoted to firewood, medicine and “bringing the wild back home”, which covers dyes, basketry, green woodworking, seed collecting and other useful species. You don’t have to read many pages before you’ll be filled with the urge to go out exploring to see what you can find. “It is so pleasing to go out for a walk and return with something to eat or use,” says Martynoga. “Children love doing it and it really expands their understanding of the countryside. I feel disappointed if I don’t taste or collect something on walks in most seasons of the year, from wild raspberries today to larch cones for decorations at Christmas.” So if you want to transform yourself from tentative forager to full-blown wild harvester, this book will keep you on the right track.
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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