IT is the bread and butter of survival expert Ray Mears and celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
And Edinburgh residents could be following in their carefully trodden footsteps by becoming experts in the art of foraging for food.
Cafe and bistro The Edinburgh Larder is holding a course along the Union Canal to teach keen foragers how to gather wild food.
It is becoming a popular hobby these days, with growing endorsements from celebrity chefs and a plethora of cookery shows using ingredients gathered in the wild.
Those taking part in the urban foraging course along the canal can expect to find the likes of wild sorrel, sweet cicely, wild mint varieties, bitter cress and wild rocket.
“We have been running the courses for three or four years and there’s more people wanting to learn about it all the time,” explains Eleanor Cunningham, right, director of The Edinburgh Larder.
“We can take up to 20 people at a time – we don’t want any more than that so it allows people the chance to ask questions.
“It’s a really broad range of people we get on the courses – that’s why the forager asks what people want to get out of them.
“There’s a real age gap, from people in their 20s to those in their 60s. Some of them are interested in the more medical side of things, other people are just interested in what they can find if they are out on a little walk in town.”
The next course, on June 23, is being led by Anna Canning, a qualified medical herbalist, whose business Floramedica promotes health and wellbeing through the use of plant remedies, natural foods, and the natural environment.
Her “herb walks” are designed to help people use plants safely and sustainably in order to provide cheap and nutritious foods which can also be used as the basis for everyday remedies and cosmetics.
Eleanor, 35, says: “Anna is an experienced forager and medical herbalist who talks about the health properties of what we are finding, as well as the cooking. She brings along some nice bread so we can have a taste of what we have found.
“We normally try to choose somewhere that’s on a waterway so it’s got a variety of habitat for things to grow.
“Blackford Hill is good – it’s an area with lots of forest and shaded areas, more exposed areas and ponds, so there’s a bit of everything there. The Water of Leith has lots of different areas along it which are good for different things. The Hermitage – where we did it last time – was good because there’s wide open space and shade and steep paths going up from the water. Last time we found lots of wild garlic and wild leeks and lime leaves.”
Staff from The Edinburgh Larder regularly forage their own ingredients to use in dishes. Current dishes featured on the menu include spelt, barley and duck risotto with foraged herbs, scallops with ham hough and nettle soup, and vanilla set cream with poached rhubarb and sweet cicely.
Eleanor organises four foraging courses per year – two in spring and two in autumn.
“The spring/summer courses focus on wild herbs throughout the city,” explains Eleanor. “Sweet cicely is a really lovely herb with an aniseed flavour which goes nice with rhubarb and smoked fish. We also forage wild mint and bitter cress, which has a really intense flavour like rocket.
“The idea of doing it in Edinburgh is that people can go and find them themselves on a walk or whatever. We hand out a newsletter with pictures of everything so it’s easy to identify. If there’s something that looks quite similar to something else, the forager will explain how to distinguish between it and something that is going to give you an upset tummy.”
She adds: “I regularly go out and pick foraged ingredients – I tend to pick the ones that are really prevalent like wild garlic and leeks. At the moment there’s lots about and we are using them in the bistro and cafe.”
For more information, visit www.edinburghlarder.co.uk or call 0131-556 6922.