Foraging workshop: Checking out chickweed in Chiswick

Guest post by Sally-Jayne Wright.

Do you love country walks, nature, blackberry picking, eating, cooking and getting a bargain? I do and that’s why I joined Abundance. So I was in my element on their foraging walk with Sam Sender on Fruit Day, 21stOctober, in Duke’s Meadows Trust allotments, Chiswick.

Our group ranged from a 60-something to seven year olds, and wild foods expert, Sam, aimed his talk at the youngest – which meant it was pitched just right for beginners. After a short lesson on rose-hip berries, we gathered round the compost heap where Sam pointed out horseradish leaves and roots. He told us that many ‘weeds’ are edible and there are more edible flowers than berries and leaves put together. Under a light drizzle, we crushed, sniffed and nibbled our way through chickweed, mallow, dandelion leaves and white nettles, soothing throats tickled by plant hairs with rose-hip tea.

Trying out what I’d learnt

Soon I had a chance to try out what I’d learnt. Walking home across Wandsworth Common, I spotted what looked like rose-hip berries and referred to Sam’s check list.

‘Right-shaped leaves?’ Tick.

‘Thorns?’ Tick.

‘Seeds like the ones we saw when we cracked open the berries?’ Tick.

‘Do the crushed berries smell like Sam’s rose-hip tea?’ Tick.

One thorny shrub had rose-hip-like berries but the leaves were different so I didn’t chance it.

A bonus of foraging is learning rude names

Back home, I photographed my specimens on white paper at the kitchen table. I scratched my knee until it was red. Oops! Sam warned us that the hairy rose-hip seeds make good itching powder. A Frenchwoman on the walk told us the French call rose-hips gratte-cul (scratch-your-arse). One bonus of foraging is learning rude names.

Those rude names don’t usually appear on the menus of top restaurants, several of which employ their own foragers. Wild foods are seriously trendy, being local and sustainable. If another war broke out, it’d be handy to know how to supplement my rations from the hedgerows. As I’m not starving, I won’t bother with mallow and chickweed – not much flavour. But I will look out for horseradish, rosehips and dandelion leaves. The smell of the dandelion sap reminded me of childhood and my late mum making dandelion wine. Another benefit of foraging is walking in the steps of your forebears and passing on their knowledge.

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Fruit Day 2012