The planet is our home; we need to be more responsible. Here's what I do.
The rain was horizontal and the sky was low and bleak. Seven of us gathered, three days before Christmas, from a fairly wide area including the Netherlands and Carlisle.
The location Garlieston in Galloway.
Given the nature of the setting, the wide bay was not very welcoming. Now you’d be forgiven for bring sceptical about the amount of foraging items to be found at this time of year in such grim weather.
A friendly forager is a very welcome sight against such a backdrop.
Mark from Galloway Wild Foods was our excellent guide.
Mark’s car turned out to be a source of many other delights too. Something of nature’s cocktail cabinet for all the non driving adults present.
As a warming starter we had a small slurp of sea buckthorn mixed with whiskey. It was a bright cheery orange colour, packed with vitamin C.
Right next to the cars within inches of the carpark we find our first edible. The sea radish has delicious peppery leaves. The thinner roots can also be used in a radishy way.
Now for the most important lesson. There are hundreds of carrot family plants but one is deadly. The hemlock can be confused with other plants like common Cow Parsley.
The scurvy plant which was a great source of vitamin C against scurvy had a particularly strong flavour of wasabi. Sailors used to salt it and take it on long journeys.
Another, even more deadly, family member soon followed. The hemlock water drop wort which always ‘has it’s feet in water’ has association with Sardinia and was a source of capital punishment on the island.
Sea buck thorn berries were also sheltering against the sea wall with loads of vitamin C. Bright orange berries and soft thorns.
We also learned that Japanese knotweed, though dreadfully invasive, can be a delicious plant to eat but it’s extremely important not to spread it by careless foraging.
The sea aster is a fine delicacy in the gourmet kitchen and we also saw sea beet which can be used like spinach or for salads.
Hairy bitter cress is yet another gourmet treat that tastes exactly like cress and looks like a regular weed.
Mark was very careful to explain safety aspects related to location and pollution as we continued along the shore. He was keen to point out the rules of safe and responsible foraging. Then he supplemented the growing fair with tasty treats from his bag.
At Sorbie Tower, the seat of Clan Hanney, we found elf cup mushrooms. A delightful red bowl shape fungus that can even be eaten raw and the hairy bitter cress.
A fluffy plant in a grass verge can be used to create an infused wine.
There was a wealth of information and detail, names, recipe ideas, different processes, history and science. The expertise came thick and fast and I will need to research the website to capture all the additional information that we gained.
We also contemplated the spectrum of what is edible. So often when people want to know what can be eaten it depends heavily on culture and tradition and changing tastes. These days as food availability changes our tastes may also need to change.
The teenage member of our group certainly ended the day feeling a lot more like ‘bear grylls’!
There are recipes and suggestions from fruit leathers with elderberry and sloe gin on the website. A really delicious sweet elderberry vinegar was a taste highlight for me.
After three hours of foraging, we stopped for a bowl of warming soup in the pub. This gave us a chance to dry out and warm up a bit too.
A change of location to St Ninian’s cave found unbelliferous common hogwort seeds for cake as we watched out for foxgloves and their deadly leaves that can even affect the heart when handled.
Strolling through a narrow tree lined valley we came across an jelly ear mushroom that is a delight for oriental dishes. Then in the water nearby we saw plenty of wild watercress intermingled with the hemlock and hemlock water drop wort that we’d seen earlier all very similar and accompanied by another safer family member that has a strong carrot flavour.
At the beach, in the lee of thundering waves and the shadow of an ancient hill fort, with St Ninian’s cave in the distance and light fading we needed to head for home in our by now soggy boots. The sea kale would have to wait for another day.
In spite of the weather it was a really interesting day. Am definitely keen in doing another day but perhaps at another time of year!
Have you ever wondered about the foods that are growing in the hedgerows in your area?
Perhaps there’s a foraging guided walk waiting for you.
a blog by a multilingual expat-since-birth, linguist, researcher, mum of three, living in the Netherlands and writing about bilingualism, multiculturalism, parenting abroad, international life...