Foraging Feasts

At Ambios, we run short courses to help you gain the knowledge and practical skills needed to break into a career in nature conservation. David Kingma, one of our lovely spring 12 week nature conservation trainees from the Netherlands, attended the Plant I.D. and Foraging Feasts course, which took place between 9th – 11th May 2018. Here he reflects on his final day of the course, where the group went out foraging for delicious nature treats…

“After two days of intensive plant identification, covering almost all the tree, shrub, herb, grass and fern species that thrive around the Sharpham Estate, we ended the course with a plant foraging day.

In the morning we all gathered in ‘The Office’, a small building on the farm where we do some projects, sessions and where we can make use of the available WiFi. A few minutes later Brigit arrived in dungarees, a cowgirl hat on her head and holding an antique blue basket in her arm. She had been invited especially, to teach us more about the edible and medicinal plants that grow and flourish in the area on and around the farm. Brigit can be called a professional forager and one of her major skills is to reconnect people with nature through eating nature. She describes her role as:

“taking people on a journey of reconnecting to their own nature and innate wisdom, inviting them into deeper relationship with life through immersion in and with the natural world.”

The day began with a quick chat to introduce ourselves. There was a lot laughter and we did some imitations of our beautiful English accents. After this, Brigit asked us two short questions: ‘What is your best memory with plants?’ and ‘What draws you to plants?’ Wonderful stories passed by. From trees where you could climb, swing or even crawl underneath to delicious strawberries, and other edible plants where as a child you put all your passion and energy into helping them grow in your own garden.

Then we went outside, with an empty stomach and baskets that needed to be filled. Foraging was almost completely new for all of us and for some plant species it was a big surprise that you could eat it, and that it actually tasted good. The reactions were often very different. Some dared to put it straight into their mouths, whilst others were more hesitant, watching and feeling out the situation. There were all kinds of different opinions and faces…very bitter, something to spit out immediately, or super tasty.

It seemed as if almost everything that grew around us was edible, but here you must be careful. Medicines and poisons and food and herbs all often grow entwined around each other; and it would be easy to get the plant identification wrong. Take for example the leaf of the Lords and Ladies and compare it with the leaves of the ramsons (Wild garlic) or the sorrel; both look very similar and often grow close to one another. However, whereas one is a delicious snack, the other is incredibly poisonous (Lords and Ladies). You must therefore always be careful when foraging, and should go with someone who knows what they are doing and what to look for.

One of the most special plants we discussed was perhaps the stinging nettle. Hated and feared by everyone, but in this plant lurks a secret richness and beauty. The plant often grows on nutrient rich soils and is not only very useful in retaining these nutrients but also very rich in iron. Nettle seems to trigger your adrenal glands, the organs on top of your kidneys. The seeds in particular give a great energy boost. The plant is also an antihistamine: a cup of fresh nettle tea to begin the day could work very well against hay fever. When I am writing this one of our trainees is trying to see if it works for her. Lastly, the stems are fibre rich and can be used for making ‘sustainable’ clothing. However, you also need to be attentive with this plant; it is better to avoid the flowering plants.

We ended the trip in the bunkhouse where we displayed everything on the table to see what we had collected. Together we made a varied and very tasty dinner with all the foraged plants. Fried nettle and dandelion, pasta pesto of wild garlic, a salad of sorrel, dandelion, daisies, oxeye daisies, ribwort plantain and much more…. a true feast for the taste buds.”