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Foraging – the enthusiasm, knowledge and respect for the nature

Foraging gets trendy and many established media have firmly put it amongst the food trends for 2011, and I am sure, many of you have already heard about this movement. It comes to me as no surprise, especially when considering the recent years’ natural evolution of how we live and what we eat.

Wild food

Photo: www.theworlds50best.com

It all started with eating local, buying from farmers’ markets, and encouraging or employing organic growing practices. Then people started growing their own produce and eating less meat, and almost just naturally many people have began embracing the idea of foraging. Thus foraging is a logical next step in the aim of living healthier, avoiding processed food and, generally speaking, going back to our roots.

The term foraging is actually a relatively modern way to call what people have been doing since humanity exists – sourcing food (or indeed anything edible) that Mother Nature provides.

Not surprisingly, the movement is seeing its largest growth in Europe and America, the regions that have been most affected by pollution, industrialised farming practices and maybe most importantly where the modern (or rather bad) eating habits have originated.

Its peak so far has been last year, when it became very popular because of few famous chefs. Most notably this fashion has been heralded by Noma restaurant in Denmark (World’s Best Restaurant in 2010), which Head Chef René Redzepi has proved inspirational of using locally foraged produce.

René Redzepi's Tartare of beef and wood sorrel, tarragon and juniper

Redzepi's Tartare of beef and wood sorrel, tarragon and juniper Photo: www.typefiend.wordpress.com

Among other big names are the French celebrity chef Marc Veyrat who opened a new wild-food eatery close to Geneva, and the British chef Jamie Oliver serving hedgerow food in his London-based restaurants, to name a few.

Before I started writing this post, I had to ask myself, “Who am I to talk about foraging?” I’m not an expert in wild plants, neither am I a veteran forager. Yes, if I think about it, I do have some experience. Every time me and Borislava go hiking in the mountains or to the forest, we search for penny buns (porcini mushrooms), chanterelles and herbs. And often come back home with some, plus with other different types of wild edible foods: berries, sheep’s sorrel, nettles or elderflowers, depending on the season. Last summer we gathered relatively large quantities of rosehips (for rosehip jam and tea), dandelion petals (for dandelion “honey”) and were lucky to find a small wild walnut forest and had a very good harvest of them.

I’m not sure where it comes from but I’ve been like this all my life. One of my first foraging experiences was when I was five or six. I and my uncle went out in the fields for mushroom picking, and came back home with two baskets filled with mushrooms. You can imagine my joy… This opened up a whole new world for me and I was the happiest boy on earth! As I grew older, I did more foraging: picking more wild mushrooms, blackberries and blueberries. But who hasn’t?

Still, if I’m to be honest with myself, I must admit I’m new to foraging and my knowledge is narrow.

And the more I learn about it the more I realise that foraging is not straightforward: you must know the edible varieties, and know them well. Take for example mushrooms – many are poisonous and a few (often those easily mistaken for edible varieties) deadly. My advice to all that are planning on taking on this new foraging trend: go picking with an expert, or do your homework.

Foraging - prepare first

Photo: www.judyofthewoods.net

Actually our idea to write about foraging now, was to emphasise that now, when everything in the nature is still frozen and covered with snow, is the right time to learn! There are lots of sources with tips and photos, and enough people to ask (and even forums) – but you better prepare well, before going into the wild.

There are few things that worry me about foraging becoming a mass trend. The first one is foraging in urban spaces such as parks, garden squares, canal banks and even graveyards!

There are some obvious setbacks to finding (and consuming) urban foods – pollution would be one obvious deterrent to grabbing an apple off the tree next to the street or nettle from alongside the canal, and even if you’re not worried about the odd looks you may receive, dog mess is what you should think about, too.

Second (and probably the most important) issue is the sustainability: when you are in the countryside you have miles and miles with no people foraging around, so it is perfectly alright to find food and take it with you, but it’s just not appropriate for the urban green spaces. If there are hundreds (and in certain places thousands) of people who pick up everything edible, then plants won’t have a chance to re-seed and grow again.

Another thing that irritates me is when I see people making forests and parks their supermarket. I’m not talking about one individual picking a basket of mushrooms when they are plentiful. I hate when I see one individual picking several baskets and continuing to pick more even though they know they won’t have space to store them. If you’ve already got quite a lot, and there’s still more, then you leave it for nature (and maybe other people?)

And then, remember – use basket, and not a plastic bag, and have your instruments, small knifes etc. to cut carefully what you want to take with you, and not dig out roots and break whole stems and branches.

The best thing about foraging is being out in the nature and feeling at one with it. So, even if you live in a big, smelly city just get out of it, you’ll have one more reason to do so. And I promise that the foods you’ll gather will be thousand times more satisfying than the ones from a supermarket. Foraging is one of the best antidotes to city life.

We too, are learning more about the wild plants and as soon as we have the opportunity will be heading towards the nearest mountain or forest to explore all that grasses, tree legumes and berries, we thought were not edible… Of course all our experiences (and tips) will be published here.

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