I just got back from a foraging course led by herbalist Jesper Launder at Fletcher Moss Gardens in Manchester. The courses are run by Cracking Good Food.
I was interested in going on the course for two reasons: the first was to improve my knowledge of local botany, and the second was to learn to pick my own food. We foraged for about two and a half hours, then cooked a meal of our haul using a portable gas stove.
There were plenty of spring greens out, including Common Hogweed(Heracleum sphondylium), Ground Elder(Aegopodium podagraria) and Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta). We also found Japanese knotweed shoots, which look similar to asparagus and are often known by the name Wild Rhubarb.
One of my favorite things we found was wild garlic (Allium ursinum). Unlike the garlic we are familiar with, it is not the bulbs that are eaten but the leaves and buds. The leaves of this plant are broad and look spear like. The flower buds taste just like regular garlic, only much milder. Wild Garlic isn’t the only plant that gives off a similar flavour. Growing close by was a patch of Three-Sided Garlic (Allium triquetum). This plant looks like a grass, but like its namesake suggests, the leaves have three sides. The aroma when picked and crushed is also very distinctive.
Jesper showing the group Three-Sided Garlic:
We also found quite a few mushrooms, which was lucky for this time of year! A quick note on mushrooms, or indeed any plant growing in the wild: never pick anything you cannot identify as being safe to eat. Remember that there are harmless plants that an resembled poisonous plants and vice versa. If you are unsure what the plant or fungus is, leave it be.
We came across quite a few Glistening Inkcaps (Coprinus micaceus)growing near the stumps of trees or fallen logs. A few guidebooks say they are not worth picking, but as Jesper proved to us later, they are in fact delicious! It certainly helped that we found an abundance of them:
Another fungus we found was a small ring of Saint George’s Mushrooms (Calocybe gambosa):
The meaty red fungus in this picture is Scarlet Elves Cup (Sarcoscypha coccinea). It has a chewy texture when cooked:
Once we had gathered enough plants for a small lunch, we headed back to the garden entrance and set up a portable gas stove. We sampled some Japanese Knotweed wine Jesper had made while the food was cooking. It was delicious and tasted a little like dry white wine. Since there were 13 of us, we had to seperate the food into small portions, but everything we sampled was worth the wait.
Our first course was Common Hogweed fried in butter. It taste a bit like a cross between cabbage and celery:
Next, all the mushrooms were fried in butter along with some wild garlic and Ground Elder, then eggs were added to the pan to make a Spanish Tortilla which was eaten with Hawthorn ketchup.
Once I got home I looked over what was left of my own haul. Clockwise starting from the brown mushrooms (Glistening ink caps) are Red Elves Cups, Three Sided Garlic, Japanese Knotweed and wild garlic leaves and buds:
I chopped up both forms of garlic and some of the knotweed and put them in some Greek yoghurt to make a dip for chips. Tonight I will be using the last of the mushrooms in a courgette and fennel bake. The Hogweed and Knotweed have gone in the fridge for a later date.
It’s a highly satisfying feeling to pick and cook your own food and I feel confident that I can identify some edible wild plants now. Thanks very much to Jesper and Cracking Good Food for the experience!