Who doesn’t want to believe they could survive in the wild? Whether it’s a long term trip in the wilderness or just getting lost in the woods overnight, we’d like to think we have the skills to make a tough situation into a great adventure. Foraging, the ancient art of finding food in the wild, doesn’t just give us dinner, it gives us a new appreciation of the beauty, power and variety of the natural world around us. As part of the bushcraft that we teach on our courses in Dorset and Hampshire, we teach people how to find seasonal food, and how to prepare and eat it.
In spring, there is an abundance of tasty foraging that can please the palate as well as providing the necessary sustenance for survival.
Wild food for free
Ramsons, also know as ramps and wild garlic, are easy to find thanks to their mild onion aroma, which becomes a strong smell if you happen to tread on the plant! The starry white flowers also make it easy to spot. The narrow green leaves can be harvested to serve in place of spring onions, wilted in a pan like spinach, cooked into a soup, chopped with eggs to make a woodland omelette or used as a wrapping for small amounts of meat or fish to be grilled. This isn’t the end of their versatility; when the flowers are in bloom hey can be eaten raw and are utterly delicious – wild garlic is served in the best restaurants in the UK as a seasonal delicacy and it’s readily available for free in British woodlands.
Pignut has small carrot-like leaves, tiny clusters of white cow-parsley like flowers in May, and a very slender root that is difficult to extract – it can’t be pulled from the ground like the carrot it resembles, rather it must be dug from the soil and is usually several inches below ground. Pignut earned its name because it’s so delicious that pigs would hunt it down, as they do truffles! The tuber can be eaten fresh, once the outer skin is scraped or rubbed off or cooked. The flavour is a succulent blend of chestnut and celery.
Elder is well known as a cordial, but in May, its umbels of creamy white, highly-scented flowers are a delicious dessert when fried in a batter. Some elder trees are also home to the jelly ear, an ear-shaped almost transparent fungus that can be sliced and fried. Foraged as part of a survival skills experience, the jelly ear is a wonderful supper, especially if you’ve earned it through using a bow drill to create a friction fire – it brings your appetite to new levels of appreciation!
Morels are also found in spring. They have a beige cap with many fissures, looking like an alien brain and can be found in open woodland. As there is also a poisonous false morel, working with an expert forager to hone your identification skills is key to enjoying this delicious fungus with a seductive nutty flavour that is highly prized. Morels, when dried, are a key ingredient in many rich sauces, but eaten fresh they have a delicacy of flavour that is hard to match.
If we’ve inspired your taste buds, why not sign up for one of our foraging courses so that we can introduce you to some of the greatest food you’ll ever eat. Who knows, your foraging skills could come in useful the next time you head into the wild.