Dr Duncan Still takes us through all you need to know about the basics of foraging. In the video below he invites everyone back to the Penny Brohn National Centre to explore our gardens.
What is foraging?
Dr Duncan Still defines foraging as “the art of finding what there is in the hedgerow that can help support us in our nutrition and our well-being”. To forage is also a form of mindfulness, as just being outside can help us to relax.
Herbs are a good way to begin finding wild foods in the UK because it’s a gentle entry into finding what we can in the hedgerow. Herb gardens are a beneficial starting point because it’s us bringing plants into our own gardens and using them in our cooking.
A lot of the herbs we have in our gardens actually have medicinal properties. They tend to be high in polyphenols and antioxidants, things that really help boost our immunity which is why it is encouraged to start using them in cooking.
Even the smell of herbs can be shown to have beneficial effects in terms of calming moods, helping with sleep, helping with reducing anxiety and stress levels. Therefore, going out into the garden and just smelling the herbs and flowers might be something to help you.
- Thyme Has a very unique smell and taste.
- It is most recognisable by its distinct smell which makes it one of the easier herbs to forage and identify.
- It can be used for all cooking but as a fresh herb it is particularly nice in salads.
- It produces lilac/pink flowers which occur commonly from May to September.
- You can buy the bulbs of fennel in shops or you can grow them at home.
- The fronds (attached to the stalks that grow out of the bulb) can be used as a flavouring which can be very lovely in teas, settling for the stomach and can be used to experiment with fish or roasting vegetables.
- Lovage has its own medicinal and healing qualities which could benefit you.
- It is one of the less common plants, however the whole plant is in fact edible and it has a mild, celery-like taste.
- The flowers of lovage are common to pop up in July.
- The chive plant grows pink flowers.
- It is very easy to grow and is pretty low maintenance.
- The whole plant can be eaten and is great added to soups and stews, or sprinkled on top of a salad or soup.
- Thick gloves are a must with nettles, alongside care when handling until the nettles are cooked.
- Dead nettles don’t sting but you can in fact nibble and suck the nectar out of their little flowers.
- Early spring is the best time to pick nettles to avoid a tough texture.
Lemon Verbena (also known as lemon balm)
- As it’s a balm it is very soothing.
- There is good evidence around lemon verbena supporting calming the mind, body, and helping with sleep.
- It can be used as an infusion or tea.
- Rosemary has powerful culinary and medicinal qualities.
- It makes bushes and is a very common and useful herb used in a wide range of cooking.
- Rosemary is fantastic with meat, all savoury dishes, and in soups and stews, as well as simply sprinkled on potatoes.
Marjoram (known as oregano in Europe)
- Good for flavouring salads and soups.
- The plants of marjoram have flowers that appear from summer to early autumn.
- It’s mainly used when it has been dried because that tends to produce a stronger flavour, but can still be used fresh in cooking.
Lots of flowers can be used in cooking, baking, or for herbal teas. Lots of common, everyday flowers are edible, which isn’t so widely known. Most flowers are best eaten raw as soon as they have been picked, once rinsed with water.
- Pansies are good to use in salads to add colour and taste.
- They are excellent for desserts or cakes to add decoration and a pop of colour.
- It’s popular to candy a pansy flower to give it a sweet taste which can be pressed into fresh icing to give a fresh, beautiful look.
- Daisies are present throughout spring, summer and autumn and are very common.
- They bring a lot of colour to a cake or a possibly a sandwich.
- Daisies can be used to make a type of herbal tea which has a slight mild lemony taste.
- The leaves have a slight bitter taste which makes them best to use mixed in salads.
- The flower and leaf of a dandelion is great in salads, especially alongside lemon juice.
- The root itself can be a very nice alternative to coffee.
- There is also some evidence to suggest that dandelions are good for digestion alongside many other health benefits due to the high volume of nutrients in them.
Goose grass (also known as cleavers)
- These weeds have long leaves with tiny flowers.
- You can add this to meals such as soups, stews, and pies. Alternatively, it can be used with and compliment the use of nettles.
- It can also be used to flavour water.
Our gardens at Penny Brohn
There is extremely high value and importance of the peace and quiet of a garden and nature in general. Foraging can be about sitting still and finding peace in nature which brings huge health benefits on its own.
We have many trees in our Penny Brohn gardens such as Ginkgo, Orchids, Vetch and Narcissi. We also have Silver birch, which has an important time in March when the sap is rising. You can tap the sap and it produces the most delicious water. It’s not particularly sweet or flavoured but it tastes like an elixir and includes naturally occurring sugar which you can actually buy in shops, all coming from the birch tree. The leaves are packed with nutrients and are rich in vitamin C.
Things to consider…
- Dr Ducan Still himself feels very comfortable recognizing, picking, and eating multiple plants so it is up to you what you feel comfortable doing.
- Some plants to forage are very straightforward such as recognising a nettle, but some may be harder to identify which is when it becomes your responsibility to research or check any information with a qualified herbalist.
- For example, wild garlic. There are some plants that look like wild garlic but aren’t actually the same plant, and they can be quite toxic and unsafe.
- Just remember to bear that in mind and check anything you are unsure about. There are plenty of websites and books to use and educate yourself with which could open a doorway to a fantastic new part of your life.