4 May 2014

Wild Coastal Forage.

I am a keen forager, I enjoy living off the land; wild natural plants, seasonal local foods and the idea of eventually living completely sustainably. 
Foraging is starting to become more popular and it's really exciting to see just how much can be grown or found in my country all year round. 
It is important to be responsible when foraging for wild food, for example, like mushrooms, some plants have similar looking counterparts which can be unpleasant or even poisonous, it is important to go along on a local guided food forage to find out just what is edible and what is not, but I highly recommend you do because you will be pleasantly surprised at just how much choice there is and what you can do with it. They can be held at any time of year, October is wonderful for both mushrooms and berries, April is lovely for wild garlic, watercress and samphire. 
Seasonal food is important, it means it can be locally sourced and it at the height of both flavour and nutrition. 
It is also incredibly important to make sure what you do isn't damaging, for example digging up wild plants or taking the root of a plant so it cannot regenerate is problematic. Taking more than 1/3 of a plant or 1/4 of the berries/fruit from a wild bush or tree can not only be damaging to the plant but also to the natural wildlife who live off the food too; it is also important to remember that the fruits contain seeds which spread to make more plants. Lastly it is good to change the places you forage and ensure there is enough food left over for the animals and other foragers. 
I went on my first forage of this year, as part of a coastal walk looking at what could be found at or near the beach and how it can be used:
Seaweed; washed well can then be deep fried or dehydrated to make crisps, or can be added to a stir fry. In Britain the edible species such as dulse, kelp, carragheen, laver and gutweed are easy to identify and, unlike fungi and flowering plants, there are no poisonous seaweeds near to UK shores. I think there may be a few species that are inedible but they are deep sea.
Limpets; edible but near impossible to pry from it's rocks.
Winkles; tiny little black snail like sea creature, they are found in rock pools.
Cockles; look like tiny clams.
Razor fish; can be found by putting salt water in their keyhole shaped holes in the sand, they then jump out and you can catch them.
All of the four creatures above can be eaten, cooked for 7 mins in white wine with onions, garlic and butter. 
Wild spinach (Sea Beet); grows near beaches and it establishes easily in poor soil and shale where other plants would find no nutrition and struggle to root. It picks up a slightly salty taste from the sea and is the ancient version of the modern spinach you can buy for food. It has a great sweet flavour that can be eaten raw or cooked into dishes like Quiche. The smaller new leaves are the best, the larger leaves can become a little tough.
Wild mint; can be used as a herb in cooking.
Elderflowers; which can be made into cordial (http://ashadeofmocha.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/making-elderflower-cordial_15.html). In autumn will produce berries which can be made into jam.
Rock Samphire; grows near the coast between rocks, it has a lemon flavour and place inside a fish and baked or served with grilled scallops and asparagus.
Dandelions; really good for you and can be eating with salads.
Wild garlic; grows everywhere on the Isle of Wight, and during summer the little pathways are filled with the strong smell of garlic, beautiful deep green plants with white flowers cover the ground. Both the leaves and flowers can be eaten, the little flowers can be chewed and give off a sweet flavour.
Jellied ear; looks like a fungus but you can find them on wood in springtime, they have a wet rubbery feel and look like a brown ear shape. It has an earthy smell and can be fried in garlic butter.
Wild watercress; grows in running water and has a wonderful peppery taste. It is important not to pick it from anywhere that may have been close to cattle because of the risk of lungworm.
Alexander's; a yellow plant, the stem can be used like rhubarb and made into jelly/jam. The seeds can be ground up and have an aniseed flavour, they can be used to flavour vodka or on salads. Be wary about picking Alexander's unless you are sure as it has a similar cousin which is deadly.
Wild carrots; are just starting to grow but cant be harvested until summer, they are smaller than orange carrots and come in black, purple and yellow.
After the forage, we were given a beautiful and delicious spread of food to try, made out of foods we had been foraging plus some other local ingredients. The ladies had made Garlic Pesto, Alexander's jelly, fresh salad, quiche with wild spinach and local goats cheese, walnut and date sour dough bread and finally sloe gin from last autumns forage. We will be going back in the autumn for their berries & mushrooms walk. 
The wonderful thing about the Isle of Wight is that you can have an entire diet based around locally sourced foods, we have local only fish mongers & butchers; Isle of Wight grains, bread & flours, eggs, potatoes, mushrooms, flowers, wines, beers, vegetables, fruit & berries, cheese, cream & milk.
That evening we made garlic pesto by blending a good handful of the found garlic leaves with some parmesan, cashew nuts and olive oil and combined it with gnocchi and fried mushrooms, it tasted of the garden. 

If you are interested in foraging, the River Cottage handbook series are a very useful series:

Our forage was arranged by: http://www.thecoastalgardener.co.uk/