If we profess to subscribe to a primal diet and lifestyle, some of our detractors might say we should make more of an effort to follow in our ancestors (bare) footsteps. Perhaps we should all be heading out into the wilds and gathering our own food, hunter gatherer style, instead of hunting down the best ingredients on the internet. Is this even possible in 21st century Britain? Let’s take a walk on the wild side as Primal Eye discusses the pros and cons of getting your gatherer on.
… there has been a growing trend within high end foody circles for wild gathered food… this has led to the decimation of many wild places as people pull up whole areas of plants for a quick profit, something which has sadly given foraging a bad name.
It’s perhaps a bit of a cliché to refer to hunter gatherer diets when discussing the modern day primal lifestyle, particularly when the only hunting and gathering most of us do involves browsing the outer edges of the supermarket aisles, or searching out weird and wonderful (but allegedly primal friendly) ingredients on any of the growing numbers of dedicated websites.
We might get a step or two closer to our food by visiting a farmer’s market on the third Sunday of the month, and buying direct from the producer; but for the vast majority of us, our busy urban lives mean we don’t have the opportunity (or perhaps the inclination after a hard day’s work) to go out into the wild and pick our dinner direct from Mother Nature’s pantry.
In an age when many people struggle to identify basic vegetables, that’s perhaps no bad thing when an innocent looking mushroom or berry could lead to a tortuous death! We mustn’t be afraid of wild food though, and one of the best ways to learn what’s safe is to take part in one of the many courses that take place around the country. See what’s available in your local area at Slow Food UK or check out Wild Food UK.
Fungi forays are lots of fun; you’re sure to be amazed at the variety of colours of mushrooms that we have in our countryside, and if you’re very lucky your guide will cook up a delicious dish from the day’s finds for you to sample at the end of the session. If a course doesn’t grab your fancy, then I highly recommend that you get hold of a copy of the pocket sized edition of Food For Free by Richard Mabey, which contains a wealth of information and will make any walk in the countryside an absolute delight.
Do bear in mind that you shouldn’t gather plants that are close to the sides of busy roads due to the risk of contamination by exhaust fumes…
For many people following a primal style diet, the sustainability of our food sources is of huge importance. In recent years there has been a growing trend within high end foody circles for wild gathered food, with huge sums of money paid for sought after items such as mushrooms and ramsoms (wild garlic). Unfortunately this has led to the decimation of many wild places as greedy people pull up whole areas of plants for a quick profit, something which has sadly given foraging a bad name.
With these factors in mind, there are several plants that most of us can identify without any problem at all; dandelions, goose grass and nettles for example. All of which are nutrition powerhouses and grow abundantly almost everywhere you look, indeed as common weeds. You’re more likely to be applauded for helping to keep them under control than you are to create uproar in your local area by harvesting as many as you like.
What and when to forage… and how to eat what you gather!
Do bear in mind that you shouldn’t gather plants that are close to the sides of busy roads due to the risk of contamination by exhaust fumes, and do steer clear of any areas that have been sprayed with weed killer. Always wash your produce before eating or cooking it.
Taraxacum Officinale – Dandelions
- Use: Leaves, flowers, & roots
- In season: February to November
The leaves make an excellent addition to a green salad. The young leaves taste much less bitter, so are the best choice to eat raw, the older leaves can be steamed and served as a vegetable side dish.
You can also dry the leaves (a dehydrator makes easy work of this), crumble and store in an airtight jar then use to make a dandelion tea – 1 tsp of dried leaves to 1 cup of boiling water. Steep for 5 minutes then enjoy, perhaps with a splash of honey! The flower heads can be made into fritters: remove as much greenery as possible as this will add a bitterness that will spoil the gentle sweetness of the flowers. Lightly flour then dip in your favourite primal batter before lightly frying.
The roots should be harvested in the autumn when they can be dried, roasted and then ground to use as a coffee substitute.
Urtica Dioica – Nettles
- Use: Leaves
- In season: February to June
Pick the young leaves and shoots at the top of the plant as the older leaves are very bitter and gritty. Theoretically if you grasp the nettle it won’t sting you, but gloves and scissors are a wise precaution!
Nettles are very nutritious, containing lots of vitamins A and C as well as a reasonable amount of iron and protein. A very tasty way of eating them is to make them into nettle soup – it is the most glorious shade of green, and can be a novelty for children who won’t quite believe that their tongues won’t be blistered if they eat it!
Galium aparine – Goosegrass (a.k.a. Cleavers)
- Use: Leaves & stems
- In season: April to November
Goosegrass is great fun for children to gather as it sticks to everything – it is said to be where the idea for Velcro first came from. Try pulling up a small amount and you will take miles of the stuff with you! Best gathered before there are any seeds on the plants; boil or steam it and eat as a vegetable.
I foraged the law and the law won!
If you want to be a bit more adventurous, and sample some of the other delicious wild foods that grow in our British countryside, such as this beautifully fragrant lime blossom, which when dried makes a delightful tea (gratuitous addition just because I love this image!) then you need to be aware that there are laws governing what you can and can’t do, and these are subject to change depending on local byelaws.
Generally speaking you are perfectly entitled to take small amounts (for personal use only – commercial gain of any kind is illegal) from plants that you can reach from a public footpath, unless they are overhanging from private property, in which case you need the owner’s consent. This is the case for all privately owned property otherwise you are trespassing, which could see you in the civil courts.
Stewardship of the land is something we should all take seriously, but it would be terribly sad if we became so detached from it that we were too afraid to (sensibly) enjoy its bounties.
CRoW (The Countryside & Rights of Way Act 2000) or the right to roam act, as it is more commonly known, opened up great swathes of the countryside that were previously out of bounds to us. Fantastic news if you just want to go walking, not so fantastic if you want to go a gathering as you are not, it would appear, allowed to forage on CRoW land. Confused? Me too! The ramblers association have a useful PDF document which gives more information; you can find it by clicking here.
As you will have now gathered, the British countryside can be a little confusing, to say the least, with regard access, rights of way and public footpaths. Having read the last few paragraphs you may have decided that you would rather buy blackberries from the supermarket, with all the thousands of air miles they’ve accumulated, than risk grabbing a bowl full from that patch of brambles down the road! Whilst that would be entirely understandable, you would miss out on a timeless pleasure that generations before us never had to think twice about. Stewardship of the land is something we should all take seriously, but it would be terribly sad if we became so detached from it that we were too afraid to (sensibly) enjoy its bounties. Be aware, employ a bit of common sense, and you should be just fine following in those ancestral bare foot steps – so go and gather that bowl of blackberries… but you’ll have to wait until the Autumn!