Hello everybody, this is John, founder of Forage London. It’s a pleasure to be a guest author on Urban Farmer London this week.
In case you’re wondering how I got into foraging, about 17 years ago my girlfriend and I decided we should go and have a weekend out of London to, you know, see if we like each other where we’re not at a party! Turns out we did, 17 years later we’re still together! We went to the New Forest where she grew up and went for a walk. She started pointing out edible mushrooms. I knew nothing about that sort of stuff and I thought that was really cool. Needless to say, she got me into mushroom hunting!
I had been mushroom hunting for a few years when I had a sort of epiphany: “What about all the other stuff? All the trees and greenery?” In my quest to find out what else I could eat while out hiking, I became kind of obsessed with finding out everything there is to know about foraging.
The more I learnt about wild foods, the more I started looking at London parks in a different way. I was stunned by how much diversity there is. London is a very green city and, in my local park alone, I’ve identified over 135 different species of edible plants.
If you’re thinking of trying foraging, good! It’s easy, but you have to learn how to forage safely and the best way to do that is to go out with someone who will teach you how to look out for plants (both edible and non-edible) and teach you a basic method of keeping yourself safe. Once you get started, as a general rule of thumb, always ask yourself, “Am I 100% sure this is safe to eat?”. If you’re not, don’t eat it!
On my organised walks I take a group of 10 or 12 people to a large green space in London. I show them a different way of looking at their surroundings. We walk, we talk and we pick things. I show them how to recognise plants, point out key features, things to look out for and then we try different wild foods I’ve pickled and fermented. Some flavours are quite extreme, so this is a great experience for any foodie.
From a health point of view, wild foods are amazing and we should be eating more! Wild foods have not been bred or modified to taste sweeter, travel well, last longer or look good. They are natural. They are off the scale in terms of vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants and phyto-nutrients. So try and introduce a little bit of wild food into your diet, it’s good for you and it’s fun.
I love foraging. It’s an absorbing past time and every outing is a multi-sensory treasure hunt. Whether you want the benefits of natural food or you’re a foodie who wants to explore new flavours, foraging is for you!
(Images courtesy of Forage London)