Last night I went along to the Blackwell Book Shop for the launch of A Handbook of Scotland's Wild Harvest, edited by Fi Martynoga. Before the event even started we were all offered wine from a wide selection made by Cairn O'Mohr from natural wild Scottish ingredients. I thought long and hard and selected the spring oak leaf wine which was beautifully refreshing and smooth. I wanted to be able later to compare it with the autumn oak leaf wine but all the wines were drunk very quickly and there were no seconds!
Foraging is something I keep meaning to do, but although my plant identification skills are pretty good, I'm never sure what is edible or when it is at its best. Plus urban foraging can be a little bit, well, unappealing when you think about how many dogs run about in the wild garlic for example!
Fi Martynoga is an engaging and inspiring speaker and took us through a range of different wild plants that we can eat, giving us hints as to how and when to pick them and how to cook them. The book comes complete with recipes, which is very useful. (I've long had a copy of the pocket version of Food for Free, Richard Mabey's classic of UK foraging, but it doesn't have recipes, so the amateur forager is left a little stuck.)
During her talk, Fi cooked up some nettle bose (a kind of porridge, made from oatmeal). I was astonished that she didn't wear any gloves, and just chopped away and picked up the nettles in her bare hands! She said that her hands have hardened against nettle stings, but I think most people would need to wear gloves when preparing nettles! I certainly would, I seem to over-react to nettle stings. (Interestingly though Fi said that one of her friends who has arthritis will actually put her hands into nettles to lessen the pain of her arthritis!). The bose was delicious!
I obviously haven't yet had time to read the book cover to cover, but have skimmed through it. It looks very useful with recipes for teas, cordials, muffins, salads and preserves. It also gives advice on harvesting, identification and which plants are useful for first aid or crafting! The book features wild plants that are robust and that can be harvested without damage to them or to the ecosystem. (This is always one of my concerns about foraging, if everyone starts doing it, without necessarily being careful, how much would it damage the natural world?)
A Handbook of Scotland's Wild Harvests published by Saraband Books is a collaboration between Reforesting Scotland and Scottish Wild Harvests Association.
Fi is speaking again at the Edinburgh Book Fringe at Wordpower Books at 1pm, Thursday 16 August. The event is free and will be well worth attending!
As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.
I wonder how many of these plants Scotland and Brittany have in common?
I find nettles can sting even through those thin latex gloves, I need proper washing up gloves in good condition for them really. I think I'd be a little cautious about eating nettles this late in the year, as Richard Mabey said, by June they can be 'decidedly laxative'! I understand they were used a lot for spinning in Scotland too, and the fabric could be as good as linen.
That sounds really interesting. Thanks for the detailed review. We’ve been vaguely meaning to investigate some foraging, too, and in fact Katherine does collect sorrel (mostly for the bunny) and is always in search of juniper (I know where it grows in the Pentlands, but it’s five miles from the nearest bus stop!) We used to have a never-ending supply of nettles in our old garden. I’d be terrified to forage for mushrooms, though, as unless you learn how to recognise them in childhood, I think it’s all too easy to pick one of the extremely toxic ones which closely resembles an edible one, and there are genuine horror stories of people dying or needing an emergency kidney transplant because of eating the wrong variety.
As for the Cairn O’Mohr wine, my favourites are the sweet, fruity flavours like strawberry and raspberry, but I must confess that since I started making cocktails earlier this year I’ve not been buying wine at all!
Quite interesting. Makes me think a bit of the Euell Gibbons here in the US, who was a proponent of wild foods.
Lucy - yes too late in the year for nettles, you're right and thanks for the note about gloves!
Howard - we used to forage dandelions for Anya! As to mushrooms, there are four edible species I'm confident about, otherwise I leave them alone. i have to admit to not really liking wild mushrooms, I'm not really a wine drinker either, more real ale here...
bunnits, thanks, I've never heard of Euell Gibbons...
They both sound like wonderful books for foraging foods. I love the names of the two authors--Cairn O'Mohr and Fi Martynoga!
Not sure I'll try that nettle thing Juliet.
what a great review of the book. sounds like you had a great time. that book sounds quite interesting but like you i wonder how quickly the effects of foraging would be felt?
i love when you take your walks because you seem to have so many great sightings, so many birds. that swan is beautiful...
the umbellifers remind me of Queen Ann's Lace.
hope all is well. have a great night~
Every spring I make at least one hurrah-winter-is-over celebration meal out of all the spring "weeds" that grow so abundantly in our untamed, but walled, backyard. Dandelions, horsetail shoots, fiddleneck ferns, mitsuba, mugwort, mint, burdock, butterbur shoots, and more. Most of these are coveted ingredients for spring tempura, and many can also be pickled to eat during other seasons.
My foraging is pretty much limited to dandelions for the bunns and blackberries for me!
Foraing has long been part of the culture of the native Pacific NW people.
There is a fellow here who works with one of our native tribes in conserving their culture - he harvests nettle and processes it in a way that then allows him to spin it and then "weave" fish nets. His "plan" - we'll see - is to have a booth at our various environmental activities where folks can join in the weaving and eventually have this big "community" net and we'll all go down to the water's edge some day and see what we can cach!
As one who forages on a fairly regular basis I believe its important to develop and maintain these skills. There is something about being able to harvest your own food from the wild that lends to a feeling of modest independence. And certainly its a good skill to have in the event of a cultural melt down.
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