The Common
Flora & Fauna
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Monday 12th February Owen Raybould "Foraging plants for free food"

Foraging - re-learning a lost art

Why forage?
Well, on a recent visit to Hampstead Heath in London, Owen saw forage-able plants such as Elder, Vetch, Common Hogweed, Rosebay Willow-herb, Hawthorn, Common Nettle, Burdock, Bramble and Blackthorn. Even in a big city, therefore, foraging remains as a natural way for people to connect with the countryside.
Foraging has always been normal human behaviour and it can now be enjoyed as a form of ‘play for adults’. It has been found that when foraging the brain fires many neurons – apparently, a rare occurrence in modern-day activities.
Foraged food is rich in micronutrients (for example oranges are much lower in vitamin C than rosehips and spinach is much lower than nettle in a number of different nutrients) and can be stronger-tasting compared to ‘bland’ bought food – so less of it is needed in a meal. Owen emphasised the mild and, even, deadly poisons that are in a number of wild plants and fungi: so great care must always be taken when foraging. Animals such as cattle or deer, of course, forage and might be able to choose any edible parts of otherwise ‘poisonous’ plants.
Maps of increased desertification of the Earth take on greater significance – reminding foragers that areas of natural vegetation can decrease and that wild food plants might become scarce.

Where can you forage?
Nature trails, public access woods/forests (for fungi), hedges, coasts, private land (with landowner permission), not Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

What can you forage? (IF UNSURE, LEAVE ALONE)
• Edible greens (for example, Dandelion leaves with salads)
• Fruit/nuts
• Flowers
• Roots/tubers
• Fungi
• Tree sap
• Plants for medicinal use
• Plants for other non-food use (such as perfume making)
(Beware of poisonous and otherwise hazardous plants/berries/fungi)
Edible greens, such as: Dandelion leaves, Horseradish, Bittercress, Garlic Mustard, Shepherd’s Purse, Mint (Water Mint etc.), Dead Nettle, Yellow Archangel, Willow-herb stems, Thistle stems (in late November), Common Nettle, Sow Thistle, Ramsons, Cow Parsley, Common Hogweed (is like celery), Wild Carrot, Ground Elder.
• HEMLOCK (normally with red spots, it is very similar to Cow Parsley which may have a red tinge)
• GIANT HOGWEED (reacts with sunlight to damage skin and eyes).
Fruit/nuts: blackberries, apples, Hawthorn berries, Elderberries, Blackthorn berries, Hazel nuts, Beech nuts.
Flowers (aromatic): Tansy, Meadowsweet (look out for Black Fly), Flowering Currant, Yarrow, Elder.
Roots: Burdock, Alexander’s root, Pignut (carrot family)
Medicinal use plants (showing traditional uses):
• Ground Ivy - an antiseptic
• Tansy - to produce a menthol vapour
• Meadowsweet - make a tea from the flower head
• Hawthorn berries – lowers blood pressure
• Comfrey (known as ‘knit-bone’) - has a high calcium content
• Herb Robert - used for respiratory problems and as a wound healer
• Plantain - used for stings (many other claims)

How to forage
Wear suitable clothing, including gloves.
Take drinks, bags, a knife (maximum 3.5 inch long blade) and a map.
Optional extra items: a camera, guidebook, notebook and pen.
Three foraging tests
1) Is it edible for humans? 2) Is it in a safe and clean area? 3) Is it worth eating?
Has it been raining? If not, wet plants may have been visited by a dog! Foraging is both ‘controversial’ and ‘trendy’. Uprooting wild plants or harvesting them for sale is not allowed. Often, the most plentiful plants are the ones most useful to forage. Owen explained how he is mindful not to take too many - for example, mushrooms in a wood.
FINAL TIP: start with one plant (avoid mushrooms) - make a nettle soup.

NOTE: This talk was previously given at the 2017 Far Forest Show but contains additional information. Owen has been involved with teaching groups/charities about foraging, for example with the Friends of Bishop’s Wood Centre. He can be contacted by Email owenraybould@hotmail.com or Facebook group: www.facebook.com/academyofhealth

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