Published September 5th, 2014 | Features
Wild (and free) Autumn Foods
Although we typically associate the summer with greenery, fruits, and plant life at its peak, there are plenty of wild plants that only really come into bloom in the cooler, autumnal months – when their harvest is ripe for the picking! Free of cost, but high in taste and goodness, these ‘wild foods’ are much easier to find than you might think. Wherever you live, why not look out for some of them this autumn?
IMPORTANT POINTS TO REMEMBER:
Always be sure you know what you’re picking – this article is only intended to draw your attention to the possibilities of ‘wild foods’, and you should use a proper identification guide before picking and consuming any plants or fruits.
Be responsible – avoid trespassing on private land when picking, avoid pulling any plant up by the root, and only ever pick in moderation.
Be safe – avoid picking by busy roadside areas (not least because of plants likely being polluted by fumes!), or in fields where you know pesticides have been sprayed. And always wash and clean well your finds before eating them.
Where? This well-known berry, the dark, glistening, vitamin-rich fruit of bramble bushes, can be found growing in a wide variety of ‘wild spots’, many within urban and semi-rural areas. These include hedges and hedgerows, wasteland, heaths, and woods – even, sometimes, the bottom of the garden! And this year’s warm summer has seen blackberries appearing in abundance, so why not get picking?
Uses With their sweet but slightly tart taste, this berry is pretty versatile. It can be eaten fresh, or can serve as the basis for a variety of pies, puddings and desserts. It can also be used to make jam (on its own or combined with other fruits) and a pleasant and surprisingly light wine (hic!).
Keep an eye out for elderberries and sloes too, both of which can often be found close to blackberries. The elder is a tall shrub bearing tiny, dark fruits, hanging in clusters on distinctively red-pink stems; they are a good ‘make weight’ for blackberries, particularly when preparing jam. Sloes, meanwhile, are the fruit of the spiky blackthorn shrub and have an easy-to-recognise blue-black colour when ripe; they are a very acidic berry and are most often used to infuse and flavour drinks, particularly gin (the famous sloe gin!). Unlike blackberries, it is best not to eat either elderberries or sloes uncooked.
Where? Typically viewed as a weed and ‘something of a nuisance’, common chickweed is a small flowering plant, containing calcium and Vitamins A to C, that can be found just about anywhere – from gardens, to wasteland, to fields.
Uses Chickweed can be used as a salad vegetable, but as it’s the autumn, why not serve warm? Sprigs of chickweed don’t take long to cook simmered and can be eaten as a substitute for other greens. Alternatively, they can be used as an ingredient when making soup.
Where? Jack-by-the-hedge is a common plant with the mild flavour of garlic (it is also known as Garlic Mustard). It can be found growing in a variety of places – hedgerows, of course, and by the side of paths and roads (although this is not an ideal source if the road is busy!), but also scrubland, the edges of woods, and, again, sometimes in gardens.
Uses The leaves can be eaten fresh – in salad, for example – but can also be prepared as a sauce for a hot meal on chilly days (as a broad equivalent to
Nuts & Fruit
Where? High in Vitamin C, the rosehip is the fruit of the wild rose and can be found in hedgerows, and on rough grass and scrubland – we’ve even spotted it growing in a local coastal park before!
Uses This fruit is traditionally used to make rosehip syrup, which in turn can be used as a flavouring in a range of hot and cold desserts.
Where? This very well-known nut is typically shop-bought (often ready-chopped), but it is surprisingly prolific in the ‘wild’ if you know what to look out for (see picture, bottom right). It is the fruit of the hazel shrub/tree, which as with almost all of the plants in this article, can be found growing in hedgerows, woodland edges, and on scrubland.
Uses There are many well-known uses for hazelnuts, whether served raw or cooked – take your pick! However it is prepared, the taste and aroma of hazelnut is certainly evocative of the cosiness of autumn!
For recipes and more information visit www.waitingmagazine.co.uk/wildfood.