By Hans Wieland
10 Wild Foods for the Autumn
“Hunter-gatherers would use as many as 100 plant foods in the course of a year; modern humans generally use less than 20.” ~ M. Irving. So, finding more than 40 edible wild plants at a recent foraging walk at The Organic Centre, with expert Joerg Mueller, wasn’t too bad. I strongly believe that gathering wild food in our own locality creates a rich and long lasting relationship with the land and nature. Whenever I visit my birthplace in Germany, I am still able to find blueberries and chanterelles merely 2km from my mum’s house, and could catch a Brown Trout in the same river bend I used to fish with my late father.
I am not saying we could survive on the 40 plants we found at The Organic Centre, but it would be of great benefit to anybody to be able to find, identify, and eat or cook at least 10 wild foods.
I would suggest you start foraging for plants you know, like Nettles or Dandelions. Familiarising yourself with plants or foods you can identify, and matching their description in a guide book with the specimen you have collected, prepares you to look out for more unfamiliar plants. Even better is walking with a forager. It is also important to harvest wild food in an area that is untreated by chemical fertilizers and not contaminated by farm or wild animals.
Here are my top 10 foraged foods for the autumn month:
Going blackberrying or brambling was an Irish social activity I was introduced to in our first autumn in Ireland in 1985. It gradually lost its appeal over the years, and the excuse was “the maggots”. I recommend we all revive the wild-picking habit of this fantastic food, because it’s so good and can be found almost everywhere.
The elder tree is found throughout the countryside, and lemonade made from Elderflowers is becoming known and popular. The berries in autumn can be used to make an elderberry rob, a cordial of the berries simmered with sugar, which is excellent for colds and coughs. This is a wonderful source of Vitamin C and iron.
Use the ripe, bright red berries of the common wild rose (rose rugosa) to make rosehip syrup or puree with honey. Rosehips are a great source of Vitamin C.
4. Nettle seeds
Nettles are just amazing plants. They are a fantastic source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, silicon, boron and zinc. They are also rich in chromium, manganese, iron, copper and chlorophyll. Nettles are a good source of Vitamin B-complex, Vitamin C (ascorbates and bioflavonoids) and Vitamin D. Fresh nettle seeds are more stimulating or motivating. Dried nettle seeds have a more gently restorative action, and are energising without being too stimulating.
5. Dandelion roots
Be adventurous and dig up the roots, dry them, grind them and make a coffee substitute.
Not everybody can be as unlucky as me, who planted three Hazelnut bushes in a mixed hawthorn/willow hedge around my garden 10 years ago and have barely harvested a nut! Mystery or totally nuts?!
7. Chanterelle and 8. Cep
The only two mushrooms I can identify without a doubt, because my parents collected them all the time. Found in mixed woodland; Chanterelle mainly near beech and birch trees.
9. Crab apple
I can report that planting two crab apple trees in the aforementioned hedge was a resounding success. So much so that, last year, some branches broke off under the heavy weight of the fruit!
10. Sugar Kelp
One of my favourite seaweeds is sugar kelp, because we use it to make crisps. Although the tide has to be far out to be able to harvest it, it is easy to identify by its distinctive, wavy, crinkly appearance.
One of the best books for beginners is the little pocket guide published by Collins: Food for free by Richard Maybe.