Foraging for wild food have increased in popularity over the last few years, becoming a trendy activity for some and a complete lifestyle for others, as a result of rising awareness about eating organic and local fresh ingredients.
What does foraging mean?
Foraging generally refers to searching, identifying and collecting food resources in the wild, including herbs, plants, fruit, nuts, mushrooms or even shellfish. It’s all about cooking, preserving and eating healthy and nutritious food while understanding our natural environment.
Many of us will have fond memories of blackberry picking with our family as an example of the foraging pursuit most of us have enjoyed at some point of our lives. Apples, sloes and elderflower have traditionally been picked in the wild to make some delicious and nutritive preserves at home.
Fortunately, the UK and Ireland are blessed with a vast range of edible plants, mushrooms and fruit growing around us, not only in the forests but in our immediate surroundings. Chances are those plants are growing on pathways you walk every day, in your local park or even in your own back garden.
Hazel trees line up the streets dropping plenty of nuts, brambles full of blackberries take over wasteland and cherry trees planted in parks offer generous harvests. On top of that, advanced knowledge can help you to find choice edibles like certain wild mushrooms.
All those ingredients can be used to cook incredible soups and stews, preserve into jams and chutneys, make your own wines and liqueurs or brew tea to make the most of their medicinal properties.
A little bit of foraging history
Foraging is a concept originated back to the start of the human race, where hunter-gatherer tribes sustained themselves by hunting animals and gathering plants from their natural environments, until these tribes invented farming and agriculture as a more predictable source of food.
Foraging has played an important role during difficult times driven by poverty and hunger. As recently as WWII, rosehips provided vitamin C when importation of oranges was widely restricted, whereas acorns or dandelion root made an acceptable substitute for coffee.
Every household used to supplement their pantry with food and medicinal plants gathered in the wild until the apparition of the first supermarkets. While gathering food is still a matter of everyday life in many rural areas of Europe, the knowledge of wild plants have been widely forgotten.
Foraging in modern times
Nowadays, most urban dwellers have become disconnected from the food they consume and are dependent on pre-packaged food sold in supermarkets. Eventually, we are limiting our freedom of choice to more unhealthy foods lacking of valuable nutrients.
Wild food offers a healthy option to supplement our diet indeed, yet there are many other reasons why people are resurrecting the old ways and wisdoms. Nonetheless, there seems to be a common goal of awareness regarding where the food we eat comes from.
Recent scandals in the food industry, raising awareness for the environment and carbon footprint among other reasons led to many of us think of different ways to source our food, making us more connected to nature.
Certainly, the meaning of foraging no longer applies exclusively to the countryside, but also includes parks, verges and roadsides within large cities. Quite often, urban parks feature plants you would never find growing in the wild, which will provide some interesting finds.
In addition, wildlife tourism have attracted many people to foraging as a recreational pursuit, where we have the opportunity to take a break from our busy lives and discover amazing new ingredients with incredible flavours to enhance our meals.
Eventually, for some of us, foraging is a healthy lifestyle that empower ourselves, not only helping to satisfy our basic nutritional needs but also understand how nature works: foraging changes completely the way you see the world and your surroundings.