There is certain scepticism about foraging amongst people who are not used to eating wild foods. We may wrongly assume the reason why supermarkets are not selling certain ingredients is because these are not worth eating and might despise them as famine foods.
Far from the truth, there are several reasons why some ingredients are not commercialised and many of those plants regarded as weeds are in fact high in nutritional value and taste great.
Commercial viability of wild foods
- Some of the best seasonal produce it’s just too fragile to survive the journey from farm to supermarket, like wild garlic or sorrel. Certain appreciated berries are so small and delicate that it’s not commercially viable to sell them at large scale, being the case of wild strawberries and bilberries.
- Some fruits are just too similar in appearance and flavour to those already sold in supermarkets. Their smaller size makes them difficult to compete with bigger cultivated varieties. Such is the case of plums and damsons or wild cherries against cultivated cherries.
- Farming viability is another problem to be faced. Mushrooms are notoriously unreliable to grow and it’s only possible to cultivate a reduced number of species, while some plants with edible seeds like Himalayan balsam are such invasive species in Britain that are not allowed to be propagated.
- Some ingredients are difficult to manage because are covered in spines or sting, like the humble yet nutritive nettle. Other crops like acorns require such prolonged preparation that they are not favoured in our busy lives anymore.
- Tastes may differ between cultures; many abundant wild herbs are naturally bitter, which is not always favoured, although coffee is still widely appreciated. Other cultures are historically prone to bitter flavours, like Italians, whose can’t get enough of chicory while sour cherries are quite favoured in Middle Eastern cuisine.
That’s the reason why food in rural communities has always been humble and nutritive. They have been using natural ingredients growing in the same landscape they inhabit for generations, because it was the most accessible food known before the arrival of the supermarket.