London has a total of 56 parks, all home to amazing edible plants that we could forage if we only knew how.
I went to the Hackney Marshes to learn about foraging on a community-friendly Foraging walk by Totally wild UK.
Starting on a Saturday morning at 11am, me and about a dozen of other foraging enthusiasts took part in the event.
Parents, children and students were guided by Gavin Ireland, an expert in survival medicine and survival foraging.
Throughout the 3 hours, we got to learn about 30 different plants that are easy to spot in our local parks and easy to cook.
Ireland had to initiate a few rules before the walk started, He explained: ‘I have been doing this for many years, I am used to consuming what I find but you might not be. Do not eat anything without asking me, as it may not be edible.’
He also gave this sobering tip; ‘Look for edibles metres out of paths and metres height to prevent yourself from ingesting dog’s faeces.’ Even though, to be honest, he did not seem to care.
He mentioned later the responsibility of depriving the wild life and permission needed for the foraging of particular species.
“Do not cause permanent damage by taking the plant by its roots, you need permission.”
This was just the start of a 3 hour learning course.
First Gavin introduced us to Mugwort, which got me rather intrigued due to its apparent psychoactive effects.
Gavin explained that Mugwort comes from the same family as the plant used to make absinthe, a strong alcohol made from ‘Grand Wormwood’.
He told us a story about one of his colleagues who tried to test its psyco-active properties by putting a piece of it under his wife’s pillow before she slept. She experienced hallucinatory dreams, she wasn’t very happy when she found out what her husband had done.
Cooking tip: Mugwort can be a very good preservative for bitter beer.
The Yew Tree
The Yew tree is a very toxic tree. The seed of the berries can cause death if ingested.
The flesh however is consumable, and can even help cure cancer if synthesised. Ireland told the group; “I won’t advice you to eat any but if you do, be careful”
Tip: Yew berries can make very nice, sweet gin (with the flesh)but you cannot freeze it.
This plant is made of 60% of proteins. As Gavin explained: ‘With this plant you have the pain and the cure by using their stems. If gentle, it won’t sting you but also if you pick it up from the stem you won’t get stung.’.
“The plant has a flavour of spinach with an after taste of nuts”
Cooking tip: If put in a container with sugar and lemons, it can make a very nice cordial; very citrusy and convenient for cocktails.
The Flowers from the Darwins Barberry plant can be eaten and have a very surprising, indescribable flavour.
You would have to try it to understand they are everywhere so you have no excuse not to try them!
Cooking tip: Darwins Barberry can be added to any type of salad for a nice decoration and to add interesting flavours.
The Comfrey is a very powerful plant. It is very good for fixing nitrogen as it is a great fertiliser.
Ireland described the taste of the plant to “tasting a bit like cucumbers”
Useful tip: You can use its leaves as well as its flowers to make tea.
If you drink its tea 3 times a day, it can be used as a form of natural pain relief. Ireland told us about a friend who broke her arm and poured the tea on it a few times a day. It cured it in 3 weeks. He admitted: ‘Doctors didn’t want to believe it of course.’
This tree is one of the most common in London. It has red berries which have a very big seeds. You can make lots of different types of recipes with it, but the ones we were introduced to were infused with Brandy before the event
“There is a lot of hype about Mushrooms but there is a misunderstanding about them not growing back. They actually do, just like an apple on a tree.”
There are a lot of different species of mushrooms and it is important to be aware of how to identify the non-toxic ones.
Useful tips to recognise edible mushrooms:
- What is growing around it
- The colour of it
- The type of stem
Gavin gave a clear warning, saying “If you are not a 100% sure about the mushroom, leave it alone.”
Totally Wild UK are hosting another foraging Walk on the 3rd of November in Lee Valley park.