Foraging for food was a necessity for human survival, so it makes sense that the instinct is strong in us, even now in these unreal Tesco times. The wild food movement is certainly gathering momentum; foraging walks and bushcraft experiences take place every weekend across the UK.
Last Saturday saw a group of enthusiastic foragers gather in the Hafod Estate woods near Devil’s bridge, for a Wild Food Day with Jade Mellor of Wild Pickings.
Jade greets us dressed in beautiful mauves and carrying her foraging basket. Jade is a gentle teacher, passionate and knowledgeable. The day has been well planned and the setting is perfect; shimmery straight pines tower above us; a warm breeze and just a few spots of rain refresh the air.
Within minutes I feel I have gained something valuable; a small nugget of knowledge which I want to hold onto - these keep on coming throughout the day. Jade covers a lot of ground (in every way) and soon I am busy taking notes and photographing every part of this enthralling journey.
There is wood sorrel, that humble but oh so zesty leaf that delights the taste buds whilst cleaning the kidneys. Blackberry leaf, which tastes astonishingly like coconut (if you chew long enough); rose bay willow herb or ‘fireweed’, the bain of gardeners, but produces a sweet pink cordial and tastes great in salads (also a powerful laxative when juiced).
We discover ground elder, which can be used a bit like parsley, pig nuts, and wild clover, which we learn is a natural hormone balancer; raising or lowering oestrogen levels according to need.
For morning break we drink fresh brewed Nettle, Cleavers and Lemon-balm tea whilst swatting up on the morning’s finds, laid out and labelled by Jade.
Back on the trail the woods open out into the valley where clouds of yellow Gorse brighten the view. Reactions to the gorse petals are varied with comments of “Mm honey” and “Ugh, Cod Liver Oil!” as we sample the different bushes. The similar looking Broom flowers are delectable in my view, tasting just like fresh baby pea pods.
Herb Robert is discovered on a bank and we discuss the oxygenating properties of this astonishing plant. Valerian root is another find, helpful for insomniacs if you are careful with the dosage (deadly if you are not). Jade picks masses of nettles with her bare hands, explaining that the stings are helpful for circulation and conditions such as arthritis and rheumatism. I make a note to tell my Mum. Jade explains that nature often provides medicine; the UK abounds with plants that are good for colds and circulatory problems - if you know what you are looking for.
Lunch is in a cottage in the grounds and it’s a three course feast of ground elder soup with Celandine flowers, wild garlic and nettle pesto with a foraged salad, Ribwort plantain seed-heads and petals, fried Hogweed shoots, wild garlic dolmades (a bit like sushi) and a dessert of gorse flower & bilberry compote. So distractingly delicious that I forget to take any photos.
Back outside the sun has come out in force as we stroll across a meadow and up into ‘Cavern Cascade’, where the water pounding through a hole in the rocks makes a highly oxygenated rest-point. It’s a lovely friendly group and we discuss food, lifestyle, our work, global warming, kids and travel. Thrillingly, Bruce Parry from the BBC series Tribe and Amazon is along and just as interesting and lovely in real life as on our screens.
The day finishes with a glass of natural spring water and a bask in the sunshine. It’s been an incredible day and I feel full of wellbeing and enthusiasm for what we’ve learned as I drive home towards Cardigan.
Jade has mentioned some coastal foraging walks planned on the Poppit Estuary or at Cwmtidi Beach and I’ll be looking out for those. Meanwhile I'm off to pick some wild garlic I've spotted nearby to have for my tea!
Foraging and wild food walks and courses are running throughout the year - full details here.