BHOGG have called on the talents of writer-forager Craig to walk us through some foraging basics over the coming year. Craig will be covering some of the culinary highlights to be found around our highways and byways, as well as a few suggestions on how to cook with them. Over to Craig:
For my first post, I’m sticking firmly to the city to consider some of the hardy herbs and little gems we regularly find in gardens and green spaces, even if not on our actual high street. So, if you are walking down (or up, or along) the street, take a look at the plants poking out from front gardens or parks, as its likely you’ll be trotting right past some of my favourites: Rosemary, Sweet Bay and Wood Sorrel.
For many, this will be an easy spot as rosemary is so common and abundant. But the thing about rosemary is its variety. Having been cultivated for thousands of years, it offers a vista of experiences to the plucky picker: Lemony astringency, dusky spiciness and heavy, oily camphor are all on offer in different plants, so don’t pass up the opportunity to investigate something so common. It might just surprise you.
The Sweet Bay is a member of the laurel family, and it is important to note that some of its cousins are poisonous. There are two ways to definitively spot Sweet Bay (on my right in the photo above). The first is that the leaves are brittle and feel like thin, stiff paper. The second is its wholesome herbal freshness on the nose. Cup some leaves into your palm and inhale deeply. Do you think of the tang of stew and Autumn? Then it’s Sweet Bay. Does it smell of almonds? Then it’s one of the inedible laurels – DON’T PICK IT!
Lastly, there’s this less common little plant. Wood Sorrel is not closely related to common sorrel, so presumably gets its name due to the similarity in taste: A citrus sweetshop wallop in the mouth and a very pleasant one too! Normally, I treat it as a snack and pull out a couple of stalks and nibble them from the bottom toward the leaf. While these leaves are edible and of a similar flavour, their texture is not as firm and refreshing as the stem, though I’m not that fussy and usually eat the whole thing. If you happen upon a good bunch of wood sorrel, I’d recommend steaming them in a little water for a few minutes and then blending them up with a drop of honey or golden syrup. You’ll get an intense little sauce that’s great over coconut sorbet or vanilla ice cream.
Craig Jordan-Baker has been a forager of urban and wild spaces for about ten years, even foraging for nibbleable nuggets for a restaurant to mix into marvellous meals. Please ensure you follow responsible foraging guidelines when you’re out and about foraging. Check out the Woodland Trust’s guidelines.