What a fabulous day spent with Chloe, a professional forager, educator, wild food consultant and chef, along with her truffle hunting spaniel, Samphire. We enjoyed a fully immersive foraging experience near the banks of the River Severn in Chepstow, Monmouthshire. Wales, she explained is bountiful at any given time of the year, you just have to know when, where and how to find it!
We weren’t disappointed, encountering an incredible array of edible flora and fauna amongst meadows, hedgerows, salt marsh coastal flats and ancient woodland, locating over 30 herbs, roots, flowers, vegetables, field mushrooms, nuts, seeds and estuary herbs. Chloe’s enthusiasm and passion shone through as she described how to identify, sustainably harvest and utilise all of the incredibly nutritionally superior and flavour-packed wild ingredients. Who knew such a treasure trove of nature’s bounty lay tantalisingly within our reach.
A foraged feast in the wild was a perfect end to the session, enjoying a myriad of pre-prepared dishes and accompanied by the freshly picked produce of the day. Her incredible menu included Creamy oyster & field mushroom soup with miso and brandy, Orange birch bolete mushroom puff pastries, Mugwort focaccia, Venison, cider and wholegrain mustard broth, Elfcup mushrooms stuffed with 3-cornered garlic and wild walnut pesto with fresh garlic leaves, Jack by the hedge and cleaver hummus with Primrose blooms, Fennel and chickpea salad, Roast brace of pheasant stuffed with Scott’s Pine with allspice, cranberry and honey, Roast Muntjac venison shoulder with garlic, thyme and juniper, served with rose and red clover jelly, and bacon cured chicken of the woods mushroom nuggets with wild plum barbecue sauce.
Chloe had a treasure trove of knowledge too as she detailed the folklore, medicinal and nutritional benefits. Of particular interest were the use of medicinal mushrooms which are thought to strengthen the immune system : Reishi, Lion’s Mane, Chaga, Cordyceps, and particularly Turkey Tail, where a preparation known as Krestin has been used as a supportive therapy against Cancer in Japan for decades.
She explained the origins of the word ‘wort’. most likely derived from the Anglo Saxon word for wound or hurt, implying curative properties such as Navelwort, St John’s Wort and Mugwort, but occasionally implying a strong physiological effect of a negative nature such as poisonous Ragwort too.
Folklore is related to the Yarrow plant, Achillea millefolium, the latter meaning thousands of leaves due to its fluffy, feather like appearance. Achillea is related to the legend of Achilles who always carried Yarrow on the battlefield to stem bleeding - it’s a wonderful styptic. To protect him before the Trojan war his family collected Yarrow, considered to be a cure all miracle herb and immersed it in water. They dipped his entire body but held him by one foot which didn’t get drenched in the magic water, hence the expression “Achilles' heel”
The muddy banks of the Seven Estuary harboured some hidden gems. Scurvy grass or spoonworm, a species of flowering plant in the family Brassicaceae were taken aboard ships in dried bundles to combat scurvy. Wild spinach, Plantains, Radishes and Cabbages line the estuary coast. Wales has a seaweed tasting like truffles with a hint of garlic called Pepper Dulse. Woodruff is a beautiful woodland plant growing in whorls, which when dried tastes like Amaretto. The enchanting Elfcup - a dainty red mushroom adoring the forest floor appears to emit a puff of ‘fairy dust’ when picked. Nature, as always, a treasure trove of beauty and magic.
The cautionary mantras “Never munch on a hunch” and ‘If in doubt, leave it out” are wise words indeed. The poisonous Ragwort with its yellow flattened flower heads appears similar to Wild Cabbage, and the Hemlock Water Dropwort can be deadly, all parts of the plant are highly toxic and ingestion can be fatal. A member of the carrot family it has many edible lookalikes such as celery and parsley which can be confusing and dangerous for a novice. It grows in damp areas - wet grassland and woodland, river and stream banks, canals and in the vicinity of ponds and lakes
Foraging is fun! But there are a few rules to observe. Please contact the landowner for permission to forage on private land, and do not forage on public land for commercial gain. Avoid areas which could have been sprayed with chemicals such as land bordering farmland. It is illegal to dig up a wild plant by the root or bulb unless you are the landowner or have the landowner’s permission. Always forage sustainably and with care, observe how prolific the plant is and never take too much.
For more information, please contact Chloe Newcomb Hodgetts : Foraging Course and Guided Walks Purveyor at Gourmet Gatherings: www.gourmetgatherings.co.uk .
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