E+E column: Discovering Hedgerow Delights

Whilst pottering around a field on Dartmoor yesterday as part of the Festival of British Archaeology I partook in a brief but interesting foraging walk. The lady leading us started by enthusiastically telling us that 70% of her diet came from foraged foodstuffs. I was impressed…that’s a heck of a lot of hedgerow delights! Although not my first foray into foraging, I possibly found this walk one the most useful instructional moments yet. Did you know for example, that we can use dock leaves in place of spinach and other leafy greens? Or that common sorrel is deliciously lemony and can be used in salsa verde or to flavour fish? Or most controversially, that the seeds of hogweed smell divine and can be used to flavour ice cream, Indian dishes and a whole host more (although wearing protective clothing whilst harvesting and not breaking the stems is incredibly important to prevent the chemical burns that we’ve all seen on the news recently). I’m seriously amazed at what is quite literally, growing on our doorstep, ready for us to harvest and use in our kitchens.

Over the last few years we’ve picked a lot of elderflowers, blackberries and elderberries but despite gaining a little more knowledge each season at what else we can eat for free, I’ve been reluctant to take the dive into more serious foraging. Friends tell me that dandelion and nettle soup is delicious but I’ve been too cautious to try it myself. But no more! The idea of using dock leaves appeals and they are so plentiful and common that I trust myself not to mistake them for something else. So this week I’ll be down the ‘rec picking us some dock leaves to add to our curry and pasta dishes. Hopefully they’ll live up to their reputation and more importantly, I’m hoping the kids will eat them with minimal complaint We’ll see…

The whole experience got me thinking though about all this kind of knowledge that used to get passed from generation to generation but is now getting lost to the convenience culture of supermarkets and pre packaged meals and foodstuffs. I have nothing against the latter, we all have days when time is against us and the easiest option is to pop to the shop for a pizza or some pasta and a jar of sauce. But I do think this knowledge is important. We could be utilising what grows for free all around us, preserving a slice of our history and heritage and getting outside more all at the same time – sounds like a no brainer to me. As our guide yesterday said, eliminate the word ‘weed’ from your gardening vocabulary and replace it with ‘harvest’. Let’s start using these prolific hardy plants for adding something special to our cooking or as an alternative to chemical medication where appropriate (a glass of water left overnight with goosegrass in, for example, is meant to be a great detox after the night before). I might even try that nettle soup recipe!


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