A Wild Food Foray with Kris Miners

I went on a three hour foraging foray this week at Hanningfield Reservoir, a beautiful nature reserve in Essex, in the company of bushcraft expert and conservationist Kris Miners, who runs Green Man Bushcraft Ltd, and I’m feeling pretty shattered. It must be all that fresh air. I used to joke when I worked in London that it was only the pollutants keeping me awake, but it must have been true!

I explained to Kris that I’d been having difficulties identifying some plants and was afraid of poisoning myself, so I wanted a crash course on easy ones to identify. In fact, I got so much information from him that it’s impossible to distil everything here, so part two will follow tomorrow with a guide to 15 wild edible plants and how to identify them.

According to Kris, I’m not alone. “Unless you’re doing it all the time it’s difficult,” he explains. “I’ve heard so many stories from people who’ve been on my courses. One guy told me that he’d eat any mushroom that was white. He was very lucky he didn’t get ill. Another asked me to identify a root he’d eaten once and found bitter. It’s surprising how many people eat things [without identifying them]. We do point out on our courses which plants are poisonous, as well as the edible ones. The umbelleferae family of plants, which includes cow parsley, Alexanders and hemlock, for example are difficult to distinguish.”

And grasses are another problematic species. “In basic wild food courses I leave out the grasses too,” he tells me. “You can get a fungus growing on them and there are some bad stories about people making bread flour from infected grasses – a woman lost her leg after doing so. If people forget to check grasses for the fungus then it’s easy to come a cropper. Stick with what you know.”

However, Kris also claims that after years of identifying plants you can taste when something is amiss. “I also believe we’ve all got something built-in to us to tell us if something is poisonous [once you’ve been identifying plants for a while],” he says. “I can taste that something’s not right. It’s that extra sense you’ve got.”

I told him I’d eaten nettles which were a bit past their best and he warned me they weren’t as safe as I’d thought. “Old nettles can irritate your kidneys,” he warns. “But it’s a useful plant. You can also use the stalks to make string and rope. There’s a theory that nettle rope was used to move the stones into place at Stonehenge.”

Kris emphasises the importance of touching, smelling and tasting a plant to identify it. “Books get you looking at what the plant looks like all the time, but it’s about more than that,” he says.

However, as a conservationist he is concerned that the growing interest in wild food thanks to programmes on TV may prove detrimental to the environment. “It’s really nice that people are getting back to nature, but they can do harm,” he points out. “People strip bark from birch trees and don’t know what they’re doing so they harm the trees. The TV channels don’t always show you what to do properly. I’m trying to educate people. You have to be careful [harvesting wild food] because we don’t have much woodland. It can do a lot of harm to the environment. We haven’t got a lot of greenery to support it. People have almost made certain plants extinct by taking them.”

But, if carried out responsibly, will foraging help you save on your shopping bill? “It depends how much time you’ve got and if you’re willing to hunt,” says Kris. “You can easily get your salad for free. But many people are used to what things taste like in the supermarket. However, if you’ve got a year to build up to it and preserve things by making jellies, jams and soups and a good location, then it’s possible to save money by eating wild food.”

Tomorrow – fifteen wild plants and their uses, courtesy of Kris Miners

Do you think eating wild food would help you save on your grocery bill? Or is it too difficult and time consuming? Leave a comment and let me know.


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8 Responses to A Wild Food Foray with Kris Miners

  1. Karen Jennifer says:

    I don\’t really like to take nuts and berries from the wild because I think that the birds and animals need these to live on through the autumn and winter months. m

  2. piper says:

    I think you have a good point there, Karen.  And even if you pick some you should leave plenty for the birds to eat (although I think they\’re all in our back garden eating the grass seed DJ planted on part of the lawn right now!). xxx

  3. rik says:

    I\’ve got to agree with Karen, it\’s also important not to take too much of anything from one localised area for similar reasons. Birds and animals don\’t get to go to the shop if someones picked all their dinner, maybe that\’s why they "steal" our plants and seeds! ;)Kris obviously runs a much better course than the dodgy one you went on before, I\’d forgotten about the grass fungi myself! I didn\’t know about nettles irritating kidneys but old ones aren\’t very nice anyway, maybe that\’s nature warning us to leave them alone. There is a "taste test" that\’s supposed to be helpful identifying edible plants (DJ\’ll probably have read about it!) basically try some under your tongue, wait a couple of hours and if there\’s no burning etc. eat a small piece, wait again, try a bigger piece etc. I doubt if it\’s anywhere near foolproof though and certainly not with fungi!

  4. Karen Jennifer says:

    Why on earth would anyone want to eat nettles? It\’s bad enough touching one when your weeding – the sting throbs for hours. It may be an old wives tale but I heard that nettles grow on places that people have urinated on in the past. A doube yuk from me!

  5. rik says:

    Nettles grow best on ground that\’s been disturbed, usually by old building etc. As for where people have urinated, well that could be pretty much anywhere. I won\’t mention what slugs and such get up to on lettuces while they\’re growing! Eating wild plants (I don\’t like to call them weeds, they just grow where they want and not where they\’re "told" to grow!) is something our great grand parents would have done without a second thought, remember all plants grew wild once. Give some a go, you might like it.

  6. piper says:

    Nettles are full of vitamin C and very good for you, Karen, – as long as the leaves are young. But isn\’t urine a good fertiliser?  DJ is always threatening to go and frighten the neighbours by peeing on the veg patch!
    Yes I\’d heard of that taste test thing, Rik. Sounds sensible. Luckily I\’m not allergic to anything as far as I know – although pork pies give me a headache and I\’m intolerant to ibuprofen. Not bad for a hypochondriac!

  7. maria nieves says:

    estado biendo tu limdo espasio y lo mas que me agustado son labarierdad deplanta pero como no entiemdo tu leguage no se que desir
    las conosco todas y son mui limdad bueno besitos desde canarias

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