I’m getting a bit concerned about my cat’s burgeoning interest in wild food. Perhaps it was a mistake on my part to let him watch Ray Mears, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Bear Grylls on TV. Whenever he gets tired of waiting for me to feed him in evenings, he seems to sneak off and catch himself a ‘snack’ to keep him going.
He never used to be able to catch so much as a moth years ago. But now the back garden is littered with the corpses of countless mice and telltale missing feathers from birds which have met with an untimely end. DJ and I desperately tried to nurse back to health no less than two baby blue-tits which Dougal ‘appropriated’ last month, but all to no avail. Recently his tastes have become more exotic and, I’m ashamed to say, that he’s added slow worms to his menu. Fortunately I’ve managed to rescue most of them after they’ve confused him by dropping their tails, but I’m sure that trick won’t fool him for ever.
But perhaps Dougal makes a valid point. Maybe we should be making more of what nature’s larder has to offer. Last summer during my challenge to beat rising food prices, I spent a week introducing wild foods into my diet. I found the experiment fascinating and thoroughly enjoyed learning about the edible plants which are growing all around us.
So this week I spoke to wild food expert Kris Miners to find out which foods are in season and how you can cook them. Here are five easily identifiable varieties he came up with to get you started:
1. “Horseradish is out at the moment and tends to be found by the roadsides,” says Kris. “This does mean that it’s often on agricultural land, so you should be careful and make sure you get permission before digging it up.” You can use the leaves and the root. Grate the root and mix it with cream or vinegar if you like it spicy. Kris says that some people prefer to leave eating their horseradish until a bit later in the season, but it can get a bit woody.
2. Elderflower. Elder leaves are poisonous so make sure you don’t eat them, but the flowers can be used. Kris advises harvesting them just as they come into bloom and making a champagne or cordial from them. You can also eat them raw or lightly deep fry them in batter with honey or salt.
3. Dog rose petals. “Use them once they start to fall away naturally from the rose,” says Kris. “You can eat the petals raw in salads or crystallise them for use as cake decorations.”
4. Herb Bennet. Many of these grow wild in gardens. Use the leaves in stew as well as the root which has an aniseed flavour.
5. Stinging nettles. “People think they can’t use them at this time of year but there are still many around,” Kris explains. “Only use the young leaves [the older leaves can be bad for your kidneys] and cook them like spinach. You can also make nettle beer.”
Make sure you’re 100 per cent certain of what you’re eating, though. Many wild foods can be mistaken for poisonous varieties. Attend a wild food course or go on a walk with your local wildlife ranger. If in doubt, eat something else.
Do you eat wild food? What are your favourite recipes?
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