Fuss Free Flavours was recently invited by The Caravan Club to come foraging in London’s Abbey Wood. There is no doubt that foraged food is cost effective as it’s essentially free. But how readily available is it, how easy is it to find and feed oneself with it on a regular basis? We sent our friend Urvashi Roe of Botanical Baker to find out.
The day was led by Monica Wilde of Napier’s at Abbey Wood Caravan Club in South East London. A most unlikely site for foraging you may ask but with Abbey Wood itself just on the doorstep Monica was certain we would find some good edibles.
The first and most ubiquitous plant we came across was the nettle. Not only is this fantastic for pesto but Monica explained how it does wonders for hayfever if eaten early in the season. She also shared some toasted nettle seeds which smelled just like coffee and had a nutty, earthy flavour. She collects them by drying nettles once they have flowered and then shaking the seeds off onto some paper. She uses them for salad toppings or sprinkling onto porridge.
Next up was bittercress which comes from the same family as nasturtiums and watercress. It didn’t taste as peppery but nonetheless, like the chickweed and lesser celandine it was growing next to, would be great for bulking up salads for free.
Like all of the above we found dandelion leaves everywhere. They are bitter but Monica explained that bitterness is very good for us. It helps to dispel toxins and is almost nearly gone from our daily diets. The leaves can be eaten raw, and Monica suggested the young more tender leaves for this, or they can be blanched like spinach and added to soups, stir fries and tarts. Dandelion petals are also edible and can be made into a cordial or infused into honey or vinegar.
The next one was my favourite. Goosegrass. The funny sticky plant that we all have used to pat onto someone’s back when they aren’t looking. This does wonders for the lymphatic system and alleviates blockages. Monica suggested blitzing it into smoothies.
Deeper into the woods we found hedge garlic. This has a much more subtle taste than wild garlic but nonetheless as there was so much of it everywhere, it would be perfect for pesto or soup.
Growing all over the woods and indeed in the park and by the side of the road was cow parsley. This is one you do need to be careful of as it looks very similar to poison hemlock. They key difference is that the latter has purple spots or blotches at its base but cow parsley also has a groove running down the stem. A salsa verde with this would work well as it has a slightly earthier flavour than the others.
We then were lucky enough to find Monica’s favourite – common hogweed. This is another one to be careful with because the sap of the plant can burn your skin when it reacts with sunlight. It should only be picked when then leaves are closed but if in doubt, head for the shoots. These are apparently delicious crisped up in butter.
Plants aren’t the only edibles of course. There are many trees that yield good eating. We discovered that the hawthorn has edible leaves and flowers that have a marzipan like flavour. The birch tree has a sap that can be collected via a simple tapping device which can then be used as a sweet syrup.
It was amazing how much there was to find in the woods. On the rest of our walk we also saw wild carrot seeds, bramble buds and comfrey. All in abundance and all very easy to identify now that we had been shown.
I don’t think foraging on these plants alone would be sustainable but I’m certainly more attuned to my ‘pavement and park grocery’ now and shall be picking and adding the above to my weekly ‘shop’.
Please forage responsibly and safely, do not eat any plant unless you are 100% sure you have identified it correctly.