If you plan on picking some wild plants for lunch today or supper tonight then there are some things you should consider to keep the experience safe, ethical and truly tasty.
1. The first essential guideline is ID – don’t carry any in case you get caught by the Gardaí (police) or local posse. Wrong! The id in this instance is making sure you actually have an edible plant in your sights and not it’s poisonous cousin. Invest in a good foraging manual with pictures and botanical descriptions. Just because it doesn’t smell of roses doesn’t mean its wild garlic.
There are many foraging courses led by experts and sometimes been shown ‘what and how’ beats a lifetime of reading and googling.
2. Know the difference between abundance and greed – That edible plant needs to seed to be more abundant next year so don’t strip everything off it, raiding natures ladder doesn’t have to be criminal appropriation. Always leave more than you take. A walk a litter further on may find a yet more abundant crop and you can top up supplies there.
Even with perennial plants and trees take care – Taking all the elder flowers now means no elder berries later in the year – don’t cut off your nose.
3. Location, location, location – where you harvest is as important as what you harvest when it comes to safety, flavour and legality. Hedgerow fruits are free, while a polytunnel of strawberries is potentially several months community service – in less dramatic circumstances just consider that not all wild food is really wild, as some may be on farmland or private property. (see rule 1 again).
The big issue with location is that while wild resonates the sense of being pesticide and fertilizer-free that’s not the case if the field beside is regularly sprayed and in an urban or roadside context – busy roads and places where dogs are walked can be detrimental with pollutants and fluke. Wild foods in a waste ground of poor soil and rubble may not taste as great as the same ones self-seeded into a hedgerow or along a lush riverbank walkway.
4. Fresher after a wash – eating from the bush is a delight, eating from a bush after a rain shower is bliss and technically healthier – dust particles and debris removed and produce juicer for it. Take only healthy samples – be alert to plants afflicted by disease, fungi, or environmental stress.
Whatever you harvest it is no harming in rinsing it under a tap or with a flask of filtered water. It is nicer to make it home after a day’s fresh air foraging without a night of the runs.
5. Don’t be scared be prepared – Following all of the above can revolutionize your palate and outlook, foraging is easy, pleasant and a healthy pastime. Put a bit of ground work in before you start and the world is your oyster – almost literally.