Winter foraging, wild tastes

As the dark nights of winter are gradually squeezed out by the slow approach of spring foraging, the hunt of edible foods in the wild, takes on a new urgency.

Foraging on the seashore is great fun and very rewarding (Image: John Coupe)
Foraging on the seashore is great fun and very rewarding (Image: John Coupe)

Winter foraging offers some fantastic tastes, textures and culinary surprises from the Wood Ear fungus (used by Japanese-themed noodle bar Wagamama in their soups) and Velvet Shank mushrooms giving your game casseroles and winter stuffs extra depth and flavour to mussels, oysters and whelks found at low tide on the seashore.

New growth on nettles is starting to show, and are now seen as a superfood packed with vitamins A, C and D with a dollop of iron. Taking just the top four or five leaves and picking away from roadsides and areas sprayed with pesticides, these leaves combine deliciously with potato for a warming, nutritious soup in place of spinach. Cooking the leaves removes the sting.

Sweet violets, often found crystallised as cake decoration or infused in to the delicate flowers found shivering under hedgerows and woodland glades and edges, can be sprinkled on salads adding a dash of colour or by infusing into syrup for use in cakes and drinks.

Winter is a great time for foraging  (Image: John Coupe)
Winter is a great time for foraging (Image: John Coupe)

Another flower that should be eaten is the humble dandelion, regarded as a weed by most people. Again packed with vitamins, the whole plant can be eaten with flowers (February through November) chopped and added to omelettes and rice dishes, particularly risottos, while roots can be tossed into stir-fries.

Before picking any fungi or mushrooms get expert advice. Specimens with names such as Destroying Angel and Death Cap are best avoided! There are plenty of great foraging courses available around the country including

Foraging with Don and Ed in Pembrokeshire Foraging in a beautiful part of the world with access to the coast and woodland.

Fat Hen Walking and cycling around Cornwall with chef and ecologist Caroline Davey. Professional forager Robin Herford runs course across Britain.

Woodlands and streams offer great foraging opportunities (Image: John Coupe)
Woodlands and streams offer great foraging opportunities (Image: John Coupe)

A personal favourite of mine is wild garlic also known as Ransoms. It’s a little early for this at the moment, but is a great sign that spring has finally overtaken winter and now rules the seasons. Ransoms are around for only a couple of weeks from early March and are found in woodland dotted along the paths of streams. The leaves can be eaten raw or blanched.

Finally chop the leaves to flavour omelettes or make a wild pesto (blitz with olive oil, basil, European pine nuts and some Parmigianino Reggiano cheese, stirred into risottos or used in place of garlic with meat or fish.

A good starting placed is reading the classic wild food book, ‘Food for Free’ by Richard Mabey, or ‘Wild Food’ by outdoorsman and survivalist Ray Mears.

So get out and forage!

Bruce McMichael

Food writing, discovering food stories, meeting producers, chefs and food enthusiasts are all part of desire to inspire, inform my readers and fellow food lovers. I am a freelance writer, journalist and published author focusing on the international world of food and drink, culture and travel. In 2019 I graduated from the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy with a Masters in Food Culture, Communication and Marketing. I am now a visiting Professor at the university teaching Food & Drink Writing. Based in London I travel widely, particularly across western Europe. I have chaired many conferences and meetings, spoken at conferences and events and often appear on radio and TV talking most about food, the business of food and being an entrepreneur. In 2017 I won an episode of the ITV (the UK-based national television channel) cooking competition show, 'Gordon Ramsay's Culinary Genius'. I took my children on holiday to Sicily with the prize money. As an experienced farmers' market manager and operator of a small marmalade/ preserves company, I am very familiar with the issues surrounding local food, farming, enterprise and the environment.