Forage and Feast July

This month Dave has three new plants for you to look out for, a short lived berry, a tenacious plant with pretty flowers and an aromatic carpet you will not want to miss!

The seasons are turning once more, people really do not like me saying it but Summer is over, Autumn is coming. Once I start picking fruit from multiple species then in my head its the start of Autumn and with Strawberries already picked and this month Raspberries, Blackcurrants, Bilberry and Redcurrants then to me we are in to foraging ‘Autumn’.

July is always the calm before the storm, it seems civil compared to the months ahead, some lovely plants to enjoy but nothing like the manic frenzy of making cordials, juices, jams and jellies that the following three months will bring.

So this month, go out and enjoy some of the species I have included, take a breath, relax and clear your head, one of the perks of foraging is just being in nice spaces surrounded by lots of nature

As usual I have included some wonderful edible species, but only ever pick something from the wild that YOU know 100% YOU know what it is, always you good reference books to confirm your identifications.

 

Wild Raspberry (Rubus idaeus)

 

Raspberry is always a fruit that seems to sneak up on me, almost without any warning they just suddenly appear and by the time you have got round to free up some time  to go and pick some, they disappear. Their season is short in the wild, July to August is when they are at their best and the Raspberries you get from the wild may not be as big as the varieties you can grow in a garden they are super sweet and in my humble opinion, even more delicious.

People are often surprised at how common they actual are, they blend in well, growing at path edges, in woodlands and mature hedgerows. Although sometimes, especially near habitation, you will get some garden varieties escaping in to the wild which do have larger fruit, but they are still fair game so enjoy if you can find those!

It is not only us humans that enjoy these wonderful fruit, the birds do to, this is a way of how the plant ‘escapes’ in to the wild, with Woodpigeons and Blackbirds eating the fruit in a garden, then going to relax elsewhere and after a nice poop, voila, new Raspberry plants in the wild.

Eating them on a nice walk is honestly the best way to enjoy them, but jams, cordial, pie, crumble, flavoured vinegar or even a making them into ice cream are all winning ways to use the fruit.

Most people will know what raspberries look like, but it is always interesting on events how reserved people can be second guessing themselves on picking a red fruit from the wild and eating it.

The leaves (which can be used in the spring to make a tea - but NOT to be be given to anyone who is pregnant), resembles a bramble (which is in the same familiar, but the stem does not have the large sharp thorn, at best they thorn are small and more like rubbing your hands over rough sandpaper.

You know when the fruit is really ripe as when you pull it it comes away from the core without much pressure.

 

Rosebay Willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium)

 

I have included this plant as it is one I am frequently asked about on events. It is a very striking plant and most people will see this plant as impressive swaths along the motorways verges or on the moorland edges where the tall pink flowers in large groups can look rather splendid.

It is an edible plant, but not something I normally seek out for culinary uses. The flowers are edible and can be used to decorate salads and impressive your friends, the young shoots can be treated a bit like asparagus and the more mature leaves can be used for making a herbal tea. Be warned though the older leaves are bitter and to be honest do not have much of a flavour.

An older name for the plant is Fireweed, as it is a plant that can quickly colonises areas that have been burnt and became very common in London after the blitz. In. Fact it is a plant that seems to have increased a lot in the last 100 years as a flora written in Bury around then describes this plant as ‘rare’. Anyone living in that area now will find that hard to believe with how widespread it is now.

I do admit to using the flowers in ice cubes, sometimes on a hot day it is nice to sit in the garden with a drink of choice and enjoy the flowers preserved in ice.

It is relatively straight forward to identify, the leaves have an interesting feature where the veins of the leaf move from the centre outwards, but do not touch the edge, they curve, leaving a distinct margin around the edge of the leaf.

 

Wild Thyme (Thymus polytrichus)

 

A truly delightful little plant, on its own it seems quite underwhelming but when it grows on mass, then it becomes truly impressive. In some areas it can be like walking on a lovely aromatic carpet, where on a warm day the scent of thyme can fill the air.

It is not as strongly scented or as big as the varieties of thyme you can put in your garden, but that does not mean it is not as pretty, in fact the wild variety, low growing and creeping en masse seems more impressive to me than the larger leafy scented versions.

In the right habitat it can be abundant, it likes alkaline or very sandy soils with not much competition, so limestone rocky outcrops are the perfect place to find it, or sand dunes where there is not much plant competition. July is the time Thyme is really showing off, the purple flowers making it easy to pick out as when it is not in flower, it can almost vanish the leaves are that small.

Like Rosebay Willowherb, this may not be a plant that I actively seek out to use, but one to enjoy on a walk, you can use it the same way you would thyme from the garden, but it just will not have the same impact. A few flowers on my sandwiches whilst I am out on my walk is how I enjoy this plant and wherever you find Wild Thyme growing, it is a nice place to be.

Next month I some fruits for you to look out but in the meantime, enjoy the weather, the plants, the other species you encounter and your foraging, but remember, only ever pick something YOU know 100% you know what it is.