It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?
I’ve been in London for the last several months and thought I’d post one of the fun and unusual things that I’ve done. It was a gift from some very good friends of mine for my birthday this year. It was a Wild Foraging course with www.totallywilduk.co.uk.
The actual name of the course we did was Forage and Cook, and we went to Birchden Woods just S of London. It was a lovely area and the drive there was a challenge because we took a wrong turn (thanks Waze) and ended up in some horrible traffic which got us there 15 minutes late. I had called our guide and told him we were stuck in traffic, and he was very nice and told us not to worry. Thankfully, we weren’t the only late ones, and everyone was friendly and understanding. The weather wasn’t the greatest as it was chilly, cloudy, and a bit blustery. However, we were all wearing several layers and dressed in our wellies, mine brand new. Time to christen them for sure.
We set out and the first thing we did was pick a leaf. Any leaf. Then we had to describe our leaf with as much detail as possible. My leaf was dark green, with jagged edges. The stem and the underside of the leaf was hairy and had little spikes. The point of this exercise was to pay attention to the smallest detail. And I mean, the smallest. I thought I had done a pretty good job describing my leaf. But I missed several other details: how close the veining was, the smell, the feel, and the clusters of leaves. Paying attention to everything is critical when foraging. And I mean critical because it will be the difference between life and death. Seriously.
We walked around and out guide pointed out all these plants around us and there were tons of cool stuff the eat. THEN he pointed out the plant next to the edible plant that looked exactly the same to me, but no. That one was the deadly one. Well, okay. Some of them not so deadly but would make you so ill that you’d wish you were dead. The difference was subtle. The mantra was: groovy-and-hairy-was-cool, bald-and-spotty-was-bad.
We moved on to mushrooms. I had just been to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh where there were quite a few mushrooms lurking about, but I was not prepared for the many different varieties. At first, we were having difficulty finding them because they blended into the decaying leaves on the side of the path. But once we knew what to look for, I was amazed at how many there are. We soon found out that there are specific spots to look for them. In the Pine, Burch, and Oak groves. While some can also be found in fields.
Turns out there are even MORE things you look for when identifying mushrooms because, just like the plants, there are many that look exactly the same except for one or two tiny differences. I found a website that you can check out to see what goes into foraging. https://www.mushroomdiary.co.uk/mushroom-identification/
We came to a specific copse of trees where we were set loose to go find whatever we could. It turns out that I am particularly good at finding the deadliest of the deadly mushrooms. So deadly that when I help move the edible mushrooms into the basket they were immediately separated and thrown away. As in you WILL die if any of the spores of the Destroying Angel, I found earlier, contact the edible mushrooms in the basket. I was then told not to touch anything else and to make sure that I washed my gloves immediately upon getting home. In fact, I found 2 of the 3 deadly species. The other folks found 2 mushrooms that sold for quite a bit on the mushroom market. The guide was very excited they were found: the chanterelle, and a black tulip thing that I can’t remember the name of.
And yes, we did find the hallucinogenic ones. No, we didn’t pick them. Obviously, it’s illegal. And besides, my gloves were contaminated with the Destroying Angel spores.
By this point, we were all freezing. My feet were so cold I couldn’t feel my toes. We went back to the park entrance and were told to immediately wash our hands. And we had mushroom risotto. I’m not sure we used the mushrooms we found. He had a whole basket of mushrooms packed and labeled and cleaned. Which in hindsight, is most likely what he used as it was safest.
What I walked away with were two lessons.
- There are so many things growing in the woods that one can eat that are so much more interesting and flavorful than lettuce.
- Do NOT go foraging unless you have many, many, many years of education and research. You could die. Really.