So long as you know where to look, and what is OK to eat. And we did not, as John jokingly suggested, steam the local shop. Nor did we go ferreting down the bins. No, we completed a short circuit in the vicinity of the Common, dipping into the streets to the south, before emerging and walking over towards the nature reserve. Journey’s End was the Old Mill, where some of us allowed ourselves a couple of drinks. An important part of the talk concerned the law, and common sense when foraging. Bear in mind that the ‘free’ food still has to be collected, without treading in anything nasty, washed, then processed which can use up a fair deal of electricity or gas, and all takes time, which is why I have moved towards using foraged food whole. It keeps more of the original flavour, is quicker and less is needed than if making jam for instance.
There were about 50 attendees – about 40 adults and around 10 children. Luckily, the adults seemed to take a robust, Scandinavian-style* attitude to letting their children be outdoors, eating unwashed leaves and berries, making contact with the soil, climbing into and falling out of trees and generally behaving as English children used to behave 40 or 50 years ago. Most of the adults were up for tasting unfamiliar plants, if not the climbing trees and dirt. Surprise hits were the blackberry, which at this time of year would be expected to be quite bitter, but which were surprisingly sweet – if only I had picked some in the summer – and the fruit of the Bastard Service tree, unpalatable to children, but favoured by the adults who tried them because of their juiciness and balance of sweetness and sharpness.
In terms of garden plants, it was a revelation to some that they could eat fuchsia berries – choose the ones that are rich, dark purple. They are mildly sweet with a slight peppery aftertaste. The Japanese Rose petals weren’t quite as sweet as they have been earlier in the year, but the accompanying hips found favour with those who tried them. It is surprising what edible plants you can find within a short distance of your front door, and even if you decide you’d rather not partake, it is still interesting to be aware that you could, and to know the stories and legends attached to them.
*NB There is a small, informal group in Plumstead, called FLOPs, which stands for the Finnish Ladies of Plumstead.