Robert has asked me to jot down a few notes on the vast subject of Devon wild edibles – in honesty I’m no expert and don’t know anyone who is as it is such a vast subject. Unfortunately the knowledge of our earliest ancestors is all but gone also I’ve spent little time in Devon as I am based a little further north in Gloucester, but wild edibles are wild edibles wherever in the country we are, with the observation that the further South we are the earlier the summer starts and the later it finishes.
I look at what nature has to offer as a unique perspective of treating as a free larder what the casual observer might well overlook or think of as a weed or nuisance plant, I look beyond the sea of green leaves and brown trunks and see what may well be a valuable food source, what may well be used as a tonic or medicine, what may well with a little basic processing be quickly turned into a useful cordage or even a valuable means of fire lighting.
Does this make sense to everyone? Does everyone do this? Well to me it does, looking past the green and seeing natures larder as a one stop shop able to satisfy your everyday needs, as the old saying goes a knowledge of your environment is a lot lighter than a rucksack full of kit and more often than not if I go out with a rucksack full of heavy kit a good proportion comes back home unused.
Surprising how much stuff is out there and how much of it is available throughout different times of the year, maybe everything has a use if only we knew what that use was. To a gardener nettles and brambles are a continuous nuisance but to the forager the both can be used as a food source and a means of cordage with a little know-how. What do I mean by foraging? Well how many of us have picked blackberries from the hedgerow on a summer’s day? Probably most of us of my generation at least who were let to spend their summers out and about rather than sitting at home playing on a computer.
That’s it, that’s all foraging is in essence recognising a plant and knowing a use for it. I don’t necessary just think of food so at the beginning of the article you may well have thought I’m no forager but already you’ve recognised blackberries, dare say you’d also recognise crab apples? What about a dandelion? But how many people would recognise Rosehips? Elderberries? Sloes? Hawthorn? Rowan? Burdock? Just to name a few easy things to learn starting with one plant and slowly adding others building up a library of knowledge. I’ve learnt by playing with the plants and routinely when they are in season making jams, wines or alcoholic infusions from them.
What could be more difficult than picking sloes on an autumn day and soaking them in gin for several weeks? What could be more enjoyable than at Xmas drinking the result of your work or making a few bottles to give to friends and family smug in the knowledge you made it.
Over the years I seem to have amassed a bigger and bigger collection of books on various subjects of native skills, bush craft, survival and wild woods -my recommendation of 3 beginner level books to get into the subject without too much confusion are: Food for free – Richard Mabey ISBN 978-0-00-743847-1 Pagination 464 pages sold in various formats, although I have the hardback version River Cottage handbook No7 Hedgerow – John Wright Pagination 256 pages sold as part of a wider set of specialist books by River Cottage The Wild Food yearbook – Country Kitchen Pagination 130 pages Printed back in 2007, but still used copies can be found.