20 February 2013

GUEST BLOG: The art of foraging

By guest blogger SARAH BENJAMINS. Photos by BEN GREENAWAY

This unusual foraging event took place in Manchester Art Gallery in the heart of the city centre, as part of a special evening to celebrate Dickens’ 201st birthday on Thursday 7 February. The talk linked with a gallery artwork The Walk to Dover, inspired by Dickens' novel David Copperfield, in which Copperfield survived by foraging for food while walking to Dover to find his aunt.  

The event was hosted by medical herbalist and lifelong forager Jesper Launder, who brought a surprising variety of freshly foraged wild foods for us to try, despite this being probably the leanest time of year. Jesper is a big fan of finding uses for those Gardener's Question Time 'love to hate' plants, and he described how to identify and cook Ground Elder and Nettles, two favourite 'pests'. He also showed us how to tell your Cow Parsley, Hogweed and Wild Garlic (edible) from your Hemlock, Giant Hogweed and Lily of the Valley (err.. definitely not edible!). His medical herbalist training was also useful as he explained why people with kidney stones should avoid Sorrel, and how dried Wild Garlic seeds can be ground and used as a remedy for indigestion. 

We moved on from green stuff to the wonderful and mysterious world of fungi. Jesper told us why winter is the safest time for novices to forage for mushrooms, why button mushrooms are best bought organic and eaten cooked, and why Oyster Mushrooms cooked in butter could be thought of as a 'balanced meal'! I also discovered that they have been found to lower cholesterol. His technical knowledge came to the fore when describing medicinal uses of mushrooms, and how they are part of mainstream medicine elsewhere in the world, particularly in Japan and China. We also learned about some of the many uses of the inedible but extremely versatile Razorstrop mushroom, the 'Swiss army knife' of the mushroom world.

Finally we cooked up and tasted a delicious mushroom and herb tortilla using the foods we'd seen, including the beautiful named-from-a-storybook Scarlet Elf Cup, and we went away very satisfied, with some fascinating insights into the world of our native wild foods.

Check out the Cracking Good Food website for details of upcoming foraging sessions "in the field" with Jesper.

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