On the 10th and 11th of November 2012 Macreddin Village in Co. Wicklow will host the second annual Wild & Slow festival, a Slow Food celebration of wild foods and the culmination of a year long foraging project. You can view some of the highlights of last years event on Youtube at:
Foraging was once as common in Ireland as going to the supermarket is today. People exploited their surroundings in a sustainable way, harvesting wild fruits, nuts, herbs, flowers, mushrooms, seaweeds and shellfish, all of which were abundant in the countryside and on the seashore.
Today, most people don't have access to the countryside or are unfamiliar with it. Most would not be able to identify wild foods and may well be fearful of them and the possibility of making themselves ill.
Undeniably, some species of mushrooms are extremely poisonous, so don’t be foolhardy; it’s well worth going on wild mushroom hunts with trained people before venturing out on your own. But don’t let the fact that a few species happen to be poisonous keep you away from discovering the incredible variety of flavours available for the gathering. Consult a few well-illustrated books to be doubly sure. Once you find your secret caches, you might even find yourself turning into one of these people who becomes incredibly secretive and won’t let anyone else come along.
Be streetwise about where you forage. Avoid busy roads, where exhaust fumes may have settled on the flora. Also, I wouldn’t be madly keen to forage on land that’s likely to have been chemically sprayed, for example adjacent to intensively grown field crops or commercial orchards. But I would urge farming families to consider planting damsons, crabapple, hawthorn, elder, even gooseberries and redcurrants in the hedgerows around their farms as people did long ago, not only to enhance biodiversity but for the joy of foraging.
A CHARTER FOR THE SUSTAINABLE HARVESTING OF WILD FOOD
IMPORTANT POINTS TO REMEMBER
Foragers should respect the plants, the environment as a whole, and take into consideration of the need to share some wild plants with the wildlife of the area and take account of the rights of land owners.
Foragers should also respect other foragers, although no wild foods belong to any of us, we should all respect each others ‘Patches’
Unlike cultivated foods that are planted by humans for a single quantifiable harvest, wild foods are an occurrence of nature itself and a full understanding and appreciation of this haphazard propagation when it comes to harvesting should never be underestimated
While Ireland has abundant wild food plants, and only a very few of our indigenous and naturalised wild plants are on the ‘at risk’ list, foragers should guard carefully what we have, so that the generations to come can enjoy our wild food.
It’s crucial to learn how to harvest without destroying a plant, a tree, fungi, seashore vegetable, or seaweed.
Wild plants regenerate themselves naturally, either by spreading their seed or spores, by re-growth, or by creeping rhizomes, or self-rooting arched branches.
Cutting hedgerows before the berries are harvested is wasting food
depriving both birds and humans.
WILD HERBS AND GREENS
By their nature wild herbs and greens have very loose roots. All care must be taken when harvesting leaves not to disturb the root mass, eg pull up or move a wild sorrel plant and that’s the end of that plant. Harvest the larger leaves and allow the small ones to grow on and you can harvest it again and again all summer and in years to come.
WILD FLOWERS AND BLOSSOMS
Although wild flowers such as the primrose etc are more than pleasing in summer salads, the centre of all wild flowers is the seed for the next
generation and needs cross-pollination by bees and insects to give us next year’s wild crop. Blossoms are flowers where humans have recognised this fact, apple blossom and rose blossom are just two…pick these beautiful flowers for your salads and you get no apples or rosehips, simple. Wilting blossoms are the best, after cross-pollination and pick just the petals not the fruit centre.
Seaweed can only regenerate if it is cut leaving several inches on the plant which will in a year or eighteen months grow again. Harvest seaweed by pulling it from the rocks with the ‘hold fast’ attached and it dies. Seaweeds and sea plants have a season that is later than land plants, maybe by two months…don’t harvest too early, give the weeds and plants a chance to propagate.
We won’t get the fruits unless we have left the blossoms, simple. The Elder Tree is a prime example for the Forager. Pick all the flowers in spring for your Elder Flower Wine and then you don’t have Elder Berries for your game dishes in the Autumn. Meantime you’ve also deprived the bees of their harvest and crosspollination of the flowers and also deprived the birds of a feast and by default the natural dispersion of next year’s seedlings.
Fungi grows from spores in the ground. Pick an elderly wild mushroom that is past eating and you have prevented the spores needed to grow fungi in that place next year. Many ‘new Foragers’ seem to have got into the habit of bringing back large ‘Trophy’ mushrooms to show-off. These are usually mushrooms that are not firm and are well past their sell-by date. Mushrooms such as these should be left to spore for next year’s crop and it’s not cool to pick them.
DO leave at least a third of the blossom, flowers, berries, seed heads, nuts, leaves, seashore vegetables and seaweeds on the plant and cut, don’t pull.
DON’T break branches to make gathering easier.
DON’T pick or bring home fungi that is over mature.
DON’T venture into private land without permission.
DON’T pick plants in conservation areas where there is a Department of
Environment notice that states you should not do so.
DO take care where you park your car. Don’t block farm gates.
DO close all farm gates after you. DO bring all your litter home.
DON’T dig up wild plants.