Wednesday, 10 October 2012

A Quest for Wild Food

Most epic fantasy stories have their heroes journeying across the country on a quest. Perhaps they lodge overnight at a roadside inn, or maybe they have to sleep under a hedge or in an abandoned barn.  Along the way, they're unlikely to find a Pizza Hut or Subway if they're feeling peckish, so in all likelihood they're going to have to forage for some food.

I wouldn't have a clue what could be safely eaten and what would cause me an excruciating death if I were the heroine in my YA fantasy story, so when I heard about a Wild Food walk taking place at Wapley Bushes Nature Reserve I jumped at the chance to find out more.

Top tip of the day - red for danger, so avoid red berries.  Here we have briony (and Briony, incidentally, is the name of one of the characters in my novel - but she's lovely, so the warning of the name is no reflection on her!).
The not-so-lovely briony

Next, we have ergot, which is a fungus found on rye and other related plants.  Apparently it can cause hallucinations, so this one is best avoided when you're rooting through your grasses.

Sloe, sloe, quick, quick, sloe
The sloe berry is the fruit from the blackthorn shrub, and is used for sloe gin.

Upside down Bolete fungus

We found a Bolete fungus which some insect or creature had tried their best to devour.  Our instructor wasn't sure which type of Bolete it was, so he was going to take it home to check it out.

Looking rather burnt - King Alfred's cake
King Alfred's cake.  Now, with a name like that, you'd think this fungus would be edible, wouldn't you?  I wouldn't want to chance it though!  It's also known as cramp balls or coal fungus, and it's good to use as a firelighter, as it smoulders (and will keep your hands warm).  That's definitely something our fantasy heroes will want to make use of on a cold night. 

You're so sweet, meadowsweet
They'd also be interested in meadowsweet, which was the medieval equivalent of aspirin.

Heal my wound, woundwort
And woundwort is definitely a plant they'd want close at hand if they've been wounded, as the leaves are great for coagulating blood.

Finally, we came across some burdock, which I know from the drink Dandelion and Burdock (though I've never tasted it).

Of course, there are other wild foods like blackberries, apples and wild garlic, as well as other plants that can be used to season a meal - you just have to know what you're looking for!

If you were on a quest, would you be able to survive on the fruit of the land if you had to, or would you hotfoot it to the nearest inn?