Day 26: Live below the poverty line – £1 a day
- Breakfast: porridge + water
- Lunch: foraged mushrooms + plants + tiger bread (10p)
- Dinner: remainder of vegetable curry + foraged large bitter cress
- Treat: value milk chocolate (30p)
I’m off to Manchester to visit my brother Rob and try our hand at foraging. My friend Jane has come along too to redeem herself from last week’s fruitless berry hunt.
We’re off to Didsbury to meet Jesper Launder, a medical herbalist and experienced forager. There are around fourteen of us on this woodland foray and the bohemian bunch range from the curious but inexperienced (myself included) to the hardened shroom enthusiast. We are also joined by James Wood, co-founder of The Foraged Book Project, a book on foraging made entirely of foraged materials.
Unsure what to expect we set off in pursuit of food…
I walk passed a fairly innocuous looking hedge row and Jesper halts the group. Down by our feet in what Jesper aptly terms the ‘dog zone’ there is garlic mustard begging to be harvested. This plant defends itself from insects and pesky vampires by giving off a garlic aroma, it has a garlic like taste if a tad bitter and the jury’s out for me. I learn that bitterness is thought to help protect us from harm such as poison chemicals found in plants, which is why we perceive a bitter taste as a bad or disagreeable one. However the compounds can also help activate the immune system, clearly it’s good to be a little bitter now and again.
We move onto a rosehip bush and I learn you can make a fantastic tangy syrup from the buds. However you must be very careful to remove the fine hairs which are a key ingredient in itching powder! The powder will have the same itchy effect down your oesophagus if you don’t. We stop at a pine tree and take a closer look at the pollen. It turns out pine pollen is a potent source of testosterone. In fact female fish living downstream of pine pump mills have been known to develop male sex organs and change sex entirely!
I consider the merits of being able to write my name in the snow but decide it’s a bit too drastic a lifestyle choice…
Onwards through the boggy ground and the wellies are proving a good decision. We investigate a dead log in search of some fungi and we’re in luck. Littered across the bark there is a species known as turkey tail, so-called because it looks like a tail when fanned out. Studies have shown that turkey tail when taken in tandem with mainstream cancer therapies has significant healing qualities and can help prevent infection and lengthen lifespan. It’s quite a remarkable ingredient. My brother Rob is in this very field of medicine and he and Jesper discuss the findings as I attempt to consume the woodland delicacy. It’s pretty tough and rubbery which probably explains why it’s sometimes known as “redneck chewing gum”.
Well I’ll be dipped in dung and rolled in breadcrumbs if that ain’t the dandiest thang…
Deeper into the woods and we come across some hairy and large bitter cress which tastes very mustard like. We also find a plethora of little red mushrooms called scarlet elf cups. The elf cups are very distinctive and unlike other mushrooms retain their vibrant colour when cooked.
It’s time to taste our colourful basket of spoils… Jesper grabs some camping stoves and bottles of homemade wine (made out of foraged ingredients) and together it’s quite a banquet. We stand around sipping mead and swapping stories after a successful afternoon. The foraged goodies get passed around and they’re utterly delicious, the mushrooms are incredibly flavour packed and I almost forget it’s food we’ve filched from the forest.
I’ve learnt so much about the wealth of treasures hidden in our woodlands, had a delicious meal and met some fascinating people, not least the charismatic Jesper who has been a fountain of knowledge. I’d recommend foraging to anyone who wants to experience nature’s bounty and the free food at our feet.
Foraging can be dangerous, I advise that if you do want to try it (and you should) you do so with the guide of an expert.
Great challenge. Impressive.