When beginning your foraging journey, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. The hedgerow can seem homogenous, one swathe of consistent and indistinguishable green flora. Then, when you do finally begin to separate the leaves and stems among the growth, there’s the question of edibility, something that (justifiably) lingers at the back of all forager’s minds. As with the learning of any skill, practice guides you through and beyond doubts, helping to reveal the landscape for what it truly is: diverse and delicious.
At the Family Foraging Kitchen, we often talk about training yourself to use more senses than simply sight and, if you want to develop your foraging knowledge and confidence, this really is fundamental. Smell and touch are just as important as sight and should be used with every natural profile, whether it is detecting the coconut aroma of gorse or feeling the texture of cow parsley’s stem. It takes time to hone these habits but don’t be deterred as they’ll soon become invaluable.
There is another habit that can support your foraging knowledge, which is storytelling. It might not seem immediately practical but it is an asset that has sustained the learning and safety of foragers throughout history and it’s a technique we continue to incorporate into our own classes.
For example, consider yarrow, whose Latin name is Achillea millefolium. The term Achillea comes from the tales that Achilles would carry yarrow into battle, using it to treat (and stuff!) the wounds of his soldiers. This simple association, known as plant lore, can help you more easily recall the plant, as well as its Latin name, which can sometimes be essential as local names for plants can be very different indeed!
Other springtime plants, like violets, are not only recognisable by their distinct colour but also their aroma, which is delicate and sweet. It makes sense then that they were a favourite of perfumers and, notably, Queen Victoria, as they made for excellent posies that could be carried and enjoyed for their fragrance.
By using such tales, whether it being a historic tale or a narrative association, the mystery of the hedgerow and its immense vegetation breaks down. Similar to how a group of people can at first be strangers but, once we know their characters and qualities (as well as embarrassing stories!) we begin to recognise them much more easily.
So, when you are setting out to forage, don’t simply rely on your sense of sight and visual references. Instead, fill your notebook with details of scent and tough, as well as stories that you discover and read about. They will each become essential to your learning and help you to pass this information and passion on to others.
For more examples of plant lore, be sure to watch our Virtual Foraging series on YouTube. Or, to see which foraging courses we have available, check out our schedule, and join us on a wild food walk in Cornwall!