Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Food and medicine from the Wild Woods

On Sunday I went on the excellent Spring Foraging day course with Woodland Ways in Leicestershire http://www.woodland-ways.co.uk/buy-online-spring-forage-2.html It was a real treat of a day.  Our very knowledgeable instructor Adam took us on a walk through the woods, pointing out lots of plants with uses for food, medicine and practical tasks along the way.   He took care to make us aware of any potential risks of toxicity or confusion with similar looking poisonous plants, to help give us confidence in what we can pick and use safely.  He also briefed us on the legalities of foraging and showed us a selection of excellent reference books for identifying and using wild plants.

We picked supplies from the woodland larder as we walked along to incorporate into our lunch which was cooked back at the well constructed and equipped base-camp.  We filleted the breast meat from a brace of Pheasants, having been shown how to by Adam, this was surprisingly easy to do.  The breasts were pan-fried in a dash of oil.  We cooked up the Nettles, Bramble shoots and Hogweed shoots we had collected by boiling for a minute then tossing in butter and lemon juice.  We also had mashed potatoes with the addition of chopped Wild Garlic leaves and a salad of fresh leaves including Rosebay Willowherb, Dandelion and Hairy Bittercress.  The meal was absolutely delicious.  I left the day feeling inspired to get out into the woods to forage for wild food.

 Bramble shoots

Bramble shoots picked for lunch

Basket of Nettle tops

 Hogweed shoots

  Rosebay Willowherb 

Wild Garlic leaves & roots

Cooking the greens over an open fire

Pan-fried Pheasant breasts, Mashed potato & Wild Garlic, Spring Greens

My lunch - nom, nom, nom

Back home I made a Spring Green Pie with Nettles & other spring leaves picked in the allotment.   

Spring Green Pie Recipe

8oz plain flour
Pinch of salt
4oz butter
3-4 tablespoons of cold water
- Sift the flour & salt into a bowl, add the butter chopped into lumps and stir to coat the butter in flour.
- Rub the butter into the flour using your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
- Sprinkle the water over the mix and stir with a round-bladed knife till the mixture sticks together in large lumps, if it is a bit dry add a bit more water.
- Collect the dough together into a ball.
- Knead it lightly on a lightly floured surface to make a smooth dough.
- Wrap the dough in cling-film and leave in the fridge to rest for 30 minutes before rolling it out.
- Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to an even thickness about 2-3 inches larger than the pie dish you will be using.
- Line the pie dish with the pastry, keep some back to make a top for the pie.
- If you have some left-over pastry make some pastry shapes to decorate the pie top with.

A colander full of washed & processed Spring leaves such as Nettles, Cleavers, Dandelion, Wild Garlic, Ground Elder, Sorrel
A medium onion finely chopped
2 large Garlic cloves very finely chopped
2 beaten eggs
100g grated strong cheddar
Salt & Pepper to taste
- Steam the Spring leaves for a few minutes.
- When the leaves have softened strain the liquid (keep it for stock or sauces) and squeeze the leaves with the back of a wooden spoon to leave a spinach like consistency.
- Roughly chop up the cooked greens.
- Add to a bowl and mix with the chopped onion & garlic, beaten egg, grated cheese and seasoning.
- Pour the mix into the lined pie dish and cover with the pastry top.  Brush the top with beaten egg and add any decorations, stick them on with beaten egg and brush the tops with egg to make a nice glaze.
- Bake in a medium oven (about gas mark 6) for about 25 minutes.
- Serve hot or cold.

Pastry recipe from the 'Good Housekeeping Cookery Book', filling recipe from 'Letting in the Wild Edges' by Glennie Kindred.

Spring Green Pie with decorations

Slice of Spring Green Pie

I also made Bramble Vinegar with Bramble roots & shoots harvested in the woods & home-made Crab Apple Cider Vinegar made from last Autumn's Crab Apples using the recipe in my Herbwife Apprenticeship mentor Sarah Head's blog at http://kitchenherbwife.blogspot.co.uk/2008/04/developing-relationships.html This is a traditional remedy for diarrhoea and for relieving the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  It can be used in salad dressings or in boiling water with honey as a soothing drink.

Bramble roots

 Bramble shoots

 Bramble Vinegar

I also made Chestnut Bud flower essence with Horse Chestnut buds I cut in the woods during the foraging course as these were at the perfect stage for picking to make this flower essence.  I followed the instructions at http://www.herbs2000.com/h_menu/bfr_chestnut_bud.htm to make a Mother Tincture, then made a Stock bottle by putting 2 drops of this into a 30ml bottle of brandy, then a treatment bottle by putting 2 drops of the Stock into a 30ml bottle of spring water.  This is a subtle energy remedy for difficulties in learning lessons from experience, making the same mistakes repeatedly in life.  

 Horse Chestnut buds opening

Horse Chestnut buds being simmered in Spring water

Chestnut Bud Mother Essence, Stock bottle & Treatment bottle


  1. Wonderful post! I'm anxiously awaiting for the nettles to grow a bit more so I can enjoy my traditional spring awakening meal with them! Plus, a number of other delicious wild friends.

    Your recipe looks great and I may well return to give it go when more of my spring greens are ripe for harvest (won't be long)! Thanks for sharing!

  2. There are some other recipes for nettles on some of my other blog posts, you can find them easily by looking in the A-Z index on the right. Enjoy