/ Food & Drink

Foraging for food is the way forward

I’ve started eating weeds! This isn’t due to extreme poverty but a visit to my allotment from professional forager Miles Irving. Will you join me in foraging for food in your neck of the woods?

Miles Irving sources wild foods for top restaurants, including J Sheekey, The Ivy and Le Caprice and within minutes of arriving on my plot, he’d identified 25 ‘weeds’ that could end up in a gourmet dish rather than the compost heap.

According to Miles, chickweed is ‘effortless salad’, dandelion leaves are an alternative to chicory or rocket, nettles can be used in pesto, soups and salad dressings (and are high in protein and vitamins A and C) and fat hen is the British equivalent of quinoa.

That’s not all. I could fry hogweed leaves in brown butter like the Goring Hotel, use the lemony leaves of procumbent yellow sorrel in a fruit salad, or make a tea out of pineapple weed (which looks like chamomile but tastes like pineapple).

A history of foraging

Of course, in years gone by, people would have eaten weeds because they were hungry (fat hen was found in the stomach of Tollund Man, who dates from 4BC) but Miles’ trade is driven by top chefs on the lookout for seasonal, local and ever more unusual ingredients.

All of a sudden, I’m looking at my plot differently. I used to see weeds as enemies and something to be got rid of, but actually they’re growing fantastically well without any help from me – and the same can’t be said of most of my other crops.

Miles points out the irony of pulling up chickweed (which tastes like lamb’s lettuce and grows effortlessly) and sowing lettuce in its place – a crop that needs a fair bit of cosseting to survive. And as he waxes lyrical about bilberries and water mint, it makes me realise how ignorant I am of my natural environment.

While I’m not likely to boil plantain leaves to make a broth that tastes like mushrooms, or give over half my plot to the cultivation of sow thistle, I am going to let some weeds flourish in certain areas so that I can harvest them like any other crop.

And I’m going to buy myself a foraging book so that I’m more familiar with the readily available but widely ignored free food around us. Will you become a forager too?


It’s funny how foraging has got so trendy nowadays – as Veronica says, many of the top restaurants do it and it even features in Masterchef!

I’ve dabbled in this a bit but I don’t know much about which weeds are worth eating. I’ve picked wild garlic and used the flowers on salads, which is tasty. But I do get ‘free food’ whenever I can – always pick lots of sloes when out walking in the country, and on holidays we’ve picked mussels/cockles etc – there’s something very satisfying about getting food for free! I’ll definitely try and learn more about edible weeds from now on.

It’s become a fashionable thing to do but foragers need to know what they’re doing. Can’t find a link but I read an article recently about how the number of people poisoned by mushrooms has increased due to foraging.

I love foraging, but I think it’s required being from the New Forest. My best day was picking wild apples, blackberries and raspberries, and then making a nice pie with them. I’d also picked some Oyster mushrooms and wild garlic to make a nice started. There are other classic mushrooms like Beefsteak and Chicken in the Wood, which are meals in themselves. I’ve also made elderflower cordial and crab apple jelly… but that was years ago.

However, Phil’s right – you need to know what you’re doing. They’re are many mushrooms that look harmless, and even look like edible ones, that can kill you. I try and steer clear from the ones I don’t know about, and stay with what I know.

However, living in London, the best I can get are blackberries. Sigh. I’m sure there’s much more under my feet, and I’ll have to look out for the ‘weeds’ that Veronica has mentioned.

JamesAard1 says:
30 March 2012

I went foraging for food the other night. I got a couple of brace of Pheasant, a small Sheep and a few gallons of red diesel! Be careful when you’re out foraging. Some people would call it stealing. You can’t pick wild flowers, so why anything else?