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?