Early Autumn Wild Food News Bulletin

Everything does seem to be coming on thick & fast at the moment! I only have about 500 photos to upload here, having gotten into the habit of taking a camera around with me and photographing plants and scenes, where before I would have just stopped a while, looked, said or thought “that’s pretty cool” and walked on. I’ll concentrate first on the food stuff going on right now or very recently to hopefully get your fire up (if you needed it) and going into wild food projects and/or experiments of your own.

1) – The basics: have I said anything about jams & jellies since this blog has been online? Ridiculous, really, considering how much time and effort I put into making them each year. It involves ::deep breath:: collecting your fruit in a saucepan, covering with water and boiling until mushy (helping this process with wooden spoon or potato masher with the harder fruits), separating pips, hairs, stones, dead bugs etc. by passing through a sieve, food mill or jelly bag, then mixing with sugar (the books say an equal weight, but I usually go for a 4:5 ratio of suagr:fruit, eg: 800g:1kg) and boiling fast until a drop of the mixture gets wrinkles on the surface when you nudge it with a finger on a cold plate. Then ladelling into jars that have been washed and sterilised with boiling water ::phew!:: (look it up if you want more details.)

Here’s one I made this year using the garden rosehips – which for some reason went squishy about three months earlier than usual – plus some larger rosa rugosa fruits and a bowlful of Hawthorn berries:

This needed quite a lot of mashing, after which it went through the food mill and then I spent the best part of an hour squeezing the maximum possible amount of liquid through a jelly bag (I hate rosehips – they contain loads of tiny hairs that can irritate your innards if ingested so you have to fine-strain them or gut each one individually with a knife and then run under a tap – but then I love the taste so what can you do?)

Books say not to squeeze the jelly bag if you want a clear jelly. To me this represents a criminal waste of fruit matter, although a compromise I’ve found works is to wait until the solid mass cools a bit, then pick a handful and squeeze inside the bag leaving the juice free to percolate through of its own accord. Another problem with rosehips is that they’re a bastard to thicken/set, especially so when you’ve processed them in several batches of water. Like many of the softer fruits it helps to mix in some harder ones like apple or haws (as above – remember their ‘crazy-high levels of pectin‘) or lemon juice sometimes helps. I boiled mine extra long this time to make sure:

Note the bigger pan: jam often gets excited in a fast boil and can spill over and make half your kitchen sticky for a week. This has happened to me far too many times than is good for my reputation to admit, and invariably leads to the surrounding air being turned blue by my cursing… It all worked out pretty well this time, though. Four jars contributed to this year’s haul so far:

Mum gets the credit for maybe half of these, which include: Plum, Blackberry, Blackberry/Apple, Damson (ugh, not ripe yet), Elderberry/Hawthorn/Apple, and oddities of marmalade, honey, ‘Cherry Plum’ (from H’s garden), Chilli and one unlabelled Misc. which came as a gift.

2) – Syrup. Pretty much the same process except you try harder to minimise the amount of solids and keep it liquid at the end by not boiling so much. Here are the various stages of my ‘Elder Rob’: first a load of elderberries popped off the stalks with a fork and washed, cooking in their own juice before being joined by handfuls of blackberries, blackcurrants, last year’s sloes from the freezer, chunks of apple and a bunch of ‘warming’ spices:

Then mashed through a sieve (I put the leftover pulp through a second time after cooking it again with more water), measured out into a bigger pan and boiled for a bit, again with 4:5 sugar, until slightly thick and ‘syrupy’, then poured into sterilised bottles and kept somewhere warm & dry.

Great for when you feel a spot of ‘flu coming on (the elderberries have antiviral properties) or you need something hot and comforting in a cold winter evening – best mixed with hot water and a shot of rum/whisky/brandy.

3) – Harvest-time! I find it very satisfying to be out and about with a shoulder bag, a knife and a few ‘just in case’ plastic bags. Not even necessarily with any plans to forage for particular items – just if you happen to find something interesting or bountiful and find yourself in the right mood to stop and harvest a few things…

…then you can stop and do so for as long as you please (not having to be somewhere else as fast as possible helps with this) and come back feeling you’ve accomplished something wonderfully simple and direct but powerful at the same time: you’ve actually ‘put food on the table’ in a way that most Breadwinners never even approach:

I gathered all this (Lime leaves, beech nuts, hazelnuts, Hawthorn- and Elder-berries) on the way back from the station over the course of perhaps an hour and a half. Processing took maybe the same again or slightly longer, leaving me with this:

Now they say that hunter-gatherers, even in the harshest environments on the planet (the only places they still exist since we farmers booted them off the best lands) can meet all their caloric and nutritional needs with an average of two hours per day of what we might consider ‘work’ (though hunting, fishing, foraging all come closer to ‘play’ in most peoples’ definitions). At times like these I almost dare to think the same would be possible here, even with a heavily degraded landscape and no tribe of many hands and much ancient wisdom to make the work lighter. How long could the above sustain me for at approximately four hours in one day? Hard to tell – there’s less volume than I would usually go through in, say, a week of farmed foods, but then it probably punches above its weight in terms of nutritional density. How sick of this would I get if I had to do the same thing three times per week? Probably not so much as I would do with farmyard chores! Also the same abundance doesn’t make itself available all through the year so this would be a time for harvesting more than to simply meet day-to-day needs. Thought experiments like these bring home to me the importance of engaging in subsistence efforts with a large group of people who pool their resources and, while they may specialise to some degree through preference or aptitude for one particular task, they would also keep the freedom to shift their activities into other spheres of differing utility to the tribe.*

4) – Chutneys. Something to do with surplus vegetables and a variation on the endless sweetness of jam. Chop everything up to your preferred fineness, fry it for a bit in the bottom of the pan, then cook in vinegar (I hear cider vinegar is best) for several hours with a reasonable amount of brown sugar and loads of herbs, spices, seeds, chopped nuts, dried fruit and anything else you can think of until it reaches the desired consistency. So far I’ve done a ‘Hawthorn, Sloe & Apple’ (Haw/Sloe + vinegar mush has to go through the food mill to get rid of the stones before you mix in any other ingredients):

…and a ‘Marrow + Omni-Veg’ (if I remember: onions, peppers, garlic, carrots, runner beans, tomato, celery, beetroot, apple with ample lovage, sage, rosemary, chili powder, cloves, mixed allspice, nutmeg, black pepper, salt as well as raisins, various chopped nuts, mustard seed … juniper berries … erm … other stuff):

5) – Other experiments. Lime leaves, as gathered above, seem to be having a second wind at the moment:

…which is lucky because I didn’t get the opportunity to try something I heard earlier on in the year – an intriguing method for drying and powdering masses of the edible leaves for use as a thickener (thanks to high mucilage content) in soups & stews and as an adulterant for flour. Apparently this comes from a French hard-times tradition, but also relates to African practices with the Baobab leaf, both of which were perhaps distilled in the ‘Creole’ cooking traditions of Louisiana that use Sassafras leaves in much the same way:

It just happens that Louisiana Creole cookery is, at its heart, an admixture of French and African cookery traditions with a few bits and pieces of native Arawak culture thrown in to the bargain. One of the mainstays of Creole cookery is the Gumbo a rich stew made with seafood, sausages and meat that, typically is either thickened with okra (from West Africa) or with sassafras leaves (filé powder) as it’s most commonly known.

The use of filé powder is always thought to be a native Arawak tradition (which it is)… But what made the use of dried and powdered sassafras leaves so acceptable. From the African slave population it’s possible to see that the use of sassafras as a thickener echoed the use of baobab leaves back home, it gave them an echo of their lost homeland.

But what about the French colonialists? Could it be that the use of sassafras leaves also gave them an echo of their homeland? Perhaps the easy adoption of sassafras leaves as a thickener in stews also provided them with a taste of home, reminding them of the use of linden leaves in their homeland. (‘Clues to Lost Recipes with Linden – A Culinary Detective Story‘)

So that’s what I’ve tried, with all of the above leaves duly dried and condensed down to this amount of powder after a minute-or-so in the food processor:

I’ll let you know how it works out.

Otherwise, this fruit leather made from elderberry leftovers might not have enough flesh in it to make it palatable, but I might break it into small chunks and turn it into fruit tea:

Also, Poppy seeds are quite fun and easy to gather (albeit rather tasteless), if you get to them before the winds! If you leave them in a hole-free bag and shake it about a bit, you’ll find most of the seed comes out and gathers at the bottom. If you want to be fastidious you can squeeze each individual poppy head over a bowl & sieve and break it apart if it feels like there’s still something in there. This was a yellow-flowered variety which apparently self-sowed itself in a neighbour’s garden. I’ve not had much luck with the wild ones you sometimes find growing on (non-sprayed) field margins.


And I’m coming for you, Burdock (your roots, that is – as pictured on my original banner photo from, what, four years ago?):

What an abundance! I’ll try to keep you posted with any new developments over the rest of the season.


* Some of these insights come second-hand from Rebecca Lerner, who has actually experimented with eating a wild-foods-only diet for a week, first on her own and then with friends helping her out – scroll down this page.

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13 Responses to “Early Autumn Wild Food News Bulletin”

  1. Ian S Says:


    Sat 15 Oct this year

  2. Ian M Says:

    Thanks Ian – funny, someone was talking to me about this just the other day… Will try to make it along!


  3. christine Says:

    I’ve been having fun with syrups this year,(party due to being too lazy to wait for things to set into jelly) The rosehip/crabapple is divine. I also whipped up a mullein/mallow/mint, made with honey, added a dash of St John’swort tincure, a cough medicine. It tastes so good I wish I could use it on pancakes, but it’s too sedative for that!
    When it’s time for the burdock, don’t forget to make a vinegar. I made some in spring, using apple cider vinegar of course, and it’s deliciously earthy.
    I could go on and on. Happy foraging.

  4. Ian M Says:

    Thanks for stopping by, Christine 🙂 I’d like to do something with mullein too, but I’ve only seen a patch large enough for gathering enough flowers (that’s the most active part, right?) by a railway embankment when zooming past it on a train!

    Burdock vinegar, huh? Now there’s a thought…


    PS: – your blog looks great!

  5. christine Says:

    Actually, the leaves of mullein are the most often used, Ian. They are very healing to the lungs, and bronchial bits. Try infusing a torn leaf and inhaling the steam, you’ll see what I mean. If you drink the tea, strain it well, the fuzz can be irritating. The flowers are more sedative, but you pretty much have to have one in your garden to get enough to use. I think I’ll do a post, come on back in a couple days and check it out 🙂

    Forgot to mention, it’s the root of burdock, I used, leaves are sooo bitter.

  6. Ian M Says:

    Thanks for the further info – will definitely try the mullein tea/inhalation if I happen upon a plant on my walkabouts.

    re: Burdock – yeah, bitter’s the word! I bit into a stem like with a stick of celery when I was getting to know the plant. Boy did that make me sit up and take notice! Have you tried using the leaves medicinally eg in a vinegar or tincture? It’s been too long since I dug the root up for food… At first I was in awe of the sheer bulk it could amass and excited by the potential for a caloric staple, hunter-gatherer-wise. That attitude got taken over pretty quickly, though, by a greater feeling of respect for the plant and a sense of shame at killing it outright before its lifecycle was through. I’ve not gone in for wild root-foods much since.

    But this year, for some reason, it feels like Burdock season again!


  7. christine Says:

    I had occasion to use the leaves of burdock recently, a friend had fractured a few ribs and outright broken one in a farm accident. I bashed some burdock leaves, along with comfrey leaves, simmered them up a bit, and used them as poultices. I left him with cloths that had been soaked in the liquid, too (froze them). He used those, heated, for the next few days. The bruising was bad, and there were abrasions, but he healed up very well. I also gave him comfrey root oil which he slathered on liberally. He was back at work in less than a month, and no scars. He’s made of tough stuff.
    I used to chew on burdock stems as a kid, couldn’t resist them. I was a weird little kid 🙂
    I don’t worry too much about killing burdock, there is so much of it here, but I hate digging it up. So this spring when I found a young ‘un, I potted it up as an experiment. Not sure how potent the roots will be if they didn’t have to struggle, we’ll see. I plan to vinegar it, tincturing gets expensive. I also rolled whole small leaves into cylinders and put those in a jar with vinegar as a first aid for bruising in winter, because you never know.
    I do get wordy, sorry!

  8. Ian M Says:

    No worries about wordiness, Christine – I like to listen, and if it’s stuff I haven’t heard before, so much the better 🙂

    Interesting point about root potency depending on struggle. I’d heard a similar theory about the above-ground parts, especially with trees. Apparently you shouldn’t stake them for too long because they depend on a certain amount of ‘wind-throw’ in order to build up resilience in the trunk and down to the roots that hold it in the ground. Reminds me of those who argue against insulating kids too much from the outside world…

    Yes, tincturing does get expensive! Have you found a cheap source of distilled alcohol outside of the supermarkets? £6+ a time for a small bottle of vodka adds up after a while!

    Right, mental note to look into Burdock for bruising.


  9. christine Says:

    My problem is we tend to “tipple” on the vodka meant for the tinctures.

    Have you read Susun Weed at all? Her “Healing Wise” is a gem. I take issue with how woman-centric she is at times, but I see her point, too. Anyway, she knows her stuff. If you go to her website, just click on “articles”, there’s some good larnin’ there as well.

    We have recently planted a few fruit trees and struggle over whether/how to prune them or support them. We tend towards a less is more strategy, but they are certainly vulnerable when first out of the nursery. It’s a learning curve, for sure.

    The mullein post is up on my blog, come see!


  10. Sarah Head Says:

    Great post, Ian! I really like young burdock stalks in stir fries – they’re good to use if someone has lost their appetite and needs nourishing, they can be added to bone broths. You can also use the burdock seeds – but its a real pain getting them out of the burrs.

  11. Ian M Says:

    Hi Sarah,

    Yes, burdock stems were one of my first ‘unusual’ wild food experiments – they’ve got quite a kick to them on their own! Interesting note re: lost appetite. Is that one you’ve tried before? I wondered about the seeds too, though they seem a little woody for direct consumption as food. Maybe an aboriginal technique of burning or rotting the seedheads would work to isolate the seeds?


    My problem is we tend to “tipple” on the vodka meant for the tinctures.

    Haha, not run into that problem yet 🙂 I tend to leave mine brewing for way too long so the taste becomes v. strong and medicine-like. The cherry bark/blossom elixir (recipe) is pretty delicious though…

    Never heard someone accused of being too ‘woman-centric’ before! Probably good to tip the balance the other way once in a while for a change… Have been meaning to check Weed out for a while now.

    re: trees – yes, a difficult one. Our baby apple tree looks slightly strained at the moment under the weight of its fruit. I enroled on a gardening course dealing with trees, shrubs & pruning recently, so am hoping they’ll tell me what to do cutting-wise during the winter, if anything.

    Have been plundering some your blog archives – a very enjoyable experience 🙂 Slightly in awe of your prolific writing abilities! Especially liked the ‘warning’ about what happens when you have too much to do with nettles. Very true words, I thought…


  12. Sarah Head Says:

    Hi Ian, most people I’ve heard of attack the seeds with a sharp stick and dig around in the seedhead, rather like I do for milk thistle seeds. The use for lack of appetite came from an Israeli herbalist on Henriette’s herblist originally as a post-flu booster, but it’s been picked up for people suffering during and after chemo by the Americans. Thankfully I’ve not had to treat anyone close for this, but I do add the stalks to stir fried and stews in the spring. I don’t tend to bother with the seeds, just stick to the leaves, medicinally.

  13. Loose Ends 2011 « Frequently Found Growing On Disturbed Ground Says:

    […] – Linden Leaf Stew. As promised I finally got round to making a Creole-style ‘gumbo’ dish using the Lime leaves I dried […]

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