First there was foraging, and then there was cool foraging and you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting a friend that was serving just-picked mushrooms at their dinner party. Then there was a backlash against foraging. Too many people stripping too much from nature. I’m not talking about going out with a basket and your children to look for blackberries in the hedgerows, but vast herds of people taking enormous amounts out of fragile ecosystems.
It is enormously satisfying to find something (tasty!) for free and to make something out of it, but it has to be done carefully. I remember walking on Tooting common in London and seeing a woman filling the massive bags at her feet with blackberries. She was stripping the bushes bare, leaving none for anyone else (or wildlife, for that matter). It’s against the law to forage for commercial gain so I’m assuming that she was technically doing something shady, unless she was just greedy. In any case, we do forage, but for widely available harvests. We teach our children to take only what we’ll eat or use (no picking kilos intending to make jam and then running out of time so it rots), to avoid damaging the surrounding area, and to appreciate that humans aren’t the only creatures that enjoy nature’s bounty.
We are extremely lucky to have a wide variety of traditional foraging ingredients on our little smallholding, amongst them elderflowers (and subsequent berries), hazelnuts, rosehips. wild cherries, wild strawberries, hairy bittercress, more nettles than we know what to do with, a few blackberries and haws. We’ve long intended to plant a native hedge around our paddocks this coming dormant season, and it’s occurred to us that if we err on the side of edibles (blackthorns for sloes, more blackberries, crabapples etc), we can still snack on a couple of bites on walks, but we can take our actual haul from our our own land so that our neighbours can have more of what’s around us. Also, we’re quite fond of harvest mice and the like and would like to provide a habitat for them. All in all, everyone will win! But until that happens and our new hedging is planted and matures, we’ve got more hazelnuts that we’d ever be able to use, and some gloriously dark elder berries just begging to be made into cordials hanging about the place. Watch this space!