The other weekend, H’s mum and I went to a Wild Food event at Culzean near Maybole in Ayrshire.
It was a gorgeous sunny afternoon, and at 2pm we met up with a group of people (including quite a few kids) and a couple of rangers who were going to guide us round the estate, then take us to a kitchen to cook our findings.
The first thing I want to make absolutely clear, as the rangers did, is that while there are lots of edible things out there, there are also things that will make you sick or even kill you. Thus this post is for entertainment only and NOT for reference. DO NOT go off and eat something solely from reading this post, but instead join up with a Wild Food walk and learn about it from the experts first. For all I know I took a photo of the wrong thing, or made a note of the name wrong, so remember, entertainment only!
That caveat out of the way, on to the walk.
As you can probably guess from the top photo, our first stop was stinging nettles. It was a bit late in the year, as they are best picked very young and small, and should not be picked when they are flowering as they have a strong laxative effect apparently. You should only pick the top 4 leaves from non-flowering plants, and it is best done in spring.
After gloved kids had picked away (gloves are definitely required for this!), we moved on to looking at meadowsweet (pictured below, the creamy white flower in the centre right foreground, not the brighter white flowers you can see at the base of the photo to the centre left).
We learned that both the flowers and the leaves can be made into a tea, and some were picked for that purpose.
As we carried on with our walk, we also gathered some elderflowers and ground elder, and other edibles were pointed out as we meandered past. The kids were particularly keen on some wild strawberries we came across, whereas I loved the smell of the wild garlic, also known as ramps.
Once we’d done a small loop around part of the beautiful Culzean grounds, we trooped indoors to help cook some recipes.
One of the rangers had made a nettle haggis the night before, so that was the first thing we tried.
Being cold, it was quite stodgy, and tasted like a large barley suet dumpling with a hint of spinach. I think a bit more seasoning might have perked it up, but the kids were quite happy to take multiple spoonfuls.
The other ranger had made up some elderflower champagne a day or two before. As it had not had time to ferment, there was no alcohol or fizz in it, so it tasted like a very sweet, slightly floral cordial.
I quite like the taste of elderflower, and it cropped up again in some elderflower pancakes. These were flat crepes that had some elderflowers mixed into the batter before cooking. They were sprinkled with sugar, rolled up and served, but one really had to focus to taste the elderflower. A few more flowers may have helped with this, but I like pancakes, so was quite happy with them.
The nettles we had collected were cooked to turn into nettle soup and nettle pesto.
The former also featured the ground elder, and tasted like a thin spinach soup, though again, would have benefited from a bit more seasoning.
The nettle pesto was less sprightly than a raw-leaf pesto, but had a creamy texture and made a good dip.
As you can see from the photo, it had been quite heavily processed, whereas I prefer my pesto to be a bit more textured. However it’s possible the cooked nettles put up a bit of a fight and needed some breaking down.
The meadowsweet flowers were made into one tea, and the leaves into another. Some ranger pre-prepared roasted and ground dandelion root was also turned into a coffee.
I steered clear of all the hot drinks as I don’t like tea or coffee at the best of times, herbal or otherwise, and as I found just the smell disagreeable, thought it best left to the experts. H’s mum T valiantly tried all three, and thought the meadowsweet flower tea would have benefitted from more steeping, that the meadowsweet leaf tea wasn’t bad with a pleasant bitterness, and the dandelion coffee was drinkable in an emergency situation. I didn’t get the impression that we’d be knocking up any of these ourselves any time soon though!
Since the event, we’ve gathered some elderflowers to make our champagne, and having previously pulled up a lot of ground elder when gardening, will be keeping an eye out for it when it comes back, and this time try eating it into submission (that’ll serve it right!).
There is another Wild Food event at Culzean in August (details here), and it’s only £2 (plus the price of admission to Culzean, which should be free if you are a National Trust member). I really enjoyed it, and very much recommend it to anyone wanting to learn more about foraging.
Note: As H wasn’t present, I was the photographer on this occasion.