Wild food in Didsbury

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(C) Jesper Launder, Consulting medical herbalist, www.jesperlaunder.com

As a child, the green areas of Didsbury were my playground; spaces where I could engage with nature with enjoyment, mischief and fascination. The parks of Didsbury, in particular Fog Lane Park, Marie Louise Gardens and Fletcher Moss Park, provided a rich hunting ground for discovering a vast array of species of plants and mushrooms.

As a kid I played with a group of friends on a small cul-de-sac which backed onto Fog Lane Park. We would often shimmy the iron fencing to play hide-and-seek or dens among the dense rhododendron bushes and scrub of the park edge. On one of these occasions we couldn’t help but notice huge numbers of different mushrooms wherever we looked.

“I still find myself surprised by exactly how extensive an array of wild foods I can find when foraging in places like Fletcher Moss Park.”

I remember abandoning our game in favour of collecting this incredible array of bizarre-looking wonders. Taking them back to my friend’s house, his mother, rather than acting in horror, encouraged us to try and identify them. After that I began seeking out books and information and bit by bit, species by species, became confident enough in my identification to start eating a handful of species.

We are blessed to have beautiful green spaces around Didsbury that harbour many common native species of plant along with a few interesting obscurities.

For anyone interested in collecting wild foods, the resources are plentiful in Didsbury. In fact I still find myself surprised by exactly how extensive an array of wild foods I can find when foraging in places like Fletcher Moss Park. There are days when I can fill a basket with as many as 30 different species of plants and fungi, a feat that would be a serious challenge in many more ‘wild’ sites in the countryside.

Harvesting wild food can certainly save a few pounds on the weekly budget. But this doesn’t seem the main motivator for most people. The most common themes I hear are of being connected to nature, and exploring our innate hunter-gatherer instincts. Foraging provides physical exercise, engages our minds, and can deeply nourish our souls. And this can be to such a degree that the experience of foraging is actually more rewarding than the yield at the end of it. Sourcing fresh, local produce is also one way in which we can minimise our personal carbon footprint, and this particularly applies to local wild foraged foods.

“Sourcing fresh, local produce is one way in which we can minimise our personal carbon footprint, and this particularly applies to local wild foraged foods.”

Wild harvested foods can hugely increase our intake of vitamins, minerals, and health-giving plant constituents such as flavonoids, responsible for antioxidant activity within the body. Many of the plants and mushrooms which are collected as wild food are also useful natural medicines. For example, a number of mushroom species, including the commonly found oyster mushroom, have immune-stimulating compounds making them not only delicious, but good for you!

When it comes to identifying wild foods, a decent identification guide is a must, but most important of all is a sensible, zero risk approach. Put simply, never eat any wild food you have collected without being 100% sure of its identity and its edibility. Some edible mushrooms like the honey fungus and the blusher are toxic raw, so it is wise to be aware of any special preparation requirements. Fortunately many of the species in and around Didsbury are easy to identify and without obvious poisonous look-alikes. Most people would have little difficulty identifying nettles and dandelion and, with a little more know-how, a delicious range of plants including wild garlic, ground elder, hogweed and three cornered leek can be safely collected.

It is also wise to employ sound harvesting methods so as not to hinder the plant or mushroom’s future growth. This particularly applies to the roots of plants, but is also relevant where harvesting flowers and leaf material. Try to leave immature specimens behind so that they can fulfill their reproductive prerogative.

Jesper Launder leads wild food and herbal medicine events throughout the year. For details, visit www.jesperlaunder.com

For information on wild foods available throughout the year, click here.