You’ve probably spotted a surprising amount of berries and apples in Edinburgh at this time of year, many of which go unpicked. But to get a real idea of just how many wild foods can be found within the city, you really need a proper guide.
Yesterday’s wild food walk, organised by the Edinburgh Community Backgreens Association, was certainly an eye opener, revealing a bewildering array of plants with edible seeds, leaves and roots within a short walk down the Water of Leith.
Margaret Lear, our guide for the day, introduced us to useful salad leaves like Garlic Mustard, explained how Sticky Willies make good herbal tea, and how a version of Maple syrup can be made from Birch and Sycamore sap (I presume you might get into trouble for drilling holes in trees in the city…)
The tastiest thing we tried was the Himalayan Toffee Berry – which did indeed have a strong flavour of burnt toffee. Lear advised us not to eat too many. She had once eaten seven, and her throat had seized up. But some of the other foods seemed rather more trouble than they were worth – Ash seeds can be pickled, apparently, for use in salads, but tasted bitter and unpleasant. Hawthorn berries, which seem to be incredibly abundant, are hardly a taste sensation either – although they are meant to have a medicinal value.
As with all of these foods, as much of the pleasure is in being more knowledgeable about what these plants are, and the little stories that go along with them. Pointing out some Mugwort by the river, Lear explained that the plant is often found along the side of old Roman roads, because they would plant it so that it could be popped into their sandals to ease footsores. I’ll have to try it next time I’m on a hike.
Lear, whilst encouraging us to try these foods out, emphasised that correctly identifying these plants is absolutely essential, and that if you are at all uncertain about what the plant is, and whether it is unsafe, then you should not eat it. She said that even wild foods which may be ok for one person may cause an upset stomach for another – so only try a small amount at first.
The images above are for illustration only – please do not use them to identify safe wild foods! If you want to find out more about wild foods, check out Margaret Lears excellent website and blog, Plants with Purpose.