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Food for free is back in fashion according to Stafford student

By Staffordshire Newsletter  |  Posted: August 16, 2014

  • Kate Price

  • Salad Burnet

  • Wood sorrell

  • Wild garlic

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THE TRADITION of foraging for wild food is enjoying resurgence according to the findings of a countryside student near Stafford.

While blackberrying, mushroom picking and edible flower finding are time-honoured countryside skills, young people from urban areas are increasingly turning to foraging, Harper Adams University student Kate Price has revealed.

The 22-year-old from Hixon, a keen forager herself, took on wild food foraging in the UK as her dissertation study after discovering a gap in existing research.

The final year countryside management student, who is due to graduate next month, aimed to find out the current state of wild food use and whether foraging is being undertaken sustainably.

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She said: "I produced two online questionnaires - one directed at people who forage casually, and one at people who forage for a living and I used organisations such as Shropshire Wildlife Trust as well as social media. After analysing the data, for which I gained around 250 responses, I produced my results.

"These showed a seven per cent increase in foraging participation among non-professionals, particularly young people from urban areas, during the last five years due to a renewed interest in both nature and traditional knowledge. Those from rural areas are more likely to have foraged from an early age whilst those from urban areas are more likely to have started recently.

"Also, rather interestingly, some of my results do contradict those of other foraging studies. I found that there are many family foraging traditions and that motivations behind foraging are very complex - foraging is part of enjoying the outdoors and also helps to reduce household food costs.

"Time was the biggest limitation to participation, and a lack of knowledge and confidence in species identification was a big factor for non-professional foragers."

Kate's findings also highlighted the need for a definitive code of practice. While casual foragers practice the tradition sustainably, few foragers follow codes of practice and some are unaware of environmental measures.

She said: "Unauthorised access is very common among non-professional foragers."

Staffordshire Wildlife Trust’s top tips to snack on

Sweet Vernal Grass: Common perennial of grasslands and meadows that flowers between April and July. Aromatic when dried, sweet vernal grass is a favorite chewing grass of many people because of its sweet, vanilla-like taste. Also the foodplant for the larvae of the brown and skipper butterflies.

Salad Burnet: Lives up to its name as a popular addition to salads and summer drinks. Crushed leaves smell like cucumber. Found in chalk and limestone grasslands.

Wood Sorrell: High in Vitamin C, this sour yet tasty plant was used by the French to make lemonade. Distinctive clumps can be found in woodlands and shady hedgerows. Be warned though, wood sorrell contains high levels of potassium.

Wild garlic (Ramsons): Giving off a rather pungent smell in the wild, unlike actual garlic, it’s the leaves that are eaten, not the bulbs. Best harvested around April onwards when the flowers appear. Attracts a number of beetles and butterflies.

Don’t eat these

Foxglove: Whilst their flowers may be charismatic and colourful, they are also poisonous. Enough digested will cause a slowing of the heart and an eventual heart attack. However, also caused vomiting so the majority of the poison is expelled before given the chance to do serious harm.

Ragwort: Common ragwort contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids (affecting the liver) which are poisonous to horses, other farm animals such as sheep and cattle and also to wild animals such as hare and deer.

Black nightshade: Easily mistaken for plump, juicy blueberries, a cousin of deadly nightshade can prove deadly if eaten unripe. 

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