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Wild food Walk Sunday May 6th, Report by Wilf Richards
Submitted by mappingt on Tue, 2007-06-12 19:48.
Approximately 6 adults and 10 children attended a wild food walk, near Durham City, led by local food enthusiast Wilf Richards.
The walk started at The Pump House restaurant near Houghall College, headed down to Houghall Farm, cut across the field to Great High Wood, followed the bottom of the woods to the A177 main road, skirted around Maiden Hill, popped over the River Wear and finished at Old Durham.
A couple of people joined us from the Play Mapping Team for a bit at the start of the walk and took some photos. No other photos were taken for the walk, but there was plenty of tasting, smelling and discussions on recipes.
The walk covered 3 distinctly different habitats. From the start to Houghall Farm was predominantly hedgerow, then the second main habitat was woodland through Great High Wood and the walk concluded with riverbank habitats around the River Wear to Old Durham.
In the hedgerow section of the walk we found Ground Elder, Elder, Burdock, Nettles, Jack in the Hedge, Apple and Cherry.
Ground Elder is normally considered an annoying weed by most gardeners but is in fact perfectly edible and can be cooked like spinach when young. It was ready for the picking today.
Elder trees were common and we could see the flower buds forming although not quite ready. The flowers are excellent for cordial and sparkling drink production. Later in the year the berries will be available for jam making.
Burdock could be seen growing up under the hedges. Similar in appearance to Dock but much bigger and more wrinkly. At the end of the year the roots can be dug up, chopped like chips and fried or boiled.
Various types of nettles were found. We didn’t touch the stinging types, but if we had gloves we could have picked it for the pot later on that day. The not stinging types known as Dead Nettles are also edible. In particular the flowers were ready. One participant described how they ate the flowers as a child. Some of us tried them, they were indeed sweet from the nectar.
Jack in the Hedge was also common, with its light green leaves and small white flowers. It is an ideal addition to a salad with its slight garlic flavour.
Apple trees and Cherry trees were also common in this section of the walk, most in flower and we were all considering returning to this section of the walk for picking time, typically late July for Cherry and late September onwards for Apples.
The next section of the walk took us through the bottom path of Great High Woods. We found Hazel, Wood Sorrel, Bramble, Rowan, Garlic, Raspberry, Blackthorn and more Cherry, Nettles and Ground Elder. It is noticeable that plants in a woodland habitat seem less edible at this time of year. Most are nut and fruit bearing and we would need to wait until later in the year for the hazel nuts (if the squirrels hadn’t got them first), for the sloes from the Blackthorn, the blackberries from the Bramble and berries from the Rowan tree (although these are often bitter and probably best left for the birds)
Wood Sorrel was ready, with its small leaves growing in clusters on the ground and small white flowers. Only a few of the leaves should be eaten as they contain Oxalic Acid, which on one hand gives them their distinctive flavour like lemons and vinegar but too much is apparently not good for you. Excellent in salad but they are not common in the woods and I often think they should be left alone.
Wild Garlic or Ramsons as they are also known were lacking from our walk until we drew closer to the river. They need a damp, woodland habitat, too dry and they won’t grow. They were in flower and the leaves were starting to come to an end. But none the less they were tasty and fiercely spicy with their garlic kick. The flowers are also edible and as one child pointed out they also smell like honey and even taste sweet for the first second before the garlic punch.
Our last habitat was by the river although we were all quite tired by now and in need of food and drink awaiting us at Old Durham. Our main discovery there was Comfrey, which some say is edible, although others say stay away from it. I’m of the camp that says stay away from it. It is on the other hand an incredible supplier of a rich liquid fertiliser, produced from the rotting leaves, and that’s particular good for growing food in your own garden.
After leaving the group and the finale at Old Durham, I headed home towards the centre of Durham along the river edge and I was pleased to find a bit of Horseradish, quite rare in these parts. The last time I had seen it in the wild was growing abundantly along ditches in Somerset. The root of the Horseradish plant is used to make Horseradish sauce. I am currently growing some at our smallholding but it’s not ready for harvest yet. I have been told that grating should occur outside on a fine day as the spice is strong enough to make a whole village cry and puts the average onion to shame. I’m looking forward to that.
If you want to know anymore about wild food walks in the area then you could join the Durham Local Food Network by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The network is free, it promotes and shares information about local food events including wild food forays happening in the area.
I would always recommend that you know your botany of plants before picking any from the wild and technically you are meant to have landowner’s permission to pick.
There are several books I could recommend – 2 great starters are Wild Food by Roger Phillips and Food for Free by Richard Mabey.
"Mapping the Necklace" forms part of North East England's world-class festivals and events programme. North East England's programme of world-class festivals and events is supported by: Arts Council England, Gateshead Council, Newcastle City Council, Northern Rock Foundation, One NorthEast, TyneWear Partnership.