The wisdom of our ancestors is embedded in the variety of plants they collected and their belief that food is also a medicine. Wild plants often contain more vitamins and minerals than present day ubiquitous produce. More people are becoming aware of this and there is a growing interest in foraging with workshops, courses. However, we need to be careful in supporting this because there is a concern that foraging in the wild can upset the balance of nature and decimate certain plants.
One way of reducing the pressure on the countryside is to forage in our gardens and allotments.
For example, I have a standard size allotment plot (approx 200 sq. m.) in Glasgow. I grow the traditional fare (potatoes, brassica, legumes, roots etc) with six small fruit trees, seven different varieties of soft fruit, herb and flower borders. In addition to my whole plot is actually a 'foraging space’. Many years ago, I planted wild garlic, yarrow, Good King Henry, sorrel, nettles, and sweet cicely as companion plants among my fruit trees and bushes. In the autumn, I have a fruiting hedge with sloes, rose hips and brambles for drinks and deserts, together with hawthorn, guelder rose, holly and honeysuckle for the birds and insects. Throughout the year my plot sprouts plants that are self-set, telling me something about the soil and growing conditions. I consider my needs, weed some of them out but leave others to grow in their chosen place. Among such plants are wild rocket, lambs leaves, purslane, chickweed, marjoram, borage that I gather for salads and sauces. I have a good balance between conventional cultivation, sustainable foraging and feeding the myriad of wild life that co-exists with me. Because we have upset the balance of nature, crops can be decimated by birds, beasts, insects or viruses but if that happens something else takes its place - either I plant a new crop or an edible invader appears; maybe not the crop I hoped for but often surprisingly good to eat.
Foraging also helps my wellbeing. Tending and harvesting connects me with the earth. Working my plot, I am in constant dialogue with the plants and the soil, aware that everything I do links with the rest of the ecosystem of which I am part. At the heart of foraging is listening and looking; recognising the needs of a plants, the earth and the other beings as well as my wants. In the depths of despair about what humans are doing to the world, the exuberance and fecundity that explodes in spring, regardless of the weather gives me hope that all will be well.
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Judy Wilkinson - Good Food Nation Ambassador