By doing so we enhance our understanding of the many benefits it brings. Gathering wild foods reconnects us with culture and origins, landscapes and seasonality, it engages our senses in ways that nipping to the shops cannot, it facilitates learning and respect, it allows us time to reflect and be in the moment, to engage in quiet contemplation, to observe, to exercise freedom of choice; it is liberating, powerful, tasty and fun.
Food diversity is healthy, not only for us but for the planet. 60% of the worlds calorie intake currently comes from just 3 cereal crops; rice, wheat and maize, and our demand for these – or having them forced upon us – adds to environmental pressures such as habitat and wildlife loss, and increased rates of illness. In the UK alone we have over 400 species of edible plant. Globally there are in excess of 50,000 edible plants! Yet most of us go our entire lives eating no more than a mere 60 food types in total, most of which are nutrient deficient and detrimentally impactive on nature. It’s not realistically a case of adopting a solely wild food diet, it’s about integrating them with sounder methods of commercial production.
In Britain 75% of all land is used for agriculture and a very small percentage of that supports biodiversity. If you observe the hedgerows and fringes surrounding crop and livestock fields this is where you will find abundance. The crop field itself is devoid of diversity and any wild things that want to occupy it are routinely evicted, usually by the application of poisonous chemicals by people who know very little about the importance of wildlife – those who do care, yet spray poisons, have some serious soul searching to do. Towns and cities require green transitions too and much can be done to enhance the opportunities for wild and other food sources. In Leeds, the likes of Orchard Project, Feed Leeds and Bedford Fields are providing springboards for learning and proving very fruitful.
Aside from wild edible plants, fungi and marine algae are also excellent sources of nutritional, medicinal and other bio-use potentials. Strains of wild fungi such as Lions Mane, Shiitake, Jelly Ear and Oyster Mushroom can be cultivated and grown simply in your house, back garden or allotment using biodegradable and carbohydrate-based substrates. Habitat loss, pollution and climate change are the main causes of fungi population decline, and not, as reported annually by certain toilet-roll newspapers, over-enthusiastic foragers. The rewilding of large areas of unproductive land combined with the regeneration of key habitats will assist with the recolonising of fungal species. Wild fungi play very important roles in maintaining healthy ecosystems and the fruiting bodies provide a wealth of interesting, healthy and tasty food.
Marine algae, aka seaweed, and its sustainable, nutritional and medicinal potentials, are staggering. Add to this the massively beneficial impacts they have upon our wider, natural environment and we would be foolish not to research and protect them more fully, let alone allow greedy multi-nationals and other not so friendly corporations to exploit them; mechanical harvesting is not the way to gather these mind-blowing organisms. The range of available minerals, vitamins, micronutrients, proteins and essential amino acids are generally far greater than other wild and commercial food sources. Foraging for seaweeds is very rewarding and great fun; who doesn’t love a day at the coast?
In reality, we have a long way to go but the tide is turning. More and more people are becoming aware of the pressures facing all life on Earth and how diversity in all its forms is essential. Food diversity and diverse food systems will play an important role in easing some of those pressures and it will make our journey far tastier too.
You can view Craig’s other recipes here: https://edible-leeds.blogspot.com/