Cornish Wild Food

Rachael Brown steps off the beaten track as she goes foraging in Fowey with Cornish Wild Food.

The fact it’s one of the hottest days in August doesn’t bother us as we cool in the shade of a National Trust carpark near Fowey. Our group of seven listen and nod in the dappled woodland, skin sun-creamed and backs rucksacked, bonded together with by shared curiosity of the outdoors.

Matt, our cheerful guide and guru of all sprouting things — complete with lockdown beard — runs through some guidelines before he leads us down through the woodland to the sea. What we will find in between these two destinations is still uncertain. Unhelpfully, all I can muster to imagine is us chewing on salty fronds of seaweed.

Although we embark along a narrow country road under arching tree branches, Matt emphasises that wild food can be found on your walk into town. Not long after leaving the carpark we find some. We pluck a green leaf from the hedgerow and Matt instructs us to wait for each other before taking a bite.

At first, biting into the leaf takes a small amount of mental effort, pushing past my rational barriers of what’s edible. Then a zing shocks my palate. It has a very intense but pleasant sourness, like granny smith apples. The leaf is wood sorrel. It’s a name I’ve only seen in old books and didn’t realise it grew around me.

Passing through a gate into darker woodland, we begin our descent down a slim trail to the coast. As Matt reaches for a natural fungi firelighter hanging from a tree branch he relays not just its different names but the largely forgotten stories, histories and properties that have fallen out of common knowledge. As we walk we learn more. Particular leaves start to stand out in the bushes and woodland, adding personality to what used to be a monotonous green blur.

Coastal Foraging

The path flattens out into grassland and the first glimpses of distant boats drift into view. Ornamental white umbels (umbrella shaped) of wild carrot grow here, and crushing their tiny fragrant flower buds under the nail releases a citrusy spice, which, according to Matt, is ideal for aromatic curries. Flavouring a curry with spices from English grasslands seems a strange idea, but I welcome it.

As we finally hoist ourselves onto the shingle beach, our bags lumpy with different stalks and leaves, we find more wild food. Clumps of rock samphire protrude out of the cliff’s sharp lines. They taste intensely of the beach with a lemony aftertaste. Mouth ringing with strong new flavours, I feel borderline irritation at the variety of free food and wild spices I’ve spent years absentmindedly walking past.

Matt stresses that responsible foraging is a skill we can all learn and I think of the plants that perhaps I couldn’t live off of, but I could use to make jams, spiced flapjacks, dandelion wine, caffeine drinks, fresh salads, tempura vegetables and aromatic curries. Far more exciting than limp seaweed!

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