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There IS such a thing as a free lunch

There IS such a thing as a free lunch

Have you ever imagined yourself cast away on an island or lost in the jungle for weeks on end? How would you survive? What would you eat, seeing as shrink-wrapped supermarket produce would be in short supply? You'd have to forage and eat what you found.

We can all experience the excitement of foraging for food not far from our own front doors. Woodland produce includes berries, mushrooms, roots, fruit and slugs (the last one is truly a last resort, but they’re just like snails if you cook them right). There is a growing trend for foraging. Go to certain woodlands in the UK and eventually someone will come by with a bag into which they are popping whatever they can find that is good to eat. Some may be foraging commercially, and that's illegal, so report them.

In order to know what is good to eat, and what can kill you, some knowledge is necessary. Think those are juicy blackcurrants on that bush? Or are they deadly nightshade? Before you pick anything, you’d better be sure.

One place you can learn the essentials of foraging is Wild Food UK. They run one-day foraging courses which introduce you to the flora and fungi of that particular locality. The courses are given at various locations in the UK: Surrey, Bath, Worcester, Cardiff, Dartmoor and the New Forest to name but a few. There are hands-on foraging walks, often with the opportunity to cook up what you have found at a pub and eat the gourmet fare you have picked yourself.

It’s also a great opportunity to learn about seasonal food. If it bothers you that asparagus has to be imported from halfway round the world so that we can buy it in the supermarket it when it is out of season here, then you’ll love foraging because this craziness is absent. In Spring there’ll be hedgerow and coastal shoots and some special fungi like Morels and St Georges Mushrooms. Summer brings edible flowers and berries and more fungi. Autumn is the main mushroom fest, with the greatest variety of species fruiting. In winter … well, we’re lucky we can go to the supermarket.

All this foraging fun comes with one caveat: don’t overdo it, and treat the countryside with respect. The New Forest has had to ban fungi pickers because of over-foraging. Previously 1.5kg of mushrooms per person was permitted, but foragers have simply been too greedy, and have done damage to the woodland in the process.

So if you do forage, use an area that is not frequented by many other people, and don’t take too much.