Gourmet Gardener: Hunting in hedgerows
One of the joys of early autumn is walking or cycling along hedgerows and hunting for the abundant free food on offer. There are tasty treasures waiting to be found, such as sweet-tart blackberries, fat rosehips, huge clusters of glistening rowan berries, purple sloes, and more.
Fruits from some of the most common species of trees and shrubs can be easily processed into autumnal delights such as jellies, pies, jams or even a cheeky tipple with a sloe berry gin!
You don’t need much equipment to start foraging – you can start with a harvesting basket, box, or bag, a pair of gloves to protect your hands from spiny thorns and nasty nettles, and a good plant identification book are all useful.
Blackberries, or brambles, are rampant spreaders, which is good news for the hungry forager.
The secret to the blackberry’s success lies in its ability to propagate itself by tip layering, the spiny stems arch and root where the tip touches the ground, and in this way they can spread for quite a distance.
This layering is similar to how strawberries propagate.
If you’ve ever gone brambling, you’ll know that the flavour can vary considerably from plant to plant – some are very sweet and others more tangy. They ripen over a long period, so fruits from the same bush will also be in different stages of sweetness. Those at the tips will be the earliest to ripen as they receive the most light.
All varieties of rose, wild and cultivated, are edible. At home you will need to refrain from deadheading your garden roses if you want to enjoy the hips. Wild roses can often be found rambling through hedges.
Making jelly or syrup are the easiest ways to process rosehips as the seeds are strained out, and they can be an irritant if eaten raw. Wild rosehips are extremely high in vitamin C content and can be used as a herbal tea. I have even seen some recipes for rosehip wine.
When food is free, it’s tempting to harvest everything in sight, but remember that wildlife too needs these nourishing fruits, so be sure to only take what you need and spread your harvest over several areas.
Of course all of these trees and shrubs can also be grown in the home garden if you have space, while you will miss out on the thrill of the hunt, for the time-pressed forager having fresh ingredients for jam or fruit pies right there in the garden is undeniably handy.
If you are uncertain about what to pick I would highly recommend joining a foraging group and enjoy the hunt together.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tara Kate Linnane is passionate about sustainability and growing all things edible. Together with her husband Barry, she has embarked on a journey of designing edible spaces and getting others started on their gardening adventures.
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