Earlier this week, Emer Fitzgerald, one of the senior tutors here at Ballymaloe Cookery School, led Slow Food guests on a meandering walk through the environs of the school gardens and farm, pointing out some recognisable, and many surprising, edible species of plants and flowers.
Emer started her evening walk with a brief introduction to the forgotten art of foraging. While it is permissable to pick any wild food in Ireland, she advised guests firstly not to ‘over-forage’ (only take what we need), and secondly to be vigilant that what we pick is, in fact, edible. It can be easy to mistake certain edible wild foods for poisonous ones, and Emer recommended referencing a number of good books if you are a novice forager and still unsure!
1. ‘Wild Food’ by Roger Philips
2. ‘The Thrifty Forager’ by Alys Fowler
3. ‘Fungi’ by Shelly Evans & Geoffrey Kibby
Over the next 90 minutes, we discovered Red Orach, Marigolds, Sorrel, Wild Raspberries, Daisies, Elder, Hazel, Fuschia, Nettles, Grand Elder, Fake Strawberries, Roses, Violas, Ferns, Primroses, Sweet Sicily, Japonica, Fennel, Nasturcium, Horseradish, Borage, Golden Marjoram, Tansey, Medlars, Cleavers, Wild Strawberries, Spruce, Comfrey, Chickweed, Wood Sorrel, Bittercress, among others!
Many of the leaves of these plants and flowers can be used in soups or salads, the leaves can be blanched and eaten like spinach, or some can be made into delicious fritters. Others can be used in jellies and syrups, while petals can be crystallised and used for decoration or to sprinkle over desserts.
Interesting facts & tips
Fiddlehead ferns, which are a delicacy in North America, are on the poisonous list here in Ireland
Tansey is a great flavour to pair with eggs
Not sure if it’s horseradish or a dockleaf? Break the stem of a leaf. If it’s horseradish, it will smell like horseradish!
Fennel Pollen is becoming very popular to sprinkle over food
Spruce syrup works really well with goat’s cheese or mozzarella
Sticky Cleavers is very beneficial for the lymphatic system
Pickle the seeds of the Nasturcium with white wine vinegar to create “Poor Man’s Capers”
That Chickweed that takes over your garden can sell for up to €40 per kilo in some parts of the world!
Make your own Forager’s Jelly with Crab Apples, Rosehips & Elderberries – full of Vitamin C
Sweet Sicily is easily confused with Hemlock so proceed with caution!
Borage has a pretty blue flower which looks beautiful when crystallised. However, if you have liver problems, take care with using borage
Emer will be conducting a marine foraging walk in the not-too-distant future, so keep an eye on upcoming East Cork Slow Food events. It promises to be another great event!