Learn how to find wild food in St Albans with the Foragers
- Credit: Picture: DANNY LOO
Now I know how to forage my own food in the wilderness, I (probably) never need to visit a supermarket again.
Until I went on a walk in the woods with the Foragers, who run The Verulam Arms in Lower Dagnall Street, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I pictured myself scraping dead squirrels off the side of the road to roast over an open fire, with a side salad of grass and wild berries, but the reality was much more delicious.
George Fredenham and Richard Osmond are the Foragers, who run wild food foraging walks for team-building exercises, company away days and private parties, as well as serving up naturally sourced ingredients at their pub.
The Herts Ad was invited on a foraging walk as part of the St Albans Business Festival, and myself and the appropriately forage-y named Franki Berry went along to learn what plants we could eat and which ones were poisonous, as well as the science and folklore behind gathering food in the wild.
The walk itself was beautiful, and took us down the River Ver path, which I hadn’t known existed. First we sampled three-cornered leek, which the foragers use as a garnish in their ‘wild Bloody Mary’. The leek tasted like onion, and Richard taught us that wild plants have a more potent flavour than cultivated plants.
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George had brought a bottle of wild Bloody Mary along in his bag. I don’t like Bloody Marys, but it was free alcohol at work, so in the pursuit of serious journalism I tried some. The wild Bloody Mary contains vodka infused with wild horseradish, and although I had to pour most of it away it still tasted better and more ‘wild’ than other Bloody Marys I’ve tried.
We were also introduced to wood avens, which the Foragers use to flavour a herbal liquor, and shown ‘chicken of the woods’ a fungus which the Foragers once carved into the shape of a chicken and roasted. One of the most surprising parts of the walk did not involve foraging at all, when we stopped to listen to the sound of sea poplars - trees which make the sound of waves crashing against the shore. Throughout, George and Richard showed their expert knowledge of nature and folklore as well as edible plants.
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Next we tried ‘fireweed’, which the Foragers use to make a syrup for cocktails. The stalks required a lot of digging into with our nails to reach the centre, which is full of natural carbohydrates and sugars. It was similar to a melon or a banana, and could sustain you if you ever became lost in the wildernesses of St Albans.
One of the main things we learnt on the walk was how easily edible plants can be confused with poisonous ones. We saw hedge garlic, which is edible, completely intertwined with bryony (also known as English mandrake), which is deadly. The Foragers also showed us cow parsley, which is not used very often as it looks similar to poisonous hemlock.
The next drink we sampled was a delicious wild negroni, made from wild bitters, the Forager’s sloe gin and martini. The Foragers also use wild hops to brew their own beer, and taught us that in the past the church preferred hops because they made people sleepy, whereas previously medieval beer was brewed with mugwort, which caused vivid dreams.
When asked how he got into foraging, Richard said: “I was always really into mushroom foraging. When I was at university I did English Literature and read medieval texts which showed that in those days there was a much deeper connection to nature, and nature was ingrained in their concept of the world.
“I was doing it casually for a couple of years, and I got a job [at the pub] about five years ago. My favourite thing about foraging is the stories that it gives you - it makes a walk more interesting.”
According to the Foragers’ website, each one brings their own special skills to the partnership. George is in charge of food, creating recipes and exploring new ideas and flavours, while Richard provides ‘quirky ideas’ and a background knowledge in the folklore and culture of wild plants.
As well as their two hour ‘walk and feast’ through the countryside around the pub, the Foragers offer ‘Car Park’ foraging sessions where they will come out to a company’s workplace and teach them how to find wild food nearby, team-building and ‘wild away days’ for companies, and ‘Scottish Island Adventures’ on the island of Easdale, which offers an immersive three days of coastal foraging.
For more information, or to book a foraging walk, go to http://foragewell.com/ or search ‘The Foragers’ on YouTube to watch them in action.