A good way into my walk and it dawns on me why my rucksack is lighter than usual. Those lovely sandwiches and that flask of 'camp' coffee is still sitting on the counter in the kitchen. I do however, have my small compact brew kit with me. This consists of a good sized titanium mug, and inside, a small meths burner, lighter, folding spoon, knife and some meths. I've got a bottle of water with me, so I'm all set for a free lunch!
First off, a nice hot drink. Heat your water, chop up some pine needles, pop them in and let steep for a while. What can I say? It's hot, and piney! To be fair I'm rather missing my camp coffee. Apparently pine tea is very high in vitamin C. I don't know about that, but it's brought the cup up nice and clean!
There's lots of way to prepare free food, but when you've only got one pot/ cup then a soup/ stew/ pottage is your best option. I need to make a stock so that it isn't just a cup of water with some leaves floating around in it. This is 'cat tail' (Typha spp) and it is quite versatile. The root contains loads of starch, roast it on a fire and then suck the white fibres inside (spit them out afterwards). I'm going to peel and cut them boil in the water a bit then squeeze them out leaving a nice starchy, potatoey stock. At the base of the leaves where they join the root is a tight section of green. This can be stir fried, but I'm going to slice it like leeks and add it to the pot.
Next, stinging nettle. The tops are the most tender. Tear them up roughly with the back of the knife, once cooked they lose their stinginess, honest! You can use these when cooking at home, boil in stock, drain, mash, add a dab of butter and serve like spinach.(Nice on toast!) A basic soup can be made , prepare as above, but leave in stock, reduce slightly then add cream.
Under the Beech trees, I found some Ground Elder. Most people think this is a weed and it can be a nuisance in gardens as it grows so quickly. It was introduced into Britain by the Romans as a vegetable but has lost favour due to its invasive qualities...in the 1500's John Gerard wrote complaining that, "Once taken roote, it will hardly be gotten out again, spoiling and getting every yeere more ground, to the annoying of better herbes". I know what he means, but if it's a pest in your garden my recommendation is to eat it!
Dandelion, most plants with white sap are to be avoided as they are often poisonous, this is one of the exceptions. You can make a coffee substitute with the dried and roasted roots (used during the world wars when normal coffee was unavailable), but this is a lengthy process and I was happy..issh with my pine tea. The leaves can be used in salads, they are often a little bitter and it is better to use the young ones or cover the plant for a few days so that it turns pale and becomes milder. I'm putting only a couple of leaves in as they have the side effect of making you want to take a leak!
Nasturtium isn't strictly a wild plant, this one was poking through onto the tow path from someones garden, so I counted it as wild. Hot and peppery the leaves make a good salad plant and will also add a herb effect to my 'cup' lunch. The flowers are edible too, (great for decorating salads) I'll add a few bits for colour.
Hawthorn hedges are everywhere. In spring when the buds are just beginning to open is the best time to pick but any time of the year is OK if you use the smaller tender leaves. Really good with cheese sandwiches. It is too early to use the berries, in autumn when they are red you can simmer them with a few crab apples and make a nice Hawthorn jelly to go with Lamb.
There is lots of green and peppery flavours in the cup, now for a bit of garlic. In spring I would use wild garlic (often found in Bluebell woods), this time of year though 'Jack-by-the-hedge' , 'garlic mustard' or 'hedge garlic' as it is called is a good alternative. Not such a strong taste as wild garlic but very nice on sandwiches and in cooking. This one is a bit ropey looking, but I'm hungry.
This is a brilliant plant...Fat-hen. Silly name, but a truly delicious to eat. The leaves cook like spinach, the stems taste like asparagus and the seeds can be used to thicken soups and stews. It can even be eaten raw. Once you recognise it, you'll realise that it grows everywhere, especially on disturbed ground by fields, tracks, building sites and the corners of gardens. It has a long growing season and as long as you don't pull it up by the roots it will continue to grow providing yet more food. It has often been relied upon in times of famine, either as a crop in its own right or as fodder for cattle and hens, hence the name. Since Anglo-Saxon times it was important enough to have villages named after it. In old English it was called 'Melde', there is 'Milden' in Suffolk and 'Melbourn' in Cambridgeshire. This is the final ingredient to my 'pottage'.
A quick simmer, and it's looking...very green! Tastes alright, a bit bitter could do with salt, not as good as sandwiches, but then it was free!