The Wild Kitchen: a forager’s guide to seasonal living

Alex wears the Raindrift Lightweight Jacket in Lavender Grey, and the Dune Knitted Vest

We meet Alex a couple of miles inland from the south coast on the Isle of Wight. It’s a small picture-perfect village with daffodil-lined roads and thatched cottages, a bucolic spring scene with birds singing and a dreamy soft light as the sun finds its way through the clouds.

Alex is a forager, who offers guided foraging walks and courses through her company Island Wild Food. Her courses celebrate the freely available edible plants that are often tastier than what you find in a shop. For Alex, this fascination can be traced back to a childhood spent living on a small boat for months at a time in northern France and Spain, cockling and catching crabs and lobsters for dinner.

She leads us up a narrow footpath towards a patch of trees and explains where her interest in foraging started. “I’m basically a really messy gardener. I had an allotment, and everyone’s allotments were neat and tidy, and ours was just weeds.” Instead of battling the weeds, Alex embraced them. “I thought maybe some of these are edible.”

She attended a foraging course in the New Forest, transforming her view of nature. “I used to go on a walk and stomp through and see the sea of green. It was all very nice, but I didn’t really stop to look closely. Now, the plants jump out at me. You can notice it all.”

We pause in a clearing in the trees as Alex scans the surroundings. It doesn’t take long to spot our first find of the day on a dead piece of elder wood. “These are jelly ear mushrooms. They’re great fried and they take on the flavour of whatever you cook them with. They can explode if you fry them, so you’re best putting a lid on the pan. They’re great in ramen or broth. They’re really tasty dipped in dark chocolate too.”

In this one clearing, Alex spots a host of other edible plants, nettles, mint, and primrose. Her ability to identify where certain plants will be growing, before seeing them, is a result of years spent outside, meticulously taking mental notes. She says it’s through being completely in tune with the currents of nature, noticing the micro-climates, the recent weather, and the presence of other plants, that allows her to identify what will grow and where. “It’s loads of really small details of the seasons changing that I think I hadn’t ever honed into as much before I started foraging.”

Alex wears the Raindrift Lightweight Jacket in Lavender Grey, and the Dune Knitted Vest

As we continue our walk, the sun emerges from behind the clouds, illuminating the woodland. Almost wherever we look there’s something tasty to be found, on the verge of the footpath, in the undergrowth. In this easily overlooked woodland on the outskirts of a village, nature is thriving. You get the sense that Alex is too, mud-splattered and a basket full of treasures.

“It’s a discovery, one that’s extra well-earned. Foraging gets you outside more, it makes you leave your doorstep and go further afield. With foraging, you want to go to places with fewer people, animal traffic, and cars. It makes you get off the beaten track, find more places that you haven’t been to before and tap into what there is.”

There’s a simple joy in taking cues from the seasons, living cyclically at nature’s pace. Alex says when you’re foraging you’re “capturing a moment,” fleeting, before the cycle of seasons rolls on, and other plants get their time in the sun. Getting outside and paying closer attention to everything around us is the first step. It demands a heightening of the senses and hones the act of noticing. An almost meditative experience. It reveals a beauty to be found in the overlooked, that’s just waiting to be discovered.

5 things to forage in spring

Remember, responsible foraging is crucial for preserving ecosystems. Harvest in moderation to ensure plants can thrive, and only gather when you're certain of the plant's identification.


How to forage

The best way to pick them is by using tough gloves. The part that stings is the edge of the leaf, so you should pick by the stem. Only take the top 6-8 leaves so the plant can keep growing.

How to prepare

Nettles are high in protein, iron, vitamins, and potassium. You can cook as you would do spinach, in a stew or an omelette. You can also cook them on a baking tray with oil and sesame seeds for nettle chips.

Wild Garlic

How to forage

You’re interested in the leaves, flower buds, and stems (not the bulb). The smell is the giveaway. You’re looking for long oval leaves with one main stem in the middle. On the leaves there will be veins running parallel to the middle vein. Be careful not to get confused with Lilly of the Valley. Make sure to pick sustainably by not taking clumps, taking leaves here and there.

How to prepare

Wild garlic is great for lowering blood pressure and cholestrol. It’s tasty on its own in a salad, or chopped up in an omelette. You can add it to a pie, or you can wilt them which is nice served with poached eggs. Wild garlic pesto is a bit of a favourite too.

Jelly ear mushroom

How to forage

These mushrooms look like ears and have a velvety texture. They grow on dead, old wood, mostly elder trees.

How to prepare

They’re really tasty marinated in alcoholic liquor, or Ribena. Or dipped in dark chocolate, without cooking them. They’re great in ramen or broth, but they can explode if you fry them, so you’re best putting a lid on the pan.


How to forage

As with any wild-growing flower, you should only take a very small amount. You might find them in your garden. You’re looking for a small yellow flower.

How to prepare

You can eat the flower and the leaf. The young leaves can be added to a salad - they have a lemony taste. You can paint them in egg whites to crystalise them and use them to decorate cakes. You can also make a primrose curd, using the flower and the leaves, adding sugar, water, and lemon zest. It makes a lovely floral lemon curd.


How to forage

Mint has a square stem, and leaves at opposite points going up the stem. There are loads of different types of mint and there are subtle differences between them all.

How to prepare

Mint is great chopped up onto salad. Perhaps its best use is as a garnish, especially in cocktails.

You can follow Alex and find more information about her foraging walks through her Instagram @islandwildfood

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