Last month my season of London based walks finally kicked off. It’s been a long time coming and has been far more complicated than I ever imagined with park managers, ecology officers and local councils to convince; risk assessments, insurance schedules and safety management plans to write and an enormous amount of time finding the right parks to host the type of walks I want to run. Well it’s all done, for this year at least, so this month I have written about the people that have inspired and helped me to get this project off the ground. It’s worth giving the Roger Phillips, Richard Maybeys and Steve Brills of this world a vote of thanks for their excellent and inspiring books but the people I’m most interested in praising are the ones that I have met over the last few years, helping me learn so much and being enormously generous with not just their time but in sharing their amazing knowledge. Here they are, in no specific order….My Foraging Heroes.
1. James Feaver. I met James on one of his Hedgerow Harvest walks in Dorset and when I decided to set up for myself I spent numerous days picking James’s brain and walking the hedgerows with him, identifying wild plants under his careful tutelage. James has various seasonal foraging events available but best of all he runs truffle hunting trips and can teach your dog to become a truffle hound.
2. Garry Eveleigh. My love of foraging started with mushrooms and this is still my biggest passion. Gary, by his own admission, an old poacher turned forager, was introduced to me by my father in law. The first time he took me hunting in The New Forest he lead me on such a twisting maize of paths I would never find my way back to any of his secret mushroom patches. Since then we have become good friends and he has taught me an enormous amount, the things you can’t find in books, however good they are. We run walks together in the autumn when he is not too busy hosting forays for some of the best hotels and restaurants in Hampshire.
3. Ros Bennett. Ros is not a forager as far as I know but she has infinitely more knowledge of our native plant life than anyone I have ever met. Amongst other things, Ros teaches plant identification and biological recording for The Field Studies Council. I did three of her four day courses a couple of years ago and immediately took up my place right at the bottom of the class, being the only one present without a botany degree. “So, just to check we are all on the same page, if I describe this plant as having dichasial racemose cymes, I’m sure you all know what I’m talking about” she said at the start of our first class…GULP! Ros helped me learn an enormous amount about plant morphology and was generous enough to slow things to a snails pace when necessary.
4. Robin Harford. Robin probably wishes he had never met me. I went on his excellent edible seashore day a few years ago and then started pestering him with emails asking his advice on everything from plant ID to insurance. Robin has a huge depth of knowledge not just about how to forage but why we forage and it’s place in our history. Given the right motivation he can talk for hours on this and many other fascinating topics. I’m pleased to say we are running a Dorset based seashore course together this summer. Robin runs courses all over the country and posts wonderful recipes on his Eat Weeds website.
5. Frazer Christian. While others only dip their toes in the water, Frazer jumps right in. To the best of my knowledge, he spent all of this long horrid winter, living outdoors. Equal amounts of respect and sympathy are due! While out walking one day I bumped into Frazer who was fishing on the south coast. Suspiciously, he eyed my basket and asked to see the contents like a wild food customs officer. Then, when convinced I was on the right team, he showed me the world’s biggest patch of wild leeks, actually right behind me. A trained chef and ex fishing boat skipper, Frazer runs The Coastal Survival School and can teach you everything from how to survive by eating roots to how best to cook a lobster. I run mushroom hunting trips for him too.
6. Jason Irving. Jason’s better known uncle Miles is quite famous in foraging circles and supplies wild food to numerous top end restaurants in the UK. An experienced forager in his own right, Jason worked for Miles for a couple of years and is currently completing his degree in herbal medicine. City foraging is a hard thing to learn and Jason has helped me hugely, visiting various urban spots of natural beauty and plenty of rather ugly ones on the hunt for interesting edible and medicinal plants. Jason runs his own city foraging walks when he has time away from his studies and has a wonderful blend of knowledge mixing herbalism and wild food foraging.
7. Lorna Driver Davies. No GP, doctor or surgeon I have met has anything like the knowledge of anatomy, physiology and general body chemistry that Lorna possesses. A professional nutritionalist, a qualified herbal practitioner and still under 30 (I think), I wonder what else goes on inside her enormous brain. Lorna is a consultant at the prestigious Hale Clinic in central London and has grown up in a tradition of herbal medicine, her mother having been a herbalist for over thirty years and running the wonderful Herbs Hand Healing website. Lorna runs a terrific course at The College of Naturopathic Medicine called Herbs For Everyday Living, an invaluable tool for anyone wanting to explore this subject or just improve their general health.
8. Paul Stamets. Unlike everyone else mentioned here, I have not met Paul but he genuinely is my hero. Amongst many other mushroom related projects, this American mycologist leads the world in researching medicinal uses of fungi, developing potential treatments for HIV, cancer, Hepatitis B, Influenza and numerous other conditions. Paul is also a prolific author and in 2005 published the wonderful Mycelium Running which describes a range of fungi based solutions to environmental problems, using mushroom mycelium to remove toxins from chemically polluted areas right through to mushroom based water filtration systems for farmland. His knowledge appears to be only outstripped by his vision. Some of his excellent lectures are on the TED website.
9. James Lucey. James was a good friend of mine who died last month. I had decided that James was immortal having beaten a severe and long term illness by taking his own path; one of health and herbalism, activity and the outdoors. It worked for him too and I’m sure it gave him an extra fifteen years of life that had he just given in and taken the medicine on offer at the time, he would not have enjoyed. James was a keen forager, gardener and herbalist as well as a literal fountain of knowledge and enthusiasm to all who were lucky enough to meet him and he was enormously encouraging and supportive to me when I decided to set up my own foraging walks.