“Wild food” is a term used to describe the foods that grow freely around. Some of these wild foods are very familiar. Look around at the right time of year and you will easily spot an abundant, naturally growing supply of berries, nettles, dandelions and elderflowers.
Plants that grow wildly, tend to contain the phytochemicals and nutrients that are useful to us, precisely at the time of year they grow. In springtime, there is rapid growth of cleaning and detoxing plants like nettles and dandelions, and in late autumn as we approach winter, there is an increase in immune-assisting and heating plants such as garlic.
Eating “Wild” simply means eating from the food that grows freely outside of a farming environment. Part of the skill of eating and cooking wild foods is knowing when to pick them and how to process them. This act of picking, preparing and eating wild foods is called foraging and it is an excellent skill for any natural chef to have.
As well as being fun, educational and cost-effective, wild food foraging and wild cooking offers a host of other benefits – too long to list in a single blogpost. For now, here are CNM Natural Chef’s top 5 reasons to forage and cook with wild foods:
1. Wild foods are more sustainable
Eating local, freely growing, seasonal wild food, responsibly foraged, is a more sustainable way to source food and cook, as no adaptation of the environment is needed. As a result, land, soil and environments are not affected by constant, unnatural manipulation for the sake of farming and production.
2. Wild food foraging has low environmental impact
Due to their wildly growing nature, wild foods are not farmed, packed, transported and wrapped up in plastic – they are growing freely in areas around you. By responsibly sourcing your wild-grown ingredients locally, your food carbon footprint can be minimal; this a win not just for health, but for the environment too.
3. Wild foods are cleaner
Wildly growing plants and foods will not have been treated with chemicals, fungicides, pesticides or hormones. They will not have been genetically altered in a laboratory. And as long as you pick your wild foods away from main roads and conventionally sprayed farmland, you’ll have a cleaner food, free of the harmful chemicals that are increasingly difficult to avoid.
4. Wild foods are seasonal
Foods that grow in season are naturally available via the environment, so a forager will always be consuming foods that are relevant to the time of year. There are major advantages to a seasonal diet, the most obvious being that seasonal produce delivers the phytochemicals the body needs to cope with at that time of year.
It is commonly accepted in herbal medicine that the plant will deliver to the person the qualities it has had to develop in order to survive. An excellent example of this is Aloe vera – a cactus that grows in hot conditions with little water, and yet is still the one of the most moisturising plants in existence, with a special affinity for the treatment of burns.
The same is true for foods, and other herbs: the qualities they need to survive seasonal challenges mean that they develop the phytochemicals to protect themselves against damp, or cold, or frost or heat. When we consume these foods, their qualities are passed to us, which is why we experience the heating, immune boosting qualities of wild garlic growing in the autumn, and the detoxing and antihistamine effects of baby nettles sprouting in springtime, when bees and mosquitoes abound. Magical.