what is it?It is anything edible that has had no management to increase its production. This can include plants (leaves, berries, nuts or sap), fungi or animals. Wild food was once necessary for human survival, but now most traditional knowledge of wild food has been lost. Many of the plant species that we view as weeds are edible and nutritious - modern farming favours foods that have been cultivated from their wild ancestors. We clear away ‘weeds’ to grow crops, yet many wild plants are more nutritious than their cultivated counterparts. For example the edible wild plant 'fat hen' contains more iron and protein than spinach, and more vitamin B and calcium than cabbage. As with many other wild foods it can also be cooked in the same way as the vegetables we regularly eat. Wild food plants and fungi form a part of the rich diversity of species that is vital to the functioning of ecosystems. Many of these species are being lost due to habitat destruction and pollution.
Collecting wild food is much more popular in continental Europe. In one region of Finland 68% of households pick wild fungi for consumption - unimaginable here in Britain.
The subject also includes wild game, fishing and harvesting seafood, but these are topics for other factsheets.
what are the benefits?
as we are sensitive when collecting wild food and consider other
species, harvesting wild food can be beneficial to the environment.
Wild food has no packaging, no chemicals to force it to grow, and
can be picked local to your area, minimising food miles and pollution
from vehicle exhausts. Picking wild food in moderation can foster
appreciation of nature, resulting in greater conservation of species.
Eating a range of different species maintains biodiversity - the
opposite of our intensive farming system, where we grow crops in
monocultures, with damaging effects for the environment. Target
species are favoured over wild species, and are grown intensively
using pesticides, which can have detrimental effects on wildlife.
Many of the wild animals that can be eaten are pests that have to
be controlled and are often wasted. One example is the grey squirrel,
a tasty introduced species that causes damage to tree saplings in
woodlands, and outcompetes our native red squirrel. If they are
to be culled, isn't it better to eat them in preference to animals
that may have been fed intensively-grown crops, housed indoors,
pumped with antibiotics and transported many miles to reach your
plate? Consuming wild food can instill a greater respect for the
environment, reconnecting us to the origins of our food, and illustrating
our dependency on nature for survival. It also highlights the importance
of seasonality and offers an alternative to our current globalised
food system, where we can buy anything at anytime of the year.
Thanks to Ruth Hepworth for information.
nettle omlette: many wild foods can be cooked in the same way as the cultivated vegetables that we are used to eating. There are recipes for wild foods in the books in the ‘resources’ section
blackberries and other wild fruits can be eaten fresh, or made into jams, wines, cordials, crumbles or pies