Sunday, 31 July 2016

Wild raspberries (Rubus idaeus)

Wild raspberries come from the large Rubus genus of plants in the Roseaceae or rose family. They produce a white flower followed by a red fruit. The fruit is an aggregate of drupelets. Raspberries are native to Europe and Northern Asia. However, they are widely cultivated in many areas of the world.

An image of wild raspberry canes in Scotland.

The wild raspberry is ripening in Scotland now (between June and September) so get out there and pick some. They can be found in woodlands, on the margins of woodlands and in hedgerows. They may be a little smaller, but the taste is far superior to the cultivated species.

We have a lot of wild raspberries on our land and they fruit over a long period of time. We don't need to water them, feed them, tie them up, cut them down or do anything else to them so we don't bother growing the cultivated varieties!

An image of wild raspberries picked in Scotland
Wild raspberries picked today!

If, like us, you don't live near a town, having an abundance of wild fruit on our doorstep like this is a blessing. This is nature's own supermarket at its finest.

Other uses

The leaves, roots and fruit are used in herbal medicine. A blue dye can be obtained from the fruit. The stems can be used to produce a fibre for paper making.

Raw Edible Parts

The fruit can be eaten raw. We love the fruit as a topping for raw vegan cheesecake, in smoothies or just eaten straight from the plant. The leaves can be made into a tea. The young shoots, emerging from the ground in spring, can be peeled and eaten raw. The roots, however, require cooking before eating.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas)

The sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) is a perennial herbaceous vine, usually grown as an annual in the UK. It belongs to the Convolvulaceae family. It is also known as kumara, camote, Brazilian arrowroot, kau kau and yam. Please note that the name yam is also used for a variety of other plants, particularly other edible tubers from the Dioscorea genus (Dioscoreaceae family).

Image of sweet potato plant growing in a polytunnel
Sweet potato (I. batatas)

The sweet potato is one of the most widely cultivated staple crops in the world. The botanical origin of its domestication remain unclear. Some suggest wild tuber-bearing populations may have been domesticated independently in South America and the Caribbean/Central America.

Growing methods

Plants are grown from 'slips' which are cuttings taken from the mature sweet potato itself. In the UK these are quite widely available for purchase from plant catalogues. More recently cell grown plants have become available which have already been rooted.

Once the slips arrive they should be placed in pots with multi-purpose compost. Keep them watered and cover with a polythene bag until they are rooted. They can then be potted on as required and planted out in May or June when the soil is warm and the risk of frost has passed. Plants do well in neutral or acid soils rich in potash. Ensure the soil is moist and free draining. Plant in a sunny sheltered position and avoid shady areas. Alternatively, grow in a polytunnel or greenhouse.

An image of sweet potato 'slips' rooting in plant pots
Once the slips have rooted plant them up in pots.

Foliage can be left to grow along the ground or trained up canes, string or frames to save space.

If planting outside, cloches and fleece provide extra warmth which helps the plants thrive. Alternatively they can be grown through slits under a polythene film. Temperatures of between 23ºC and 26ºC are best for tuber production. Plants require less than 11 hours daylight to flower but daylength has little affect on the production of tubers. Plants can be overwintered in a frost-free greenhouse, polytunnel or windowsill.

Tubers take four to five months to mature. They rot if they are frozen. They don't store very easily and so should be consumed once they have been lifted which is when the leaves turn yellow and die back.

Species have been developed for growing in temperate areas such as the UK. Supermarket tubers may not produce slips as they are often treated with an anti-sprouting spray. Also bear in mind that supermarket tubers will have probably been grown in a different climate to the UK so any slips taken from these tubers may not thrive here.

Other uses

The sweet potato plant is used to make arrowroot, biomass, alcohol and as animal feed. Some Ipomoea species are grown as ornamental plants. Fibres from the plant can be used to make biodegradable plastic. The roots can be used as a potato substitute and the leaves as a spinach substitute.

Raw edible parts

The young shoots, the leaves and the tubers are all edible raw.

nb. leaves can be cooked like spinach and the root cooked like a potato


A trypsin inhibitor occurs in the shoots, leaves, stems and tubers of sweet potatoes and some references claim that because of this we should not eat them raw. Trypsin is an enzyme that helps with protein digestion. Most of the literature about this refers to animal feed where animals are not fed a varied diet. The North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission recommends eating sweet potatoes raw. Sweet potatoes are native to North Carolina and this region is one of the largest producers in America.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Edible flowers and leaves

This is an excerpt from Raw Edible Flowers and Leaves by Amanda Rofe. Available on Amazon Kindle for £2.50. It refers specifically to those plants listed in the book but provides a useful general overview regarding what parts of the flowes and leaves we should be eating.

Eating the flowers

When we talk about edible flowers, generally speaking we refer to the petals only. However, this doesn't necessarily mean the rest of the flower is inedible. It usually means we are taking the choice part of the plant. It is often recommended to remove the stamens, pistils, and sepals before eating because they can be bitter or might aggravate allergies. It is also said that these parts can detract from the flavour.

In all fairness the white base of the petal on some plants can be bitter. However, it would have to be quite big and very bitter for me to bother with removing because it is fiddly and time consuming. If the petals are a little bitter, small amounts can be tolerated or the bitterness masked with a salad dressing.

A word about sepals. These are the green leaves that surround the base of the petal. Some recommend removing all the sepals of all flowers except the Violas. However, this is only a general rule and I urge flower pickers to use their own initiative. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) sepals, for example, are perfectly edible and I usually include them when I snip the petals off this flower.

Certainly do a taste test before spending hours snipping bits off. If it is listed as edible and tastes good then it is sometimes not worth wasting time removing various parts. There are certain flowers that have a long tradition of being eaten whole and these include Columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris), Borage (Borago officinalis), Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) and all Violas (Viola species).

Many flowers are used as adornments to dishes, particularly at weddings or other special occasions, but it doesn't necessarily mean they are edible. Always check before eating anything. Never eat flowers from garden centres, nurseries, supermarkets, fruit shops or florist shops as these are usually grown using chemicals, unless they are specifically labelled as edible (unlikely).

Some flowers are edible but really don't taste nice enough to eat. In addition, depending on the growing conditions, some flowers will taste very sweet while others will be very bitter. I repeatedly see articles referring to Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) flowers being very sweet but all the Lilac that I have ever tasted have been bitter.

Pollen from flowers is highly nutritious but the outer coating needs to be cracked or shattered otherwise only a tiny percentage of the pollen will be digested. This coating is so good that it can protect a pollen grain from rotting for tens of thousands of years. There has been talk of Vitamix blenders being able to crack the pollen coating but at the time of writing the company were unable to confirm either way. There are some companies who have used various techniques such as fermentation or low temperature air pulverization, to make the flower pollen more bio-available and these are available to purchase. If collecting pollen eat immediately or freeze because it will rapidly go mouldy at room temperature.

Anyone with hayfever, allergies or asthma should be careful eating the pollen on flowers since this is the part that usually causes an allergic reaction. Choose one flower at a time and if any reaction does occur stop eating immediately!

Eating the leaves

Unless specified otherwise, if it says leaves, then it means all the leaves. However, the young and fast growing leaves of the wild varieties usually taste better. As wild plants get older or if they are living under stressful conditions, they often become quite tough and bitter. The leaves of the domesticated varieties of plants used for salads or greens, on the other hand, are usually more tasty and nutritious if left to mature. Many are better before the plant produces flowers.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Foraging and growing wild plants

Finding wild plants

Wild food is absolutely everywhere. There are hundreds of edible wild plants in the British Isles. Wild plants grow in most back gardens, particularly those that haven't been weeded to within an inch of their sad and sorry little lives. Wild plants are itching to come up in all sorts of unlikely places and they will colonise anywhere from a lawn to a crack in the pavement.

An image of the tips of wild garlic plants emerging out of the ground.
Wild garlic available now in the UK for foraging or grow your own

The easiest way to find wild plants without spending the weekend trekking over half of the New Forest (although this does sound good) is to leave an area of the back garden untouched. Spring or summer are the best times to try this. If no wild plants come up (unlikely) then they can be grown from seed obtained from mail order companies. These plants will still be as good. However, unless the soil has been sterilised (unlikely), badly contaminated (possible) or completely destroyed (unlikely but possible), it will have wild plant seeds or roots in situ just waiting for the opportunity to grow.

Foraging guidelines

Use basic common sense when picking wild plants. The most important thing to do is to correctly identify the plant. If using reference books, use at least two or three photographs and remember that plants don't look the same all year round. There are plenty of photographs of wild plants available online. Also check out wild flower and wild food books. First timers, untrained in the art of identification, maybe shouldn't risk picking plants like Queen Anne's lace (Daucus carota) because of its resemblance to hemlock (Conium maculatum), which is poisonous.

Always use the Latin name in conjunction with, or instead of, common names. Latin names are usually italicised and listed here in brackets. A Latin name will correctly identify the plant required. The same local or common name can be used for many different plants so it can make identification very difficult. Cleavers (Galium aparine) is also known as clivers, goose grass, beggar's lice, cleaverwort, everlasting friendship, grip grass, scratch grass, stick-a-back, sticky willie, sticky willy, scarthgrass, white hedge and catchweed bedstraw. Enough said.

Always take care when foraging that plants have not been contaminated by chemicals, human sewage, animal manures or any other nasty. This advice is more important outside the controlled environment of a private garden. Do not, for example, pick anything from alongside busy roads where exhaust fumes have polluted everything in sight. Also be careful of industrial sites where any type of chemical or other contaminant could have been spilled. Beware of woodland edges that border onto ploughed farmland as they could have been caught by chemical spray drift. If there is the slightest hint of any chemicals or other contaminants being used anywhere near wild plants, do not pick them.

Avoid picking dodgy, diseased, dying or dead foliage and certainly don't eat it. Dodgy means anything that doesn't look or 'feel' entirely right (OK I made that up but it still applies). Diseased plant material may have coloured (usually not green!) patches or spots. Typically yellow and red before going grey, brown or black. Dead foliage will be dry and crispy. Do not ingest.

Forage for flowers, fruit, fungi or foliage only. Don't uproot plants or destroy plants. Removing roots may kill a plant. Also, certain wild plants are rare and protected so should not be touched for obvious reasons. Try to avoid taking too many or any annual flowers as these provide the seed stock for next year's plants. Pick all wild plants in moderation and leave plenty, particularly for the wildlife who live there. Don't repeatedly strip the same area time and again. Don't disturb dead wood, break branches, trample the ground or destroy anything. Don't leave litter behind and take any litter away, regardless of who it belongs to. Be respectful and quiet. Do not disturb the wildlife. Take delight in the natural environment. Close gates.

Check what Laws apply to the area being foraged. Get permission if needs be, particularly if foraging on private land. Anything taken from private land without permission could be considered theft. However, private landowner's may be happy to allow foraging for a share of the booty.

Growing our own

If it isn't practical to go foraging, the plants in this book can be grown at home. One of the best ways is by using a plant-based system called vegan-organic (or stockfree organic) cultivation. Vegan organics avoids the use of artificial chemicals, genetically modified material (GMOs) and all animal products such as manure, blood, bonemeal, fishmeal and feathers.It is carbon neutral and climate friendly, supporting wildlife and providing a long-term sustainable way of producing food. Aplant-based agricultural system like this can feed far more people than that based on meat, milk and other animal products.

How do we enrich the soil if we don't use manure and other animal products? Plants feed the soil themselves without needing to pass through an animal first. Soil fertility originates from plants and can be maintained and even increased by using certain methods of plant-based cultivation such as crop rotation, mulching, composting, by using green manures and seaweed meal (not calcified)

This is an excerpt from Raw Edible Wild Plants for the British Isles (& other places too) by Amanda Rofe. Chapter 2. Foraging and growing. Published on Amazon Kindle £2.50 or free on Kindle Unlimited.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016


This is an excerpt from 'Edible Plants for Preppers' by Amanda Rofe (Amazon Kindle). Price £2.50 or free with Kindle Unlimited. It is a plant-based guide for anyone interested in being more resilient and self-sufficient in food in these uncertain times.

The front cover of Edible Plants for Preppers by Amanda Rofe (Amazon Kindle)

In the British Isles there are thousands of fungi and some of them are edible. It can be difficult to identify fungi and some are absolutely deadly. Simply tasting a tiny piece of unidentified mushroom can be very dangerous and a quarter of a teaspoon of a really poisonous mushroom can kill. Even the very safe and supposedly foolproof chicken of the woods can make 5 per cent of people sick. Certain mushrooms can cause illness if eating in conjunction with alcohol.

It is the case that some people will react badly to some edible mushrooms, even so-called safe ones. However, mushroom poisoning usually causes vomiting and diarrhoea but no long-term damage. It is generally considered that the overall benefits of eating and using fungi far outweigh the downside. They really are the good guys. This is the reason we carry on using them.

Some mushroom experts recommend cooking all mushrooms, particularly those that have been foraged wild, because they contain irritating or toxic substances such as hydrazines, and they also recommend eating them in moderation. This includes Agaricus bisporus, which is the button or white mushroom, commonly sold in the supermarkets! It should be emphasised that no amount of cooking is going to make the death cap or destroying angel safe to eat.

A document by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) informs us that there are only a very few poisonous mushrooms and that the only reliable guide to edibility is the knowledge that someone has eaten a particular type and survived! Some edible species are poisonous when raw, but fine when cooked. Local knowledge of safe fungi are crucially important. Unfortunately, as people die or move away from rural areas, this knowledge is often lost.

Training should be sought from a knowledgeable person in correct identification when foraging and there are many good fungi courses available. Personal tuition is infinitely better than a book. If using books choose a range because one picture will not be sufficient for identification purposes.

Those who don’t feel confident foraging for wild mushrooms can purchase mushroom spawn (similar to seed) for home cultivation including mushroom kits, mushroom logs, and wooden dowels which are impregnated with spawn. The dowels must be pressed into holes that have been drilled in suitable logs. Some of the medicinal mushrooms such as reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), maitake (Grifola frondosa) and shi-itake (Lentinula edodes), can be grown on logs like this.

An image of wooden dowels impregnated with chicken of the woods
Wooden dowels impregnated with chicken of the woods

Storage and use: Drying is probably one of the best ways of storing mushrooms. Dried mushrooms should always be re-hydrated before use. Just add warm water and soak for 20-30 minutes. Dried mushrooms expand by 3-4 times after rehydration. Drain and use the soak water as a broth for sauces, soups or stews. In this way mushrooms can be used as a savoury ‘tea’ and is a particularly good way of using the medicinal mushrooms. Dried mushrooms are flavour intensive and give a ‘meaty’ taste and texture meals. They are very useful for those who are missing meat from their diet. Some of my favourite dried mushrooms for soups and stews include chanterelle, chicken of the woods, porcini and morel.

Dried mushrooms can also be purchased in bulk for storage. This does save the worry of identification and the bother of home drying. However, as with all purchased dehydrated foods, they can be expensive.

An image of dried porcini mushrooms
Dried porcini mushrooms

Examples of edible fungi

Some well known edible fungi that grow in the British Isles include the following species: Anise cap (Clitocybe odora), bay bolete (Boletus badius), beefsteak fungus (Fistulina hepatica), cep (Boletus edulis), chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius), chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus), common puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum), fairy ring champignon (Marasmius oreades), field blewit (Lepista saeva), field mushroom (Agaricus campestris), giant puffball (Calvatia gigantea), hedgehog fungus (Hydnum repandum), honey fungus (Armillariella mellea), horn of plenty (Craterellus cornucopoides), horse mushroom (Agaricus arvensis), Jew’s ear (Hirneola auricula-judae), lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceum), morel (Morchella esculenta), oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus), parasol mushroom (Macrolepiota procera), saffron milk cap (Lactarius deliciosus), shaggy ink cap (Coprinus comatus), shaggy parasol (Macrolepiota rhacodes), St George’s mushroom (Tricholoma gambosum), truffle (Tuber aestivum), velvet shank (Flammulina velutipes), wood cauliflower (Sparassis crispa), wood hedgehog (Hydnum repandum) and wood blew it (Lepista nuda).

The foolproof four

These mushrooms are some of the easiest to identify and for that reason are often called the ‘foolproof four’. This is mainly why I have given these five stars although they do taste very good as well.

Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius) *****
Chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) *****
Giant puffball (Calvatia gigantea) *****
Morel (Morchella esculenta) *****

An image of dried chanterelle mushrooms
Dried chanterelle mushrooms


Edible Plants for Preppers is a plant-based (vegan) guide which recommends a raw food diet but does also include references to cooked foods.

Five star ***** plants are those those that have certain qualities which make them stand out from the rest e.g. they can be found abundantly in the wild or they have many uses.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Sea Vegetables

There are over six hundred different sea vegetables or seaweeds growing on the coast of the British Isles. Most seaweed is edible but some taste a lot better than others. The general guidelines for foraging land-based plants applies to seaweeds. It is very important to forage for seaweed in clean coastal areas. Certainly don't take anything from around waste pipes which feed out into the sea! In addition, beaches may be owned by a council, a trust or even a private individual, so do ask for permission to forage if necessary.

Here are a few of the more popular species to try. For those who don't live near the coast, many British seaweeds can also be purchased (dried) by mail order.

Carragheen (Chondrus crispus) A red algae. Also known as Irish moss, chondrus and carrageen. Carragheen can be eaten raw. It is used commercially as a thickener and stabiliser. It is an excellent alternative to gelatin (boiled bones, skins and tendons of animals) and has similar properties. It can be soaked and gently heated until soft and gooey. Sieve or blend in a high quality blender to obtain a really smooth consistency. It will thicken soups, ice cream, smoothies and cheesecakes. It can be added to raw breads instead of psyllium to improve the texture. False Irish moss (Mastocarpus stellatus) is closely related to Chondrus crispus and is also sold as carragheen or Irish moss. It can be used in a similar way.

An image of carragheen (Chondrus crispus), a red algae.
Carragheen (C.crispus)

Dabberlocks (Alaria esculenta) A large brown algae. Also known as badderlocks, Irish or Atlantic wakame, winged kelp or murlin. It is one of several species of Alaria around the British Isles. Dabberlocks can be eaten raw. It can be used in soups or fresh in salads. It can also be dried. Dried dabberlocks can be re-hydrated by soaking in warm water until soft.

Dulse (Palmaria palmata) A red algae. Also known as dillisk, dilsk or sea lettuce flakes. Dulse can be eaten raw. Dry it and use as a crispy snack. Dried or fresh it can be added to salads. Ground down into a powder dulse used as a flavour enhancer in soups and other savoury dishes. Dried dulse can be re-hydrated by soaking briefly in warm water until soft.

An image of dulse (Palmaria palmata), a red algae.
Dulse (P. palmata)

Sea Lettuce (Ulva lactuca) A green algae. Colour wise this is very green and looks more like a lettuce. It is very good raw and can have a slightly bitter taste if cooked. These are the salad greens of the seaweeds. Chop up the fresh or dried leaves and add to salads. It can also be added to smoothies.

Sea spaghetti (Himanthalia elongata) A brown algae. Also known as sea tangle, riseach, sea thong, thongweed or buttonweed. This seaweed looks much like a dark green tagliatelle and has a mild flavour. It can be eaten raw or dried for later use. Use instead of wheat pasta with a tomato sauce or add to salads. Dried sea spaghetti can be re-hydrated by soaking in warm water until soft.

An image of sea spaghetti (Himanthalia elongata), a brown algae.
Sea spaghetti (H. elongata)

Sugar Kelp (Laminaria saccharina) A brown algae. Also known as sweet tangle, sugar wrack, sweet kelp or kombu royale. The Laminaria species are commonly known as kombu. Sugar kelp can be eaten raw. It can be dried and used as a crispy snack. Use in salads or instead of pasta with a raw tomato sauce. Alternatively, it can be pickled or used to make vegan sushi. It has a sweetish flavour hence the name. Dried sugar kelp can be re-hydrated by soaking in warm water until soft.

An excerpt from Edible Plants for Preppers by Amanda Rofe. Available on Amazon Kindle.