The importance of foraging

The importance of foraging. It has become fashionable in recent years for conservation minded people to criticise the act of foraging. “It’s rapeing the countryside”, “there are gangs of commercial foragers pillaging our forests” and so on. Look but don’t touch is their mantra. I have grown up with this mantra for over forty years but far seeing a blossoming of nature around me there has been a steady, if not rapid decline. We have all heard the dire warnings from the likes of David Attenborough and Chris Packham. The State of Nature Report highlighted how much we have lost in the last 100 years or so (but mostly in the last forty years). 80% of woodland, 90% of lowland meadows, 95% of heathland, 70% of flying insects and so on.

The increasing spread of urbanisation is disconnecting the public from nature. The “look don’t touch” mantra even more so. On top of this, the idea of SSSI’s and nature reserves creates the impression that the rest of nature is unimportant. Only these special places are worthy of the utmost care.

We need to reconnect people with nature. It is all around us if we only stop and look. Foraging is one of the best ways to reconnect. It makes you aware of the nature on your doorstep. It makes you value the ordinary.  Some of the best and most nutritious plants to forage are the much demonised weeds of gardens – nettles, dandelions, cleavers, plantain and chickweed. These are not in anyway endangered but when you start to forage your local patch becomes a valuable resource which you want to thrive.

When you let these plants grow you create your very own “wilderness”. You learn that these “weeds” are not just a tasty food for you but a valuable resource for a whole host of wildlife – bees, butterflies, beetles, spiders, birds, small mammals and even slugs and snails.

To put it bluntly, foraging teaches you to appreciate the importance of every bit of nature, not just the rare and endangered. Where do the mushrooms come into this I hear you ask? Here is an interview I did for the East Anglian Daily Times about mushroom foraging and the importance of fungi in all ecosystems.


Mushroom News: Scientist generate electricity from mushrooms!

Researchers from the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey have generated green electricity by engineering a commensal partnership between cyanobacteria from a pond with shop bought button mushrooms.

Mushroom News: Stamets publishes research on honey bees and mushrooms

Paul Stamets and his team of researchers have just published the results of their research into the health benefits of mushrooms for honey bees. Read the full paper here:

Extracts of Polypore Mushroom Mycelia Reduce Viruses in Honey Bees

First Mushroom Foraging Course 2018

Had great day taking a lovely group of people around Tiger Hill. Lots of mushrooms out at the moment, boletes, brittle gills, parasols, grisetes, blushers but the best find yesterday was the hen in the woods.

Hen in the Woods
Hen in the woods photo op

If you would like to join me, there are still some places on our Mushroom Foraging Courses later this autumn. Just follow the link to book your place.

Foraging is not just for the day, it’s for the rest of your life.

Summer Mushroom Foraging in Scotland

I spent an enjoyable few days foraging in Scotland at the end of July with one of Scotland’s top foraging experts, Monica Wilde. We toured the length and breadth of the country in search of fungal treats. Despite the hot weather and low rainfall, both unusual events, even in the middle of Summer in Scotland, we found a decent haul of Chanterelles and the first Penny Buns of the season.

Chanterelle and Penny Bun basket
Basket of Chanterelle, Penny Buns and herbs in the Scottish sunshine

I was also lucky enough to find a few mushrooms that are new to me and only found in the north of the UK. The most beautiful were the pure white Angel’s Wings. This is considered an edible mushroom in some parts of the world but a recent bumper crop in Japan led to a number of deaths from overindulgence. All the people that died were suffering from kidney disease before they ate the mushrooms. Edible or not it is still a beautiful mushroom to see and the first time for me.

Angels Wings, Pleurocybella porrigens
Angels Wings on a moss covered conifer log
Angels Wings, Pleurocybella porrigens
Angels Wings on a moss covered conifer log

Another first was finding the Deadly Webcap. There is no controversy over edibility of this mushroom. It contains the toxin orellanin which causes permanent damage to the kidneys. To the inexperienced or wishful forager it bears a vague resemblance to a Chanterelle but the presence of gills and orange-brown colour should be obvious differences to separate the two.

Deadly Webcap
The Deadly Webcap growing in moss on the forest floor
Cortinarius specioissimus
Deadly Webcap, Cortinarius specioissimus, in the Scottish sunshine

Also new to me was a yellow form Plums and Custard. In the south of the UK Plums and Custard is Tricholomopsis rutilans which has a plum red cap and yellow cap and stem, but we found Tricholomopsis decora which has a dingy yellow cap instead. Both species grow on the same habitat, old conifer stumps.

Plums and Custard
Plums and Custard, Tricholomopsis decora,
Plums and Custard
Plums and Custard, Tricholomopsis decora, on conifer stump

But the best of these new mushrooms was my first Chaga, Inontus obliquus. This is a prized medicinal fungus which is found on Birch trees in northern temperate forests. It has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years, in North America, Siberia and Scandinavia. In Britain it is most common in the North. It is unusual in that the part of the mushroom harvested is not the spore producing structure of the mushroom, which is hidden under the bark of the Birch tree. The part harvested is a sclerotia, an irregular shaped lump that breaks out of the bark of the tree and, over time, grows into a horn shaped protuberance. The surface of the sclerotia is covered by a hard, black, clinker-like shell and the inside is golden brown with the texture of stale, crumbly, chocolate cake.

Inonotus obliquus
Chaga sclerotia sprouting from a Silver Birch
Chaga sclerotia
A sclerotia of Chaga showing it’s horn like growth form
Young Chaga
Young Chaga sclerotia breaking out of Birch Tree

As well as the Chaga, the Birch trees also had two other prized medicinal mushrooms. The Tinder Hoof, Fomes fomentarius, is a hoof shaped, grey polypore. It has a very hard shell of chitin and tough leather flesh. The Birch Polypore in contrast pale cream with a rounded and flattened shape. It has tough rubbery flesh. Both of these mushrooms were carried by Otzi, the ice man when he was killed in the Alps thousands of years ago. We found them growing on the same tree.

Hoof and Polypore on birch
Fomes Fomentarius and Piptoporus betulina growing on the same tree

Here is a very happy forager with a basket full of Chaga

Foraging Chaga
A happy Monica Wilde with a basket of Chaga

The River Runs Through Us: Coastal Foraging Walk at Wrabness

Film maker James Ravinet made a short film of the Foraging Walk I led for The River Runs Through Us project along the River Stour, the Essex Suffolk border. You can see the film here

Mushroom Growing Course in Scotland

Only a month to go before our mushroom course in Mid-Lothian, Scotland, hosted by forager and herbalist Monica Wilde. The course will cover all aspects of mushroom growing, taming wild mushrooms, making mushroom logs, composting and much more. There are still a few places open. The course dates are 28th and 29th July 2018. You can book for both days for the full course or a single day. Booking at Monica Wilde.

Foragers Feast Mushroom Foraging dates

Booking for our mushroom foraging courses are on the Mushroom Table online shop Foraging page. Held at Tiger Hill, a Local Nature Reserve, in the beautiful tranquility of deepest Suffolk. With over 250 species recorded at Tiger Hill, if you want to get to grips with the world of fungi, this is the course for you. From exquisite edibles and miraculous medicines to terrible toxics, the wide variety of fungi is there to discover.

Foraging Courses

Spring Foraging mushroom goodness

It’s been a cold wet start to the year but at long last the ground is warming up and the birds are singing again. So I took myself off to the woods for the first serious foraging this spring. In early Spring after lots of rain you can always rely on Wood Ear mushrooms to pop out of the elders and they didn’t let me down.

Wood Ear Mushrooms
Wood Ear mushrooms on a standing Elder tree

Wood Ears, Auricularia auricula-judae,  are a really good edible mushroom, popular in most South East Asian countries. With their crunchy texture and savoury flavour they are great in soups, stews, sauces and stir fries. They also make great jelly sweets. Soak them in fruit juice or your favourite liqueur then coat them in chocolate or candy them. Studies have shown Wood Ears to be beneficial to the enzyme activity of the pancreas and to glycogen metabolism in the liver. This leads to better control of hypoglycaemia and diabetes. It has strong anti-bacterial properties and was used traditionally in Scotland in a decoction to treat sore throats.

Wood Ear Mushrooms
Wood Ear Mushrooms on a fallen Elder

I was pleasantly surprised to find fresh growth of another much sought after medicinal mushroom, Many-zoned Polypore aka Turkey Tails, Trametes versicolor. There were three fallen trees covered in this, a sycamore, a pine and an ash.

Turkey Tails
Many-zoned Polypore on a Sycamore stump

Many-zoned Polypore is not generally considered a culinary mushroom. In North America it has traditionally been used as a kind of chewing gum. Fresh young brackets when chewed have a sweetish mushroom flavour that gets stronger as you chew it. Made as a decoction it makes a similar tasting tea. Many-zoned Polypore has been shown to have strong anti-cancer properties. Several drugs are made from extracts of the mushroom in China and Japan, under the names PSP and PSK, and used alongside chemo- and radio-therapy to improve patients recovery.

Wet weather favours the jelly fungi so it was no surprise to see Witches Butter, Exidia glandulosa, and it’s close relative Exidia nucleata. These were growing on the same ash twig.

Witches Butter
Jelly Fungi on an Ash twig

As well as the mushrooms there were signs of woodland flowers. Primroses were in full bloom, but a little battered by the rain. Primroses are a pleasant spring vegetable. The young leaves can be used raw in salads along with the flowers. Older leaves can be cooked like spinach. The flowers are used to make a traditional country wine.

A bed of Primroses, flowers dropping under the weight of the rain

A speciality of damp woods is the easily overlooked Moschatel. This is just forming the flower buds that give the plant it’s other name Town Hall Clock.  it is also edible and probably best used as a salad herb. It has a pleasant but mild taste.

Town Hall Clock
Moschatel just coming into flower

Care should be taken not to muddle Moschatel with the Wood Anemone which grows in the same habitat and bears a passing resemblance to it. As part of the Buttercup family Wood Anemones are toxic.

Wind Flowers
Wood Anemones, the flowers waiting for some sun before they open.

In drier areas there were plenty of the more common edibles to forage, young Nettle tops, Chickweed, Red Dead-nettles, Cleavers, Cow Parsley and the first Hogweed shoots.

Young Nettle tips ripe for picking

In the coming weeks Spring is going to race ahead. We will soon see an abundance of good edible plants and some choice mushrooms too.

Chickweed & Red Dead Nettle
A bed of Chickweed with Red Dead-Nettles

If you would like to discover more about foraging why not join us on one of our Spring Foraging workshops 

Mushroom Growing Course

We are running our first mushroom growing course this summer. Details now on our website.