Foraging has become a bit of a buzz word in food and drink circles in recent years with cooks and cocktail makers looking for new flavours, textures and colours to excite the palate and eye. Nick Mosley reviews ‘Edible Plants’ by local expert Geoff Dann. [This feature first appeared in The Argus newspaper]
Sussex-based forager Geoff Dann has written and produced what must be one of the most comprehensive guides to wild plants, seaweed, lichens and cyanobacteria in Britain, Ireland and temperate Europe to have ever been published. Featuring over 400 edible species, each plant has a detailed visual description and accompanying high quality photograph to aid identification. Most entries also give a context to the culinary and medicinal uses of the plant in the past and many also have straight-forward recipes with preparation details.
It’s probably not a cover-to-cover read but more a book you’d dip in and out of. As someone working in the food and drink industry, I found Dann’s historical and cultural insights as fascinating as the culinary details. It is enlightening to realise that so much local plant knowledge has been lost in recent decades; even our recent ancestors who lived in rural and semi-rural villages would have an extensive knowledge of what could be eaten from fields, woods and the seashore.
There are certainly a lot of delicious sounding recipes to explore, including Nettle Kimchi. Fermented foods – such as Kimchi that is a staple dish in Korea – are age old recipes using raw ingredients, water and salt and are not only incredibly incredibly tasty but also really good for our gut bacteria. Traditionally, cabbage would be the base for Kimchi but Dann’s recipe features nettles which we’re all familiar with as an abundant ‘weed’ that grows in every hedgerow in the UK.
Wild garlic can be found all around East Sussex and the leaves are eagerly picked in early Spring. Take a country walk and you’ll smell the deliciously heady scent: a big clue! Easy recipes are wild garlic pesto, or blend with butter and freeze in pats. You can also pickle the seed pods or crush and add raw in salads. It’s an incredibly versatile ingredient.
Seaweeds are also packed with minerals and have many uses; as an alternative for gelatine its invaluable in vegan dishes. I’m very tempted to forage for Sugar Kelp and try the recipe with honey and soy sauce.
Clearly foraging isn’t something you can do without a significant amount of knowledge. For a start, eat the wrong plant and you could poison yourself but there are also a plethora of legal rules and ethical considerations to take into account. Dann clearly lays all of these out at the start of the book but you may also think it wise to take a few guided walks with established foragers to give you confidence before you start out on your own.
This is a specialised book but Dann has a well-crafted and approachable writing style that would make this a perfect purchase for home cooks who want to use locally foraged plants to take their food to the next level and keen gardeners who want to extend their plant-knowledge.
‘Edible Plants’ by Geoff Dann is priced at £25 RRP and released on 15 January 2022, available from City Books in Hove, at www.geoffdann.co.uk and from major online book retailers. Geoff Dann will be hosting a book signing at City Books, Western Road, Hove on Thursday 13 January 2022.