I've had attending a foraging day with Forage London on my radar for a while, a couple of years or so to be precise. So why the wait? Well I have been planning stuff for this one-off sabbatical for some time, and there was the option of weekday forage walks so I put this idea on the back burner. It has panned out that I had arranged a 1-2-1 forage with John Rentsen (aka Forage London).
Part of the reason for sorting a 1-2-1 was that I'd asked him if during a forage we could look at testing my umbellifer knowledge, and John suggested a London site but not within the city but a forest within the M25 ring. Funnily enough I am currently working through Paul Kirtley's tree and plant ID online masterclass and during one module umbellifers came up, and Paul released a podcast that he made John at the same time.
We had a chat on the phone, arranged the finer detail and met in a secluded and slightly off the beaten track car park ready to start, but not before getting a brew in first! It was only just over a week ago that I attended a cracking foraging day in Wiltshire so I was raring to go.
John had said that there would be some umbellifer action without even leaving the car park-he was right.
We looked at species that I wasn't overly familiar with near were I live, and some that I was seeing daily...
We looked at all aspects of a plant's structure from the roots...
To the leaf patterns and stem structure...
And the textures, hairiness, scent, height and, well everything that can distinguish between a plant that is edible and a plant that is edible only the once if you get my drift.
It wasn't all apiaceae talk though...We covered a lot of other stuff that John/ I/ we found along the way. apart from my one requested area we just hunted high and low for plants and trees of interest.
Onto another site with different habitat and oh look, what do you know, we are back to talking about umbellifers! We are examining a small specimen in the above picture but the one to John's left was in a small ditch and around five feet tall and not far off the same spread. A little while later we found a 'forest' of this particular plant which was impressive to say the least.
Every now and then John would break out an ID book to look up and show me similar species, extra detail and more botanical descriptions of plants he'd just told me about. He said that he sees familiar plants as friends and doesn't need to know every intimate detail about them...As an example you know Bill, he's 6' 2", wears too much aftershave, works in IT and likes cider...you just know it's Bill, but if someone said "Does he like Status Quo?" you'd have to go and find out.
I also stumbled upon a really impressive area of Common Sorrel and John said that he'd never heard anyone so excited at finding some. I'd only tried some the week before so it was still a novelty. It did dawn on me later that getting to feel, touch, rub, see and taste the leaf meant that it jumped out at me, a salient lesson that an individual has to get out and about. The area also had some decent ponds which created it's own little discussion sub- section. The picture above right shows two fairly similar plants with differing edible qualities.
And to our final exploration was in and out of a forest margin and yet another new plant for me plus more information about some of the plants I was familiar with too. Looking, using our senses, referencing and then rinse and repeat. John was clearly enjoying himself, visiting friends that live a little far away you might say.
We'd run over time but it had been a walk where John was the lead coming at it from a foraging and cooking angle, and I was lapping it all up coming at it from a hobbyist bushcrafter with foraging ambitions and I occasionally chipped in some bushcrafty uses for stuff. I thought we dovetailed rather nicely. I was given an impromptu umbellifer test at the end and this is me sorting through a small pile of leafy stalky plant matter and trying to analyse it with the few to explaining what it all was.
And this is me having got them all correct with key identifying features offered verbally, including a plant that I don't often get locally. Cracking the ID features of some of the main players in such a potentially deadly family really topped off a superb forage...You'd think I might of looked a bit happier in the picture though...
And he's got a book out in the not too distant future!