Forage in the forest on a wild food walk

Wild food refreshment served up as part of the foraging tour. Picture: Marlow Renton

Wild food refreshment served up as part of the foraging tour. Picture: Marlow Renton - Credit: Archant

If you have ever wanted to try foraging, but were put off by your inability to differentiate between the delicious and the deadly then help is on hand from a foraging team coming to Thetford Forest this spring to reveal its wild food delights.

Marlow Renton leads a group on one of the Wild Food UK foraging tours. Picture: Marlow Renton

Marlow Renton leads a group on one of the Wild Food UK foraging tours. Picture: Marlow Renton - Credit: Archant

Wild Food UK was set up five years ago by foraging friends Eric Biggane and Marlow Renton and this spring the pair are extending their organised tours into the Suffolk countryside with three trips to Thetford Forest.

Marlow, whose passion for finding food in the wild was instilled by a Latin teacher when he was pupil at a school in Scotland, says the team are very excited to finally be offering foraging tours in Suffolk, an area they are well aware has a bountiful supply of natural edible treasures.

He says: “East Anglia was a spot we had not yet got to, but we have had visitors to our website [which offers foraging courses, recipes and guides] asking us to come out east. So we checked out some good places to run courses and Thetford Forest seemed ideal.

“Kerry Bowness, who is one of our earliest students and has attended many of our courses, will be leading the trips and she knows the area very well.”

A springtime wild feast - St George’s mushrooms, nettles and wood sorrel. Picture: Marlow Renton

A springtime wild feast - St Georges mushrooms, nettles and wood sorrel. Picture: Marlow Renton - Credit: Archant

Despite Kerry’s expert knowledge of the largest lowland pine forest in Britain, Marlow says the courses focus on uncovering edible plants, flowers and mushrooms that can be uncovered just about everywhere so members of the group can go away from the three-hour sessions and continue to forage knowledgeably.

Marlow, who began his working life as a web developer in south London but now runs Wild Food UK from its headquarters in Herefordshire as “Croydon wasn’t great for foraging”, says: “Our courses are orientated towards the general public. We look for standard plants and mushrooms that you find everywhere and which we think people should know about.”

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A certain find should be wild garlic, which Marlow calls the “star plant of spring” and will go into the wild garlic and hogweed soup that is offered as homemade refreshment on this foodie tour of the countryside. Spring brings plenty more wild food, including hairy bittercress, which apparently, is a lot nicer than it sounds.

“It’s very tasty,” Marlow says. In Britain you are rarely anywhere far from it. There is also Lady’s Smock, which is known as Cuckoo Flower in East Anglia, which is delicious in salads. Other finds should include wild mustard and pig nut hogweed.”

Marlow, who set up Wild Foods UK when he and Eric realised there was a business in the foraging trips they took friends on for fun, loves his mushrooms and he says there are plenty of “gourmet” examples to be found in the Suffolk countryside.

He says: “In grassy areas you will always find oyster mushrooms. They are very safe to identify. The main one is the St George’s mushroom, which you always find from the beginning of April to the end of May, which includes St George’s Day.”

There are mushrooms that you should for your own safety avoid, but Marlow says there are far more poisonous plants out there than fungi.

He says: “Plants to look out for include hemlock and the even more poisonous hemlock water drop. That is the most poisonous plant in Britain and can kill you in two hours if you eat it. It is extremely common around rivers. Foxgloves are also highly toxic and yew trees have a very potent toxin in them.

“There are also plants which are dangerous to touch. Giant hogweed loves the waterside and there is plenty of that in East Anglia. It can severely burn you in a way that will continue to cause you nasty irritation for up to seven years.”

With its dangers the countryside commands respect and that is something inherent in Wild Food UK. The company is licensed by the Forestry Commission to forage in Thetford Forest and Marlow impresses the idea is to sample the edible riches of the area but not pillage them.

He says: “We don’t clear the area of mushrooms and plants. We teach people the Wildlife and Countryside Act Free and to respect nature. If you love and have a connection with nature you are not going to litter it.”

After the walk everyone will be emailed details of all the plants and mushrooms they find to help them remember and use on their own when they want to gather the ingredients for a truly wild salad or a wild garlic pesto. This is, above all, a foodie tour, and Marlow says there is nothing like the taste of wild food.

“You get all of the nutrient values when you eat straight from the branch, “ he says. “There has been recent research done in Scandinavia that says supplementing your diet with foraged foods is the healthiest diet around.

“Nettles for example are all around and they are full of Vitamin C and Vitamin A and they contain more iron than spinach. They have a nice mild flavour so they are delicious in teas or soup.”

Such tips and more are available on the Thetford Forest wild food walks, which start at St Helen’s Picnic Site. There are free walks set for spring on March 24, April 15 and May 25. To book places, visit the website here

Also keep your eyes on the website for more courses in the East Anglia region, including Hinchingbrooke Country Park.

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