Scotland

Foraging for sticky willy and knitting with nettles

Fi Martynoga under a gooseberry bush
Image caption Fi Martynoga says wild gooseberries are common in borders hedges

I knew Fi Martynoga was a fervent forager. But even so I was surprised at the number of species she identified which we could eat, before we had even left the car park at Traquair village hall on the Southern Upland Way.

"Nettles. They're a very useful species. There is elder growing in the hedgerow. That would provide us with tea, or fruit later in the year. There is sticky willy. Have you ever thought of eating sticky willy?"

The long strands of sticky willy, also known as goosegrass, can make a healthy juice apparently.

And then there were the wild raspberries, growing behind the telegraph pole. Right there in the car park.

No more than 150 metres up the road we stopped again. Someone had been strimming the verges. And that had prompted a burst of fresh growth by a patch of ground elder.

"It's a plant that's not totally native to Scotland. It was brought here by the Romans, as a pot herb. As something that could be eaten."

"I put this in salads. I don't tend to eat it by itself. It's nice with other things."

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionVetch flowers and leaves taste like pea shoots but the seeds may be poisonous

And just next to the ground elder, a wild gooseberry bush. No baby left under it. But a lot of small, hairy, green fruit.

"They may have originated in a garden, but they are common in hedgerows round here."

"They're traditionally called grossets. They were really only brought into gardens and cultivated after the 18th century, when sugar became more available."

The next plant Fi spotted was vetch - a wild member of the pea family. She gave me a sprig to eat, complete with young green leaves and purple-y blue-ish flowers.

They tasted exactly like the pea shoots fashionable chefs use as a garnish in expensive restaurants.

"But actually, it's a rather more interesting flavour than pea shoots", Fi insisted.

"It's quite sweet, and it looks really pretty on the top of a salad."

But vetch is a good example of how important it is to know what you're doing, when you forage for wild food. The importance of checking the identification of anything, before you eat it.

Image caption Medical herbalists use an infusion of meadowsweet as a pain killer

"Even though the shoots are so delicious, you don't want to go eating the seeds, the little pods. They look pretty, but they could be poisonous."

So you need really good reference books, or an expert to confirm what is safe. And what isn't.

Next we found meadowsweet. Creamy yellow flowers growing up through the grass, with a distinctive "boudoir" smell.

Traditionally the flowers have been soaked in boiling water to make an infusion.

"It's full of salacylic acid, just like asprin. But it doesn't attack the gut. So it's nature's pain killer."

And as well as being sure what you are gathering is safe, there are other rules, too. To make sure what you are doing is sustainable. So that there will be more left to take, the next time you go back.

"The Scottish Wild Harvest Association are drawing up a code of conduct which we want members to subscribe to - whether they're private individuals or commercial concerns", Fi Martynoga told BBC radio's Good Morning Scotland programme.

"You only ever take a small proportion of one plant from any given place. If you're digging up roots, you have to have the landowner's permission. And there are certain species where you have to be circumspect, and probably only take tasters, and nothing more."

Image caption Sticky willy, also known as goosegrass, makes a tasty juice.

No such worries with nettles, of course. Though there is always the risk of getting stung. And by this time of year, most of the leaves may be a bit tough and stringy to eat.

But it is those fibres which make them so useful.

"I was out on a foraging walk with friends, and I think we came up with 40 different uses for nettles. They were used for making string, and woven and knitted items in the past."

"But, for eating, I make nettle soup, a lot, in the spring. Traditionally, in Scotland, you needed seven meals of nettles in a year to keep you healthy."

"And that makes sense because when you've got the hungry gap - no kail left in the kailyard, no onions and your tatties have run out - that's exactly when the nettles are there."

Pictures are for illustrative purposes only and should not be used for plant identification. Check with an expert, or with field guides, before consuming anything.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites