Ancient nutrition know-how

Restrictions at the supermarkets during the pandemic have had a positive knock-on effect for independent local suppliers and inspired many of us to become more self-sufficient. Nikki Bawn of Boggle Lane Foods explains how to make the most of the natural
resources around you.

As the long shadows reach across our landscape and the distant hum of harvesters fall silent, the change in season reminds us that nature can continue unhindered, by even the biggest of world events.

This year has, without doubt, been one of challenge. Scenes of people stripping supermarket shelves and fighting over toilet rolls at the start of the pandemic was a stark reminder of our reliance on big companies for food and medicine. More people began to prize local, independent suppliers and acknowledge their own disconnection with nature. This has brought into sharp focus a need to revive ancient knowledge and an instinct to find healing sustenance from the wild.

Hunter-gatherer spirits are being awakened and the renaissance of self-sufficiency has arrived. As vistas become painted with burnished reds and golds, why not learn how to forage and tap into your primeval instincts? Have a go – forage and ferment, pickle and preserve, and wallow in the satisfaction of getting to know the power of nature.

There is something magical about the light at this time of the year. It has a clarity and warmth which embellishes everything it touches. The fading blooms and lush leaves are making way for the flush of autumn when foragers (of all kinds) will be filling baskets, (cheeks and paws), with juicy, nutritious, nuts and berries. Beechnuts, hazelnuts, haw berries, wild strawberry and raspberry, rosehips, elderberries and the last of the best wild horseradish are just a few on the long list of what’s available. Not forgetting the lowly apple which, when combined with certain herbs and spices will transform into fire cider, vinegar, chutneys and more that will heal and add flavour to most dishes.

My favourite pastime on a rainy day is preparing healing tinctures, oils and cordials to ward of the winter blues and ailments. One star on my list are rosehips which can be made into tea, oils and syrups. Wild and cultivated roses give way to bulbous orange and red rosehips now and they are packed with vitamin C. You can feed your skin too by making a simple oil with these beauties.

Nutrition: The rosehip has been prized for centuries. It is high in antioxidants and packed with vitamins and minerals to support the immune system including vitamins A, C, E and B, iron, calcium, manganese, magnesium and even zinc.

Another favourite is apple cider vinegar, it is an elixir to promote well-being, gut health, can be used as a rinse to eradicate dandruff and even to promote weight loss (useful in winter!). It’s so easy and when you’ve made it, you can add wild herbs and berries to make the most delicious dressing, flavouring and tonic to keep you in tip top condition throughout winter.

Nutrition: Apple cider vinegar contains antioxidants, acetic acid, and amino acids – great for a plethora of health supporting reasons including killing off bad bacteria and supporting helpful bugs we all need.

One of the great things about apple cider vinegar is not just how versatile it is, but that it will last almost forever. Keep it in a lidded jar in the refrigerator and it will be on hand for a multitude of uses. If you’re lucky you may get a circular, opaque film at the top of the jar. This is known as the ‘mother’, which you can take out and use to jumpstart the fermentation of other batches of apple cider vinegar.

You will need:
4 medium apples – washed, peeled and chopped
480ml of filtered or still mineral water (plus more as needed)
2 tablespoons of sugar or raw honey

Place the apples in a clean glass jar with a wide mouth.
Cover completely with the water.
Add the sugar and stir.
Cover the mouth of the jar with a muslin cloth, then use an elastic band around the neck of the jar to hold it on tightly.
Let it sit in a dark area undisturbed, at room temperature for 1-2 weeks, stirring the mix daily to stimulate fermentation and prevent mould from forming.
When you notice bubbles on the surface, strain out the apples.
Put the liquid back in the jar, cover it with a muslin cloth and let it sit.
Taste it once a week until it has reached the desired level of acidity, cover with a lid and put it in the fridge to stop the fermentation process.

It’s always worth doing your homework before you begin your wild food hunt. There are lots of look-alikes pretending to be edibles in fields and hedgerows that can deceive the untrained eye. Some seemingly plump and tempted berries and lush looking leaves can come with a poisonous or irritant ‘sting’. Others may be edible, only after careful preparation, but, with some basic knowledge, foraging is a safe and an enormously rewarding pastime.

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