Forager is a small rural enterprise engaged in gathering and supplying wild food, mostly to the restaurant trade. We occasionally sell mushrooms and other fungi that we find in particular abundance and in the summer we sell live red signal crayfish, harvested as part of an eradication programme to protect our native white clawed crayfish. However the lion�s share of our produce consists of leaves, stems, roots, flowers, seeds and fruits of wild plants. Some of these plants have been here since the last ice age; some have been deliberately introduced and have escaped from cultivation; several are parent plants of one or more of our cultivated vegetables. All are living documents to our culinary past. These are plants which find themselves so at home in our soil that they need no encouragement to grow, in fact many persist despite considerable active discouragement, because the unenlightened consider them to be weeds.
Wild food is the ultimate in seasonal, local and sustainable produce. No fossil fuels are expended to till the soil, sow seeds or harvest these plants, neither are fertilisers, herbicides or insecticides used to promote their growth. We have recently been running our van on biodeisel made from used cooking oil, making the driving involved in collecting and delivering the plants zero carbon. When we have enough biodeisel for all our journeys, which sadly at present is not always the case, our products can almost be said to be zero carbon. Almost, because we still have to refrigerate them using power from the national grid. Two projects are presently working on zero or near zero carbon fridges so we may get closer to zero carbon status before too long.
Not only are wild edible plants less harmful to the planetary ecosystem, they are also greatly beneficial to human health. Many wild plants have higher levels of nutrients than domestic varieties. By cultivating them for characteristics such as size, productivity or particular flavours we may have inadvertently bred out the nutrition, whilst also watering down the flavour in many cases (compare wild celery to the cultivated version for example). Wild plants tend to be particularly high in anti-oxidants; many of them also contain very high levels of minerals, such as magnesium and calcium, and vitamins, especially beta carotene and vitamin C. Historically several wild plants such as sorrel, wintercress and scurvy grass were used as a safeguard against scurvy or vitamin c deficiency on long voyages. Many edible wild plants, such as yarrow, nettles, elder, chickweed and sea buckthorn also contain medicinal or phytochemicals and have traditionally been eaten at medicinal foods / food medicines; some of these have formed the basis for familiar household medicines, for example it was from meadowsweet that salicylic acid was first extracted: salicylic acid is now used to make aspirin.
Because we only deal in fresh British produce the availability of our produce is entirely subject to what the seasons and climate yield up from the land. Most of what we supply is foraged in Kent but we are gradually developing a network of foragers elsewhere who are able to collect for us what is not available in Kent; see opportunity.
We take delight in handling ingredients which have long histories and traditions of use. However one of the most rewarding aspects of running Forager is working with modern British chefs. In our cosmopolitan, high tech, modern context chefs have culinary knowledge, techniques and equipment that in previous centuries could not have been dreamed of. It�s very exciting to be part of a wild food renaissance in this context, with all this knowledge and skill being applied to British wild plants by top British chefs. At least some of the dishes and flavour combinations resulting from this great culinary experiment are genuine innovations. So as well as reconnecting with a lost food heritage, we have a role to play in forging the future.