Plant-Lore

Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

APPEAL: Remembered wild foods

Posted on by royvickery |

Conrad_Gesner_-_Conradi_Gesneri_Historia_plantarum_WalderbeereRecent articles in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society provide information on wild plants eaten by children in Estonia (2013) and Poland (2012) – see Bibliography page on this website for details.
Thus it seems a good time to conduct a similar survey of plants eaten by children in the British Isles.
Have you any memories of collecting wild plants for food, probably for a casual nibble on the way to or from school, rather than to form part of a meal? If you have, please send them to roy@plant-lore.com, remembering to include when you did so and where you were living at the time.

Responses
1. To start things off, here’s a list of the wild plants collected as food during my childhood in west Dorset in c.1955-62:
Mushroom (Agaricus campestris), eagerly searched for in the autumn, and boiled in milk.
Sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa), nuts eaten raw, never roasted.
Pignut (Conopodium majus), we knew the tubers were edible, but never tried eating them; plants grew at the edge of the primary school playing field, where presumably we saw other children digging them up.
Hazel (Corylus avellana), nuts collected during the autumn and usually eaten immediately.
Wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca), common in roadside hedge banks, collected and eaten; once we collected enough for my mother to make a tiny jar of preserve.
Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum), we sucked the nectar from the base of the flowers.
Wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella), we ate the flowers, which we called bread-and-cheese.
Watercress (Nasturtium officinale), not common locally, but enjoyed when found, usually in sandwiches; at one time we introduced watercress to a local stream, where it thrived, covering the water, for several years.
Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), we sampled the fruit – sloes – each autumn, but never ate a whole one, they were far too astringent.
Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus), gathered and made into blackberry and apple pies.
Wild raspberry (Rubus idaeus), uncommon, but fruits eaten when found.
Common sorrel Rumex acetosa, known as sour dock, we occasionally nibbled the leaves.
Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) known as whortleberry, not common locally, but fruits eaten when found.
We also chewed the young juicy stems of various grasses.
[RV, 26/8/2013].
2. [1940s] When the wild strawberries were out in our farm lane we used to pick a long straight grass and thread the wild strawberries on the grass. When we had enough we would take them home and put them in a dish with a little bit of sugar (which was scarce in those wartime days) with some cream which was always plentiful on the farm.
Eating bread-and-cheese was a favourite thing to do. This was the fresh shoots of the hedgerow thorn [Crataegus] in springtime.
Sucking the honey from the honeysuckle blossom was another thing I remember doing.
Making a kind of chewing gum from chewing the fresh wheat [Triticum aestivum] when it was harvest time [Tregaer, Monmouthshire, October 2013].

Images:  upper, wild strawberry, attributed to Conrad Gesner (1516-65); lower, wood sorrel, Ardingly Reservoir, West Sussex, April 2018.

Updated 15 April 2018.

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