Hear from our nursery supervisor, Ollie, about his experience of foraging in the urban environment. Ever since I found myself starved of my usual recreational activities in early 2020 (no prizes for guessing why) I became a much more active walker and forager.
I’ve always been an avid cook, but perhaps ever more powerful than my desire to create wonderful food, is my desire to save money. Now more than ever, the cost of produce both imported and local is increasing. In this blogpost, I want to extol the myriad benefits of foraging for one's ingredients. From mundane penny pinching, to the more abstract benefits to nutrition and the environment, even the down-right mercurial benefits to one's sense of place and understanding of their world; and the spiritual/psychological benefits this can have.
What did I find?
In the autumn of 2020, I spent a very pleasant series of afternoons picking rose hips with my girlfriend and dog. They were growing along a chain link fence near Finsbury Park. In this time, I collected somewhere between one and two kilos of hips. Currently, most of them are sitting in my freezer, ready to become a wide range of syrups, jellies, jams, and vinegars suitable for every meal of the day. However, my first creation is the one I am most happy with, and it's also the simplest too; dried rose hip tea!
How to use rose hips for tea
To dry, top and tail your hips, lay them out on clean paper, then leave to dry for 5 days, then cut in half and scoop out the fibrous bristles with a small spoon.
Leave for another day or 2 to make sure they are good and dry, then seal them in whatever airtight container you prefer. I find about 4-5 grams of rose hips makes a nice strong tea. Steep the hips in boiling water for 2-3 minutes then remove to avoid the tea becoming overly bitter. Adding honey or sugar is a lovely addition, but can result in a medicinal taste which some dislike.
I feel that in this brief example of a late-summer’s afternoon activity, I have provided examples of all the many benefits foraging can provide us with. Firstly, saving 2 kilos of fresh rose hips would probably cost around £20-30 to buy online.
For even more extreme examples, last summer I collected somewhere between £200-300 worth of elderflower growing in a disused car park. Cakes, syrups and even elderflower wine were created and consumed in abundance last summer!
Moving on to health benefits, if ever a food were deserving of the -somewhat vague- term “superfood”, it's probably rose hips. In addition to their abundance of antioxidants and vitamin C, a host of other benefits are frequently claimed by many sources.
As for the environmental benefits, ‘actual’ tea is grown pretty much exclusively in East Asia, not only do these vast plantations require water, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, the transportation, storage, and ancillary logistical costs of globalised tea are considerable. By foraging for my own alternative hot drink ingredients, I totally circumvent all of these costs.
Those rose hips were growing entirely unaided, creating zero additional emissions and benefiting their local ecosystems. By conservatively harvesting, as well as walking to and from the harvest site, the only time any co2 emissions can be factored into my tea production is in the boiling of my water (which you’d have to do for regular tea anyway!).
While it may seem like such a small behavioural change as to appear inconsequential, I believe if we all make enough of these small changes in every aspect of our lives, it will go some way to reducing the pressure we all place on our planet's ecological and physical systems.
Less tangible benefits
Lastly, I want to discuss the ephemeral benefits. Not only was this a lovely afternoon to spend with a loved one, it was an opportunity to explore our local neighbourhood in more detail, to feel more connected to our immediate environment and learn more about the unique properties of where we live. Not every stretch of railway fencing will provide an abundance of rose hips, but others -and similar green spaces- may provide blackberries, wild plums, hogweed, burdock, fennel, or nettles.
Foraging is good for your physical health, good for the planet, and helps us learn about our world in a way that learning the theory cannot quite capture. Whether you grow your own food, or go out into the wild to get it, anything we can do to reduce our dependence on large scale, industrial, globalised agriculture will pay dividends for the planet, and for us, in the years to come.
The saying "you are what you eat" is true enough, if a little lacking in novelty, but I also believe "you are how you eat". Taking the time to focus on your food, from production, through processing, cooking, and eating all add value to our food, and in my experience result in better food and a more fulfilling life.
Square Mile Farms bring vertical, urban farming to city dwellers in their homes and in the workplace. We aim to bring people closer to food production and help to create a culture of healthy, sustainable living.