Wild food foraging + bicycles = lots of fun!

25th March 2010 by

Last Saturday I organised a wild food cycle around Tower Hamlets with the Otesha Project and Invisible Food. It was a lovely morning full of glowing smiles, cycling, foraging and tasting!

At about 10.30 in the morning, sixteen people turned up on bikes at a quiet street in east London to be met by the lovely Ceri (our wild food expert), Nick and Calu (fantastic Otesha ex-cycle tour volunteers) and me. At the start, Ceri gave us an introduction on the Where’s and How’s of picking wild foods (for instance, no picking them beside smelly roads or doggy areas!). Then we got clued up on cycle safety before setting off!

We cycled in three groups and made our way on back roads, along the canal, across Mile End Park to Tower Hamlets Cemetery. Arriving through a warren of flats and estates, the cemetery felt like a hidden treasure in heart of East London! It was a perfect spot for foraging, overgrown and full of wild greenery. We learned to identify five types of wild edible plants: nettle, dandelion bud (elusive and known as the holy grail because it can be made into capers), yarrow, goosegrass (aka Sticky Willy) and chickweed. We spent a bit of time in the cemetery picking; hunting down dandelion buds, uncovering yarrow, bracing ourselves on the nettles and filling our containers …

…with everything except chickweed – there was none to be found in the cemetery! It was only when we remembered we’d seen a grassy and wild looking bank by the canal, that we decided to take to the road again in pursuit of this tasty green.

When we got back to the canal we were amazed – this area was full of chickweed! We filled our containers and learned more about its properties (for instance, did you know that chickweed can be used as a tonic for acne when used to bathe your face?).

Now fully laden with wild greens, were back on our bikes and heading for Spitalfields City Farm. (Although not without a bit of drama – Calu got a puncture halfway there and was given a backie by another cyclist while someone else wheeled along her bike!).

Arriving at Spitalfields farm we set up camp in the picnic area. We had pots, a rocket stove, a camping stove and a funky chopping instrument called a Mezzaluna: we were ready to cook!

We all got stuck in, washing plants, chopping, making nettle tea, we were even lucky enough to pick some fresh salad leaves from the farms very own veggie plot! Refreshed with homemade ginger beer and nettle tea, we hungrily anticipated our meal – a mushroom and wild greens risotto!

A tasty risotto was just what we needed after all that cycling! Warmed up with our meal, we got chatting with the staff at the Young Farmers Club. They meet at the farm regularly and had prepared an incredible pumpkin curry for lunch made with produce from the farm. We shared our food and had the chance to try some of theirs– what a delicious bonus! I loved the community and connections that were made on this last leg of our morning, it seems to me there is something special that can be created when coming together to prepare, cook and eat food.

We could enjoy and share this food with a vigour, and a connection is made that is not easily matched by food from supermarkets! The food we eat is often grown in an unknown location, picked and packed by unknown hands before reaching our shopping baskets, wrapped and silenced in plastic.

The food we tasted last Saturday had come alive; it had stories and adventurous tales to tell. Tales of 20 people tumbling around Tower Hamlets Cemetery, picking greens and searching for that ‘holy grail’ dandelion bud, before zooming off on bikes to discover something new – precious chickweed! Stories of people meeting each other, learning new things and discovering something exciting about their area. Food that reminded us of that liberating experience of taking to the streets of East London on bicycles!

If you would like to hear about future wild food cycles please drop me a line (carla@otesha.org.uk).

Ceri runs regular wild food walks in Lambeth. Check out the Invisible Food website.

Regular wild food walks and other events also happen at Tower Hamlets Cemetery.

One Response to “Wild food foraging + bicycles = lots of fun!”

  1. Jason says:

    Sounds like a great day! I have just started a blog about foraging and I also run regular wild food walks in London.

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