Evident from the outset: Marcus is a walking encyclopaedia with a seemingly infinite knowledge of the history, origins and uses of both native and exotic local plants and someone who is regularly asked to share his 40 years of experience with the likes of The Eden Project and The Natural History Museum. As a personal trainer I am an advocate of eating fresh, whole, unprocessed and (where possible) raw foods. Spending a Saturday morning at the Wild Food School therefore, was right up my street, a street that I hoped to learn was lined with awesome wholesome weeds.
Over the past year or so I have increased my energy levels and improved my sense of wellbeing enormously, simply by eating mostly raw veg, fruit, nuts, seeds and pulses and by cutting out processed foods. We all walk, ride or drive past stacks of free food every time we leave the house to travel miles to a ‘convenience’ store only to be faced with aisle upon aisle of nutritionally-empty ‘food’. In these times of increasing food prices and decreasing food quality, wouldn’t it simply be amazing to have a source of free and highly nutritious produce within walking distance of your own home?
The others arrived on time and with our eagerness evident Marcus gave us a quick spiel about the rules of engagement in the wild and then we were off on a walking tour of the local lanes and hedgerows.
Thinking we were hardened Cornish beach folk, Rachel and I were dressed for the summer whereas our compatriots looked ready for a mission to the Arctic. We envied their sensibility as we froze to the core in the cold March weather. Thankfully the famed Cornish sun appeared and warmed our backs as we listened intently trying to take in all the latin names that Marcus was throwing our way. Worth noting: pens, notepads and cameras are as essential as Gore-Tex clothing if you want to identify your alexanders from your sorrel in comfort.
Every hundred yards Marcus stopped to point out a different plant sometimes to show us an example of a poisonous specimen, alarmingly similar to one that was edible. Anything worth eating we tasted, noted and photographed; we were shown us at least a dozen wild plants with more nutritional value than most commercially farmed produce – all available in a hedgerow near you right now.
I was curious as to whether Marcus thought that it was possible live on wild foods, and was a bit disappointed to hear that ‘time’ restricted him from foraging on a daily basis. Obviously busy modern living dictates that most of us don’t have the luxury of those ‘forage hours’ our ancestors would have built into their daily grind, however I do feel most of us could make small changes (shopping at local farm stores and health food outlets) to add a healthy dose of wild foods to our diet.
Travelling around the Cornish countryside is suddenly a new experience for me; my eyes are opened to the plethora of edible greenery at every turn. I’m delighted to have it confirmed that my garden is stocked full of amazingly nutritious foods such as alexanders (spinach equivalent brought to us by the Romans), three cornered leek (tastes like garlic or onion), stinging nettles (the original superfood, rich in protein, nitrogen, potassium, magnesium and iron) and dandelion leaves (more beta-carotene than carrots, more iron and calcium than spinach). Even Rachel, a self-proclaimed lover of offal declared herself to be partially converted to the wild side.
There is so much more to learn and I’d highly recommend visiting the WFS on at least one if not several occasions for day, weekend or even a week long course. Marcus also covers coastal foraging where the delights of seaweed and samphire are uncovered – that’s for next time.