As a child I thought that my grandparents had lived in a black and white world, their photographs were black and white, so it seemed logical that their worlds must have been colourless too. The camera never lies, but one day with the benefit of grown up knowledge, I wised up. I mention this because one of my boys recently took issue with my childhood foraging memories. Granted, in those days it had been permissible to pick cowslips but his probing begged the question of 'wild rose' tinted recollections.
Beatrix Potter was a privileged child, who, in summer months could connect hands on experience of nature with her imagination. Many Victorian City children wouldn't have enjoyed countryside foraging experiences, and indeed the concept of childhood, as we understand it today didn't exist. Children today, can and do go 'into the woods'. Indeed schools encourage field trips within school curriculums. However, we can no longer take the perfection of nature for granted, as Ash dieback Chalara fraxinea clearly demonstrates. Time and fear are also obstacles, not just for the involvement of children with nature but foraging full stop.So Rosa canina spectacled and with clouded memories,I perished the thought that I fit rather snugly into the group mentioned here http://www.plant-talk.org/uk-where-hunter-gatherers-gone.htm
"Those out foraging for plants today are likely to be female, aged between 30 and 59 and very well educated."
I'll not quibble over education but are foragers predominately female? For the sake of argument, a forager is generally perceived as pedestrian (as opposed to equestrian or aquatic) and a sensible one will have a Little Red Riding Hood basket (mushrooms and berries don't fare well in carrier bags).However, surely clutching a basket doesn't give a forager a predisposition to being female? The original hunter gatherers conjure up images of harsh weather and times of famine and in my mind, these foragers were predominately male.My thoughts then turned to witches and powerful female herbalists "Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble."
Possession of Enchanter's Nightshade Circaea lutetiana or Circe, the plant of the sorceress, was in bygone days, enough to warrant a poor lady being accused of witchcraft. Fortunately for me, modern day foragers or herbalists aren't immediately associated with meddling in the occult.
This week I had a foraging wake up call, quite different to the question of gender. Two friendly landowners, in quick succession, expressed dismay that I'd written a book for foragers. The reason on both counts, the 'taking' of prized chanterelles from their land. One said that a certain forager would offer half of her (it was a lady in this case) bounty to the Estate office, but this infuriated because a landowner can pick his or her own wild edibles.
So, if you don't own the land on which a wild edible grows, can you pick legally?
The Theft Act 1968, for England and Wales, states that:
"A person who picks mushrooms growing wild on any land, or who picks flowers, fruit or foliage from a plant growing wild on any land, does not (although not in possession of the land) steal what he picks, unless he does it for reward or for sale or other commercial purpose
However, one must be aware of Byelaws, which, in places may remove foraging rights.
The Land Reform Act 2003 gives Scots the right to be on most land and inland water providing they act responsibly and follow the terms of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.http://www.outdooraccess-scotland.com/outdoors-responsibly/access-code-and-advice/soac/
Fi Martynoga edited A Handbook of Scotland's Wild Harvest http://saraband.net/sustainability-environment/300-a-handbook-of-scotlands-wild-harvests and her book gives sensible advice about harvesting responsibly and sustainably. The anecdotal and historical information make it an enjoyable read. I've had a quick tot up of contributors to the book and can't see a gender bias.
Let's encourage everyone to cook in season and include a little from his or her local natural larder in the supper pot. Prudent foragers may have glacé wild cherries, chestnuts and softened haws squirrelled away for Christmas mincemeat and puddings, but sadly I rarely do this. If I'm honest, I aim to forage and eat in season. My cherry picking days are over until next summer but I may find a chestnut or two If forager's luck is on my side.