24/08/2015 10:47 BST | Updated 24/08/2016 06:59 BST

Wild Food Alert


Dried wild seaweeds and chanterellles

Seaweed is being described by some as a superfood, the new kale, but to date there is little evidence based research to support such a claim.This is because until recently seaweed, which is at the bottom of the food chain, has not been considered worthy of research funding. Seaweed has a well documented history as a valued edible in the East, but in the West, the general consensus has been one of widespread indifference. The Roman poet, Virgil dismissed seaweed in three words: nihil vilor alga - vile and worthless. Hopefully the tide is turning.

One of the questions that I'm often asked, when I suggest foraging and then cooking seaweed, is about its toxicity. The brown desmarestia spp. are best avoided because when picked / brushed against, they release sulphuric acid. If you do want to pick this specie for any reason, you should store it separately. In fact, it's a good idea to pop each seaweed specie into a separate bag because this will make it easier to sort and wash the weeds when you return to the kitchen. In Britain there is no documentation of death by seaweed but some don't taste very nice, and some species require culinary coaxing to ensure that they tingle the tastebuds. There are details of how to prepare and cook with over a dozen varieties of seaweed in my recently published book Seaweed in the Kitchen. So the deal with seaweed to date is: to avoid the desmarestia spp and to pick living not storm cast seaweed from a seashore far from human effluence. Use scissors or a sharp knife to cut your seaweed and this will ensure further growth. Never pick more than 1/6th and only harvest for personal use. Follow these simple,seaweed foraging rules and the coast should be clear.

Mushroom toxicity is comparatively well documented. Sometimes a little mushroom knowledge is a dangerous thing because fungi hunters from all walks of life, the world over, occasionally muddle species. Cooking doesn't kill fungi toxicity. Over 5,000 mushrooms grow in Europe and about 1/5th of these are considered to be edible. Antonio Carluccio suggests that about thirty mushrooms are considered poisonous and a further thirty suspect. He also notes that just because an animal finds a mushroom moreish that this is not a guarantee that it will be safe for human consumption. The scary toxicity stats are there but dodgy mushrooms are in the minority. It does however only take one mistake, so never chance it with a mushroom. The forager Mark Williams says, 'Don't munch on a hunch'. A sensible forager knows that if there is the least ID doubt over a wild edible - leave it out.


Having laboured over the baddies, which of course you will find displayed in a decent book or on a website rogue's gallery, I return to the tasty goodies. I spent last Sunday encouraging children as young as two, to pick (and hopefully later cook and eat) wild mushrooms. We had a good supply of baby wipes because children seem to enjoy watching, and on occasion handling, slug gourmands as they chomp their way through mushrooms. Yes, be cautious but do give wild mushrooms a chance.

How to Dry Mushrooms

Brush the mushrooms well - don't wash them.

Dry the mushrooms in a food dehydrator or low oven.

Finely ground dried wild mushrooms can be used for seasoning when cooking.

Mushroom (or Seaweed) Stock (Vegan)

Heat 1.5 tablespoons of dried ground mushroom (or dried seaweed) with 500ml of water and simmer for 10 minutes. Leave to cool and you have a simple wild stock.

September Fungi and Seaweed events.