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Food Shopping in the Forest

Useful tips from a de(s)sert island to your window sill to put the green back in “I’m living the green life”.

Who is afraid of plants?

We used to be able to name them all and know about their use in real life without even thinking. Everyday we were discovering the benefits of having natural products in our plates. But we kind of lost it…

Good news: they’re back! More and more people are using gardening as a way of producing good, clean and cheap food. Whether it’s from scavenging in the forest or grown from the garden, everyone can eat something fresh from nature. What are your options?

Your grandad too was a gatherer

Permaculture house drawing
Our house in the middle of the trees (Credit: Jayme Melrose)

Let’s start easy, with the most ancient way to find food: gathering. What’s more relaxing than wait for nature to do its job and harvest during a walk in the forest? Equipped with a pair of strawberry boots and a retro wicker basket, you are ready for your first forest food shopping. What do the woods of the world hold for our taste buds?

The first thing you’re most likely to find is mushrooms. They’re everywhere. And they grow like, well, mushrooms. Depending on where you live, and what the season is, there are endless options. A lot more people know about mushrooms than you’d think. There are multiple helpful societies to help start you out on your walk in the forest. Fun facts: it doesn’t have to be under the rain and not all fungi lovers are weirdoes.

Mushrooms are just like a box of chocolate. You never know what you’re gonna get. The largest living thing on Earth is a ginormous honey mushroom spread over 9.6 sq. km. It is as deadly for trees as it is delicious with sage and pasta. Others are much smaller but are so refined that they go for €5000 per ounce. You’re bound to find one you’ll like.

If you’re no particular fan of mushy living things that are neither plant nor animal, do not despair. There’s more to these trees than mold. How about setting out for some wild berries?

These fruity bushes also grow before you have the time to write pawpaw (it exists, it’s a berry, it’s delicious). Regrettably, we’re not all racoons so we’ll need gardening gloves in our backpack in order not to hurt your fingers on the thorny bushes.

Berries of all shapes and sizes
Blackberry, buffaloberry, cloudberry, huckleberry… Which ones will you find?

One final recommendation before you put those boots on. Be careful to IDENTIFY BEFORE PICKING. Mushrooms and wild fruits alike all have toxic cousins. Rubbing your eyes after having touched can be enough to become all green and purple yourself… Besides, one of the golden rules of sustainability:

Take only what you need.

There is so much more to be found in the forest. Apples, wild potato, nuts, mint are all edibles that can be found in the wild. After a few trips to the forest, some people decided to organise those crops and maybe even plant a couple in their yard. Agroforestry was born.

The European Herb Map by Baldwin's
The European Herb Map (Click link to enlarge)

The farmer within

The theory for outright planting and cultivating an edible forest (forest gardening) is probably the oldest and most resilient form of agricultural land use. The practice was adapted to temperate regions by a horticulturist named Robert Hart, who figured that if they could do it in the tropics, so could he in the Shropshire, Great Britain. And he succeeded.

If creating a self-sustainable culture was the first goal of permaculture, the benefits of planting flora of all sizes as it turned out, were not limited to the field of nutrition.

Our green allies (even small ones) act as filters and coolers for the air, retaining toxic particles and boosting the Oxygen concentration. Trees cool the temperature down by several degrees in the summer through the shade they provide and by releasing water vapour into the environment.

You know what they say, “best time to plant a tree was a year ago, second best time is now”.

Out of all ecosystems, forests harbour the greatest biodiversity. Planting trees create a domino effect for biodiversity, revitalising the biosystem (animals and plants) and the abiotic elements (minerals, water quality) of the environment.

The future of cool is in the garden

Edible gardens are stable ecosystems. This means that this system reaches what we call ecological balance. It is (almost) entirely self-sustainable and does not die with winter. This conglomerate of species ensures mutual protection against external aggressions. And its food will protect you! As a wise man (Hippocrates) once said, “make your food your medicine and your medicine your food.”

Prinzessinengarten in Berlin is a model of sustainable development
Prinzessinen Garten in Berlin took it a notch up (Credit: Erik Borälv)

Like in the forest, the vegetation works in layers. These layers exposed in the picture above form an ensemble which provides fruits, vegetables, roots, medicinal and seasoning herbs, and even a few bottles of wine if you go big!

Again, the combinations are infinite. Start with a flower and who knows where you might end up? Entire love stories started like that you know… So go out and plant one, two, ten plants, take your partner to plant a tree on your anniversary, and grab the apple from it! We love nature, let’s create some.

Nature is food and food is nature
Bon Appétit

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