THERE’S something about eating the food you gathered yourself from the wild, whether it’s punnets full of brambles or a couple of windfall apples from the park. Do they taste better because they’ve grown out in the open, free from pesticides and supermarket plastic or does the satisfaction of knowing you’ve foraged something for free add to the flavour?
Forager Rob Kyle reckons it’s a bit of both. “But it definitely tastes better,” he laughs.
And he should know – two years ago, he became hooked on foraging after being taken out by friends. “I was amazed at how much useful and edible stuff was out there, and that most people knew nothing about it,” he says. “After that, I would go out regularly but I found many people simply didn’t believe me when I told them about what I found.”
So Rob, a PhD student at Edinburgh University, created a map on the internet, showing the locations of food growing on common ground. “It was a way of demonstrating how much cool stuff is growing near where people live. It’s not just fruit, there are wild herbs, medicinal plants, plants for dyeing, and plants for use in traditional crafts.” Now the website has several hundred users, with others marking on locations of their finds, and Rob is looking to relaunch it over the next few weeks to broaden its appeal.
“The aim of the map is to make people aware of the abundance of natural resources growing in the city. We’re not farmers any more, we don’t know about nature but people living in the city can have a connection to nature. And it really is a lot of fun.”
Rob has cooked up jams, jellies and pies with his finds, as well as making wines, beers and fizzy drinks. Food growing wild in Edinburgh includes plums, apples, blackberries and raspberries, as well as a few more unusual finds, including almonds and a fig tree.
The map also includes the location of plants which many people wouldn’t realise are edible or which are used for medicinal purposes. And while few would know what to do with such plants at the moment, Rob is hoping that will change. “I hope to develop the website so that folk can share recipes and tutorials of how to use these plants,” he says.
In addition to the website, Rob has also developed a forager’s friend iPhone app to allow people to add sightings to the map. Most of all, he says, he wants the map to help people appreciate nature in the city.
“The aim of the website is not just to tell people where they can find plants but to encourage people to go out an enjoy their environment. Once you get an eye for foraging you’ll never look at our cityscapes in the same way again.”
The foragers map can be found at foragersfriend.com.