Taking our pick from nature's finest foods

Published on: 31 Dec 2012

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Taking our pick from nature's finest foods

It looked like a strawberry, only smaller. And on closer examination at home it tasted like one, too. Chris Westgate of Heavenly Hedgerows

But it didn’t come from a plastic punnet on a supermarket shelf or even from a plant grown in someone’s back garden. It was just there, beside a path where hundreds of people walk and cycle each week who, like me, probably wouldn’t know they were there.

But one person with a keen eye for everything edible growing in the wild is Chris Westgate, owner of Heavenly Hedgerows, which produces food and drinks made from wild fruit and berries found around the Bristol area.

I met Chris on a wet weekday morning on a stretch of the Bristol to Bath cycle path. She had been out since 6.30am and had already foraged a basket of goodies to turn into jams, jellies and other products.

Barely a few metres along the path and Chris had pointed out enough plants among the greenery to at least make the basis of a foraged feast, including nettles for soup, elder for cordials, jams and other sweet treats, and hawthorn, whose leaves are a forgotten staple that used to be referred to as “bread and cheese”.

And beneath the leaves of plants that spread as far as I could see along the path, were those tiny wild strawberries hidden from view. Wild strawberries

Growing up in New Zealand and enjoying the outdoors life means Chris has always been in touch with what nature can offer. She said: “People are scared and think everything is poisonous – but there is so much edible stuff out there. Also, people either don’t have time or have lost the art of cooking – and that’s half the problem as you need to know how to use the things you forage. Checking for poisonous plants

“Foraging is in us all, we have all picked blackberries. It unearths the Neanderthal in us all and a love of being out in the countryside. It’s an in-built thing to want to pick things.”

With nature in hibernation now, there should be some time for rest after the autumn rush to pick, prepare and pack goodies and then the busy Christmas period. Chris said: “Autumn is manic. I get up early and can still be cooking into the early hours as there’s so much to do in a short time.”

As well as examining what’s growing at the side of the path, Chris also keeps an eye on what’s fallen onto the walkway from the trees overhead, stopping suddenly when she spots a hazelnut on the ground and searching out its source. 

So, after my introduction to wild food I can say that for those in the know there really is such a thing as a free lunch.

Joni Mann

Heavenly Hedgerows’ produce, subject to seasonal availability,  is stocked in a number of local outlets, including the Better Food Company in St Werburgh’s. For more on Heavenly Hedgerows, visit www.heavenly hedgerows.co.uk, call 0782 878 6513, or email info@heavenly hedgerows.co.uk. The business is also on Facebook and Twitter @heavenly hedgero.

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