Foraging in London

Foraging in London

Anize Keers meets a wild food expert to see what London’s green spaces have to offer

Sustainable clothing brand D-Robe Outdoors has launched its new collection in no ordinary way. The brand invited us to forage alongside the Thames with Gemma Hindi of Earthwild London.

Gemma Hindi is an accredited Forest School leader and trainer, environmental educator and forager with over 20 years of experience. She has just completed a study on gut health where she lived on a fully wild diet for three months, hosted by the author and forager Mo Wilde for the Wildbiome Project.

Gemma told us the diet started on spring equinox March 21st and ended June 21st, the summer solstice. “We had a series of tests conducted both at the start and at the end, measuring the diversity (or lack of) our gut microbiome, our hormone and nutrient levels, and how well our bodies responded to glucose and fats,” she said.

She added: “The first few weeks of the wild diet were quite rough- I started to feel quite dizzy and weak. I realised then that I needed to think more carefully about the balance of wild foods – I wasn’t eating enough wild greens or starchy roots.”

Gemma had been a vegetarian for 20 years prior to the study however she discovered finding enough proteins and fats in the wild during this time of year was challenging. She told us: “I started to eat wild meats from ethical sources – meat that was considered waste, after a cull. Squirrels, rabbits, venison, mallard duck, for example. I had some fruit and nut stores from last summer to draw upon too. We were recreating a modern hunter-gatherer diet.”

“After the first few weeks surviving on foraged London wild food, I took my campervan down to the coast. The lush salty coastal greens were energising, and I foraged wild mussels and fished for mackerel. It felt great. So every few weeks I repeated the trip.”

Ancient hunter-gatherers moved frequently on a seasonal basis and as spring turned to summer, they would have travelled to the coast for access to storable resources. So, Gemma in her little modern campervan has mimicked the ancient movements of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

Gemma found her main challenge was finding the time to harvest and process her food. “Hunter-gatherers would have shared tasks within their community, built up stores of food from previous seasons, and crucially, didn’t have a full-time job! I had the support of my fellow participants, however, we are all spread out geographically, so that support was mainly online. When we did meet up, our wild food feasts were spectacular!”

Before we began our forage, Gemma told us: “Firstly, as foragers, we never munch on a hunch! Secondly, only forage from an abundance of plants because if there is only a little then you are taking that plant away from nature.”

“There are so many benefits of foraging but for one, wild plants offer full flavour while being more packed with nutrients than vegetables in shops so that you feel much fuller for longer.”

Gemma told us: “The project has allowed me to understand this relationship in a way not possible when buying packaged food from a supermarket. I have dug roots, fermented leaves, nibbled on flowers, ground wild seeds into spice and caught my own seafood. I feel alive and vibrant in a way not possible before. My body and mind feel good.”

Gemma then led us to a private pebbled beach to educate us on the plant life forms surviving there and how to recognise them.

Picking out square stems and opposite leaves, we discovered the traits of the mint family while learning nettles have leaves with tapered tips and toothed edges. Gemma told us: “I always advise starting with plants you are already familiar with – nettles, dandelions, perhaps wild mint. These are easy to identify with no deadly lookalikes!”

Gemma shared stories of the foods she creates on her wild diet. “The obvious is mint ice cream, which I have made and yes it was delicious. I also make chips and crisps and bake things like cheesecake.”

We ventured out and picked some edible plants such as common vetch, a member of the pea family which indeed tasted exactly like garden peas. We also had refreshing cordials flavoured with rose, elderflower and lilac.

Gemma warned of the importance of educating yourself before foraging. “There are species out there which are deadly and can do harm if not harvested in the correct way. It has taken years for me to build knowledge of this intricate ecosystem of edibles. I’d recommend to anyone who is interested in wild food or foraging, to go on a course first. There you will receive good advice from the professional guide to help you on your journey. As Earthwild, I run introductory courses and events centred around our connection to wild food.”

D-Robe prides itself on high-quality outdoor clothing that is made completely from vegan and recycled materials. The brand advocates for building a more sustainable future leading it to partner with Earthwild London on its new launch. The brand uses 100 per cent recycled nylon and polyester to create their versatile robes. They aim to be inclusive and limit overconsumption by catering to everyone and their needs.