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  • Clare Backhouse

Foraging. Or, How I Ate Lunch From The Lawn

Just the other day, I met a chap who thinks nothing of nipping onto someone’s front lawn to pick the day’s salad.

I was absolutely amazed as he showed me, together with a small group of other, similarly rapt listeners, what each plant was and how we could add it to our lunch.

Every leaf was not only edible, but delicious, and of course came free of packaging, transport, pesticides and fertilisers.

It felt simply too good to be true.

But, as our guide emphasised: with the advent of commercial farming, we have somehow forgotten the intrinsic generosity of land and soil to produce good food, even without planting. Unless it has been destroyed or compromised, the hallmark of healthy land is to offer far more than we deserve.

Daisy leaves - just ordinary daisy leaves - turned out to be mild and buttery.

Yarrow was feathery and earthy-tasting, a bit like dried nettle tea.

Valerian had a lovely fresh smell and smooth leaves.

Lady’s Smock was punchy and peppery, similar to mustard-and-cress.

And Dandelions were bitter and tangy, like rocket.

All these plants were found within a couple of metres of each other, growing up walls, within the lawn, on the borders.

The source of all this inspiration is Miles Irving, who is a modern-day forager. He supplies restaurants with ‘found plant foods’ that simply aren’t available via normal farming. His catalogue of foraging plants came out a few years ago but is still very much in print. And increasingly, via demonstrations, talks, and a podcast, he is sharing the good news of how we could all be fishing out our veg from behind hedges.

A few caveats apply of course. Avoid places where dogs relieve themselves. Avoid sprayed or contaminated land and high-vehicle-traffic verges. Be absolutely sure you have the plant you think you have.

But once you have found some genuinely wild common ground, and some confidence about the plants in front of you, the adventure can begin.

And the beauty of foraging is that these plants generally keep producing leaves even after being harvested. The more we eat such plants, the more they produce. What might frustrate the gardener striving after the perfect, dandelion-free lawn, is in fact nature trying to give us cut-and-come-again salad leaves.

Another benefit of foraging for one’s salad is the sheer variety on offer. Rather than a mere single-variety lettuce or rocket, or even the limp and bland ‘mixed leaves’ from the supermarket, this hand-picked mix creates a lively blend of soft and powerful flavours while being nutrient-dense and organic. (Non-organic plants tend to have fewer anti-oxidants and a higher water-content, which is why their flavour is often pallid. A story for another time.)

For example -

Daisy leaves are high in Vitamin C

Yarrow contains chamazulene, an anti-inflammatory volatile oil

Valerian contains Vitamin B9, Vitamin C and iron

Lady’s Smock contains potassium, iron, and Vitamin C

Dandelion contain anti-oxidant flavanoids and potassium, while the rocket-like bitterness stimulates bile flow and digestive enzymes.

Back home in our own garden, we were able to ferret out at least 3 different salad leaves without even really trying. They tasted fantastic.

Obviously, you can go a lot further afield in your foraging, as Miles's book will tell you.

But if even our lawns could be our larders, we could then perhaps welcome the variety of leaves in them, and truly give up our chemicals, or indeed any pretence of perfectionism.

Which sounds like a very good thing all round.

If any of you try some foraging this autumn, whether domestic or wild, I would LOVE to hear about it.

To your best of health, Clare

Clare Backhouse, dipION, Registered Nutritionist MBANT, Registered Nutritional Therapist CNHC

Consultations in London, in West Sussex, and online

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