Foraging for Food and Medicine

It’s refreshing to be immersed in a community that’s so focused on, well, community. Totnes is a permaculture Transition Town which focuses on hyperlocal production and circular economies. It also has multiple publicly accessible natural areas that offer many foraging opportunities.

Food here is mainly from local farms with plenty of organic options and minimal packaging. The town also hosts public tool shares, has several charity shops, and even has a store that upcycles and resells things. There’s also the added bonus that the layout of the town allows my in-laws to live here without a car. 

Picture of a reusable grocery bag from the local organic zero waste shop called Earth Food Love. The bag has a drawing of a reusable jar being filled with dry goods, and it has the words "Refill Not Landfill" on it with the name, website, and address of the shop.
A Reusable grocery bag from the local organic zero waste shop called Earth Food Love. (Store not affiliated with HHH.)

There are weekly outdoor markets, local restaurants, ample walking trails and tiny bookshops. Fair trade and organic clothes are even just a five minute walk away! There is also a waste free shop and a few local herbalists. But what I’m most excited about is the ability to forage.

Food Is Everywhere

From public gardens maintained around town by Incredible Edible volunteers to walking trails and forests, there is so much available. 

Picture of a gloved hand offering a green apple through a hole formed between two trunks of a large oak tree.
Have an Apple! Foraged from one of the public gardens maintained by Incredible Edible.

I can find supplemental herbs like lemon balm, thyme, oregano, and rosemary in the gardens. They also have alliums like three cornered leek and garlic chives. There’s even edible garden flowers of borage, calendula and nasturtium.

Foraging Variety Is Key

I can find flavors ranging from the lemony tang of wood sorrel to the peppery bite of nasturtium. Earthy wood ear mushrooms and meaty enoki mushrooms are enhanced by the riverside views while gathering them. There is also plenty of the cooling wall pennywort hanging out along mossy embankments and old stonework. 

Picture of a small patch of slimy enoki mushrooms growing on the side of a fallen log.
Wild growing enoki mushrooms.

All of this foraging has inspired some great dishes as well! Now there’s no match for the new house favorite, stinging nettles pesto made with sunflower seeds and goat cheese. 

Picture of a plate topped with baked salmon over pesto made of foraged stinging nettles and three cornered leek, organic goat cheese, and organic sunflower seeds on a bed of rice.
One of our meals made with stinging nettles pesto that we also added some foraged three cornered leek to.

Don’t Forget the Sweet Stuff

Fruits grow around town as well. I’ve spied alpine strawberries along some walls, but it’s the wrong season to harvest. I have been able to catch a few trailside blackberries still ripening though. Plus there are tons of hawthorn berries and fat rose hips about that are perfect for syrups. Wild apples and chestnuts also grow abundantly in public accessible areas here.

Picture of leaves and flowers of nasturtium and passionflower laid out on a kitchen counter with one passionflower fruit, two lichens, a small plastic container of hawthorn berries, and a handful of rose hips.
One of our first foraging harvests of nasturtium, hawthorn berries, rose hips, passionflower, and lichens from the Totnes area.

The Foraging Medicine Chest

I’ve found ample plants to fill our medicine cabinet while we are here too. Pain relieving Birch twigs and vitamin C rich Douglas Fir needles both make tasty teas. Whereas well-strained Mullein tea is excellent for those winter weather coughs. Comfrey serves as an excellent compress for shallow cuts or bruises, and yarrow can be used for fevers. 

My favorite first aid plant, plantain [Plantago spp.], is suitable for cuts, burns, bruises, bug bites, and nettle stings. It is also edible and can be turned into fine cordage. Other dual purpose edible/medicinal plants are the liver supportive dandelion and burdock. Hawthorn berries and rose hips straddle the food/medicine line too. 

Foraging is an amazing way to learn about the climate you reside in, connect with the land, and hunt for (edible) treasure! 

Do Not Consume Anything You Cannot 100% Positively Identify!!!!!

Picture of two white carrot-shaped roots attached at the top lying on rocks in riverbank soil.
These are hemlock water dropwort (POISONOUS) roots, which can be easily mistaken for other plants in the carrot family. Consuming any part of this plant even in a small amount can kill most animals, especially humans of any age and size. Know what you are foraging.

Every plant I mention in this post I am familiar with and have positively identified on at least 3 separate occasions in multiple locations, and in various stages of growth and seasons. I also purchased a local foraging guide specific to the UK to ensure my identifications are correct.

Scientific Names of Plants Mentioned in This Post:

  • Alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca)
  • Birch twigs (Betula nigra)
  • Blackberries (Rubus sp.)
  • Borage (Borago officinalis)
  • Burdock (Arctium lappa)
  • Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
  • Chestnuts (Castanea sativa)
  • Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)
  • Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
  • Douglas fir needles (Pseudotsuga menziesii)
  • Enoki mushrooms (Flammulina velutipes)
  • Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum)
  • Hawthorn berries (Crataegus monogyna)
  • Hemlock water dropwort (Oenanthe crocata) (POISONOUS)
  • Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
  • Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)
  • Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
  • Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
  • Plantain (Plantago spp.)
  • Rose hips (Rosa spp.)
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
  • Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)
  • Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica)
  • Three cornered leek (Allium triquetrum)
  • Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
  • Wall pennywort (Umbilicus rupestris)
  • Wild apples (Malus spp.)
  • Wood ear mushrooms (Auricularia auricula-judae)
  • Wood sorrel (Oxalis sp.)
  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

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