Lucy AKA The Nottingham Forager is the ultimate guide to Nottingham’s wild edible treasures, running workshops and events (often on a donation basis) to share her expansive knowledge of our natural pantry. We caught up with Lucy to find out what foraging is all about, her top tips this summer and why talking about blue legs is pretty normal around these parts.
As a nature lover but a foraging novice, I was intrigued what a day in the life of an actual forager looked like and there’s no better person to ask than Lucy, AKA The Nottingham Forager. I was delighted to hear that some of my romantic notions of The Nottingham Forager were in-fact true. On meeting Lucy she describes how last year she received forty jars of jam as part of her pay-as-you-feel sessions, carries a mushroom knife at all times, and eats some form of foraged food every day.
It’s clear that working with such diverse people in all sorts of places is one of Lucy’s favourite things about being The Nottingham Forager. She explains that “I’ve found that my job has become very diverse and that suits me. I work with all sorts of people; yoga teachers, zero waste shops, substance abuse recovery groups. I’m here, there and everywhere, it’s really nice. I was at a primary school a few weeks ago doing a session with sixty nursery and infant school children, by the end of it they were all chomping away on wild garlic and wild leeks and eating green soup we had made from it - they had a whale of a time, it was so lovely.”
Hearing just how much of a scope and impact foraging can make, I was curious to see whether Lucy felt it was all a bit of a lost instinct. “Yeah I think so!” she goes on, “When I’m out foraging, I do feel very connected and it seems like it’s the right thing to be doing. It’s always felt very natural and I found a lot of the time people take to it very, very quickly... I think we’ve all got it in us a little bit, some perhaps more than others.”
Lucy goes on to explain how her game of ‘Mushroom’ seems to get the forager juices running during her sessions. “I think the competition element certainly helps as well, if you get any group together and make it a competition everybody is suddenly very interested in foraging. I often play a game I call ‘Mushroom’ which is like bingo; I send everyone out into the woodlands and then just wait to hear the shout of ‘mushroom!’ ...I now have people shouting mushroom at me when I’m walking around sometimes, which is fabulous,” Lucy laughs. “Someone messaged me the other day and it just said ‘Mushroom!’ and that was it”.
We have a wonderful mushroom called the Field Blewit... they’re hardly anywhere else in the country and they’re very very popular
With the imagination filled with mushroom hunting, my competitive nature wondered whether Nottingham has its own speciality that’s specific to our region, and it turns out we do. “We have a wonderful mushroom called the Field Blewit... they’re hardly anywhere else in the country and they’re very very popular. If you ask a lot of people’s grandparents locally they will know what they are, and they’ll call them ‘blueys’, ‘little blues’, ‘blue stalks’ or ‘blue legs’ - there's lots of regional nicknames for them. The good thing about the Field Blewit as well is it’s quite an easy one to identify, so for a lot of people if they only pick one mushroom a year it’s the Blewit, and a lot of people pick that exclusively and not anything else because it is so recognisable. It has little blue and purple stalks on it, hence Little Bluey.”
Sitting with Lucy I started to understand why so many people got the foraging itch after spending time in her sessions. I asked for the lowdown on what to look out for this summer: “July and August is month of the fruits and is a fabulous place for beginners because they are relatively easy to identify, particularly the Prunus family which covers things like cherries and plums. We are really lucky here in Nottingham that the people who were around 50-100 years ago all really liked cherries and plums! We have a lot of cherry and plum trees dotted all over, so it’s worth having a look around the estate where you live and looking for cherry trees because they are absolutely everywhere.”
I ask Lucy about any resources she recommends for identifying food and how to make sure you pick the right things, “Wild foods UK, that is my go-to, it’s where I send everybody - I will start charging commission at some point the amount of customers I send their way… Their website has been developing now for about ten years and every guide for everything is on there. They have a great book too, but they also have free resources available online.” Lucy also suggested using the guides to identify the whole plant and not just the edible bit, so you can also compare trunks, leaves, fruit and seeds. Comparing features of the whole plant can help you feel more sure about what you're picking, although it is advised to take no more than 25% of a plant community to ensure sustainability for the crop.
So Nottinghamites, you may be an avid forager, a complete novice, or someone who just fancies picking up a bit of local herbal tea whilst walking the dog - either way The Nottingham Forager is our very own local guide and guru.
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