Wild food is back in fashion but why? Travis Hunter-Pashley meets the foragers at the forefront of this curiosity fueled revival.

Wild food and foraging is growing its roots into a modern world faced with climate challenges and a society obsessed with social media. Whatever the reason may be, people are clearly intrigued by nature again. The foraging hashtag boasts over 1 billion video views on TikTok. The content produced varies but the outcome stays the same. People are being encouraged to take up foraging.

Tom Radford is a forager and video content director currently living in the urban sprawl of London however he hasn’t always been surrounded by big lights and skyscrapers. His story actually began in New Forest, a place he described as ‘a bit feral’. Here Tom was constantly exposed to the outdoors. Like everybody else though, Tom grew up and swapped his rural roots for the big city of Singapore for work.

Now aged 50, he resides in the UK again, entertaining his followers on social media with his short video series ‘Death or Dinner’ which takes inspiration from the laid back approach of the River Cottage television series.

Death or Dinner series

Tom believes River Cottage’s perspective of the countryside made for an entertaining spectacle.

“Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s (River Cottage) approach to the countryside on television was great, he’d get pissed with all the cider boys, then he’d chase a cow and eat its testicle for lunch. That is the countryside.” 

Tom Radford
Tom Radford

When Tom started his social media project @eatthecountry in late 2021, he had no idea how or if it would take off. Tom decided to bring comedy and charisma to what is an uncharted subject for so many and this risk paid off. His following skyrocketed on both Instagram and TikTok where he has amassed over 100k followers on each platform in just over a year. 

Foraging nature’s tasty offerings has been deeply ingrained in human history since the beginning of our time on this planet. Back then our hunter-gathering ancestors had no choice but to eat unknown foods potentially dangerous and life threatening. After years of trial and error we now have a good idea of what tastes bloody lovely and what is down right poisonous. Tom’s ‘death or dinner’ series aims to educate people on what is edible and what isn’t in a fun conversational style reminiscent of someone you’d meet down the pub. 

In this vein, he embarked on a passionate rant before my eyes.

“I told a guy off the other day for comparing the difference between hemlock and cow parsley, to the untrained eye this is almost impossible and pointless, you get that wrong and someone’s gonna die plus cow parsley tastes like sh*t anyway!”

George Fredenham is a chef and forager from St Albans operating under the Instagram handle @FlavourFred. His foraging story began in Rochdale where he assisted his Grandmother in her sweet shop from a very young age. He fondly recalls going out and collecting a variety of ingredients to make into sweet treats for his Grandmother to sell, “I grew up candying the stems of angelica, making boiled sweets from fresh blackberries and creating wild fruit leathers, we used anything we could sell.” This spirit still lives with him today.

George always knew products could be made from the wild in a respectful way and then sold. When looking for a way to escape the miserable job he loathed, he set up a market stall in St Albans and began selling jams, breads and chutneys made from wild foods. One day in 2007 a rare opportunity to take over a local pub arose – George jumped at the offer and christened the pub ‘The Foragers’. During this time George kept very busy,learning how to cook wild foods to a high standard while also running the pub solo.

“Running a pub is tough on your own, with the cooking to add to the mix it took about 4 years to get the pub and its food into its best period.” 

Fast forward to 2023 and George has given up the pub. He is now operating as a travelling Chef/Forager running food walks and popular wild cooking experiences. George offers his guests the chance to try innovative wild dishes and cocktails while sharing his extensive knowledge of the forests and fields. 

George’s innovative brain isn’t just used for his guests. He regularly tweaks recipes from all over the world and substitutes the hard to get items with wild and organic produce. He explained one of his recent discoveries, “Magnolia petals taste a bit like ginger so I had the idea of creating a Japanese style sushi condiment reminiscent of pickled ginger by pickling the flowers in vinegar.”

It’s more than just about taste and innovation for these foragers, it’s about the planet too. The transportation of food across the globe is a big contributor to these emissions, when foragers source their food locally and in the wild they cut out the middleman and the gas emissions with it. However, not everyone thinks like this and selling exotic foods carrying big air miles is something a lot of vendors still do. 

Tom shared his frustrations on the matter, “I get p*ssed off every time I go for breakfast, they put a bloody avocado on everything for goodness sake. I don’t need something from Peru for my breakfast. I want to try to eat as sustainably and locally as I can.”

Sustainability isn’t just an issue with plants but with meat as well. Escaping the industrial supply chain that utilises gruesome slaughterhouses and cramped chicken coops is difficult without giving up meat entirely. Tom suggested that eating wild meat could be a more sustainable and less brutal alternative.

“We should be eating more meat like rabbit and pigeon considering the alternative is eating a chicken that’s only going to live for 24 days in hell.” 

George maintains high standards when it comes to respecting the ecosystems he forages in and protecting the people he cooks for. George explained some of his rules, “I have a 1 in 10 rule of taking things, I have landowner permission to pick in places that are clean while only picking plants that are abundant and in season.”

Knowing how to keep your abundant foraged foods fresh is arguably just as important as foraging for the ingredients themselves. George stated that you should nail 5 methods for preserving each wild ingredient to avoid getting bored.

“If you make 300 litres of wild garlic pesto, you will get tired of that.” he chuckled. 

Another way George makes use of his foraged goods is by distilling them into high quality liquers to sell online.

The opportunities for exploring natural England and Scotland are endless. According to the Corine Land Cover Inventory (2017) 14.5% of England’s land is completely natural and untouched. For Scots curious about rural foraging this figure is even greater at 70.7%. 

However, foraging isn’t just for those with regular access to the countryside. You can find all sorts on your city doorstep in Green Urban areas. Tom produces a basket load of content in London.

“I’ve made probably 30 foraging films in Wandsworth Common, people just don’t realise what they’ve got on their doorstep, this isn’t just a countryside thing!” he exclaimed.

So, how exactly should you get started with foraging? Lucky for you, I asked George that same question. 

“Start by identifying things you feel comfortable with – dandelions, nettles, elderflowers etc. It’s the best way to do it and learn the terminology to how things are described.” he answered.

The late Spring welcomes flowering wild garlic which is another great plant for beginners. Its pungent smell and white flowers make it simple to identify and its unique sweet, garlicky flavour can transform a tonne of dishes. One of George’s favourites is his very own wild garlic soup. You can find the recipe at the bottom of this article.

If you’ve done your research, some mushrooms can also be easily identifiable and very tasty. Mushrooms of the oyster variety are both. Their meaty texture makes them a great alternative for vegetarians and vegans. 

Tom said, “A lot of the things you find won’t taste an awful lot which is why mushrooms are so popular because 90% of the time the edible ones taste really good.”

Tom believes there has been a surge in foraging interest of late which he coincidentally took advantage of.

“I’d obviously timed it with the zeitgeist. People might be interested for silly reasons like ‘I’m gonna eat wild plants because I can’t pay my electricity bills’ and for more general reasons like wanting to reconnect with the outdoors or eating healthier foods” 

He reckons the increased awareness about pesticides in our food and intensive farming has a great deal to do with the surge. People seem more interested in eating fresh uncontaminated foods. A Pesticide Action Network UK study found 64 different pesticides on School Scheme produced apples while soft citrus fruits contained 48. Some of which are linked to hormone disruption and cancer. 

George too feels strongly about the pesticide issues, “I don’t use big commercial farms that remove hedgerows and heavily use pesticides. I use smaller scale community farms where everyone chips in to make it work.”

George and Tom are inspiring people to get involved with wild foods by showcasing them and making it a more familiar topic in their own differing ways. However, they haven’t created this movement, they are part of it. For many reasons people are choosing to rediscover the power of nature. Against all odds we seem to be following in the footsteps of our hunter-gathering ancestors and foraging is seamlessly becoming a part of British food culture once again.