Genomics Forum blogging team at the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2012
Blog by Christine Knight
My Wednesday afternoon was truly inspiring, kicking off in style at the Edinburgh International Book Festival listening to Alys Fowler and Steve Benbow talk about urban foraging and beekeeping. Heading to the Signing Tent afterwards to hunt down Fowler’s book The Thrifty Forager, I serendipitously bumped into designer friends Mark and Gieun, who set me up with the foragersfriend app, links to Dunne & Raby’s design project on foraging, and a chocolate and cardamom cupcake from the Book Signing Café Bar.
I feel a bit mean here focussing almost entirely on Alys Fowler’s half of the event, because Steve Benbow’s work is just as inspiring and he’s a similarly engaging speaker. Both authors have so much enthusiasm, energy, and motivation to communicate what they’re doing that it’s difficult to capture it in writing. Nonetheless, if I gave equal space to both writers here this post would expand to morbidly obese proportions, and foraging is more immediately applicable to my life than beekeeping. So, I urge you to check out Benbow’s London Honey Company to find out more about his beehives on London rooftops.
Three years ago, gardener-foodie-journalist Alys Fowler decided to stop buying produce that grows in the UK, and start gathering it herself instead. In practice this has meant only forking out cash for citrus fruit, and foraging a startling array of leafy greens and berries around her local area in Birmingham. She’s especially passionate about city foraging (not just for rural types, in other words), and took Wednesday’s audience through a rapid-fire illustrated menu of plants gathered everywhere from Curry’s car park to Regent’s Canal in London. Use lime leaves in your sandwiches in place of lettuce; dry the lime-flowers for a couple of days and you have Proust’s favourite linden tea, guaranteed to send you to sleep. Keep your eyes open for hedge garlic (tastes of mustard, then garlic); thistles (eat raw or cooked); nettles (2 minutes only in soup); clove root (repels moths); chickweed; wild rocket; lemon balm; field poppies; fennel… the list goes on. It was a presentation crammed with kitchen tips, nutritional titbits, and foraging anecdotes, from how to avoid dog pee, to why wild greens wilt within 2 hours of picking (they’re high in omega 3s and 6s, which have been bred out of commercial salad leaves). The Thrifty Forager (the only book I bought at this year’s festival) is the same: a forager’s manual jam-packed with recipes, pictures, tips, and advice, clearly structured and beautifully presented.