Marc West steps into Nature’s larder for a bit of urban foraging and discovers the potential feasts beneath our feet

Almost 2,000 new species of plant have been discovered in the past year, according to a recent report by The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.

Scientists are developing new ways to speed up the discovery and classification of this treasure trove to help safeguard it for future generations, as a potential source of timber, medicine and food crops.

But, did you know, there’s a veritable feast right under our very noses every time we walk to work, take a riverside stroll or stagger home from the supermarket laden with perfectly packaged produce. From edible ornamentals in your own garden and weeds by the canal to crab apples from the trees on your street…and it’s all free.

Living off your local landscape is not only thrifty, but environmentally-friendly and fun. Not to be taken lightly as the latest food fad, foraging is an art – an ancient way to feed and sustain ourselves in a slow, graceful way. And, with the expert knowledge of self-taught ethnobotanist Robin Harford, we set off on foot to Port Meadow to explore Nature’s larder.

Robin encourages us to be present in the moment – to return once again to the heightened state of fight/flight awareness our ancestors experienced every day from dawn to dusk. After 10,000 years, we need to allow our hunter/gatherer mentality to kick back in – allowing us to part the “green wall” and meet individual plants in the way country folk have done so for centuries.

With over 700 wild plants across our bio-diverse isles it’s no wonder that within minutes of the city centre we’re identifying yet another edible treat. As part of the aromatic mint family Ground Ivy goes particularly well with beef and ale pie, but everyone seems most keen to know if you can make gin, wine or brandy with many of our findings…and, of course, to know those we should avoid.

Leading us one-by-one canal-side, Robin is like the Pied Piper of plants, and we merrily pick and pluck – learning the different plant stories and their nutritional values.

Wild greens offer at least two times more goodness than anything you can buy with a credit card and the humble ubiquitous nettle is Britain’s unparalleled superfood. In the grand folklore tradition, Robin is also a master storyteller and delights with his repertoire of tales – such as how the Romans used the stings to keep themselves warm during the inclement weather.

Foraging isn’t about finding food for survival, it’s simply about adding some truly diverse and delicious things to your meals. That said, I’m sure you could drop him almost anywhere on the planet and he wouldn’t go hungry. In fact, I’d bet on a mouth-watering treat being served up, such is his relationship with the natural environment and extensive culinary skills. Who would have thought that somewhere like Port Meadow is akin to a living supermarket – producing flavours like garlic, licorice, cardamom and even pineapple?

It’s certainly food for thought wondering if that weed you spot on the way home is suitable for supper.