Go foraging for your lunch
Andy Hamilton has gained a national reputation for his foraging walks in Bristol. Now he is set to put his expertise to use in the unlikely setting of Bristol's Castle Park. Suzanne Savill reports
For many office workers in Bristol city centre, Castle Park is a pleasant place to sit and eat lunch during the summer months.
Few could imagine that the park could provide some of the contents for a lunch – Andy Hamilton plans to change that.
The Bristol-based sustainability expert, who is the wild food foraging expert for BBC Autumnwatch, and co-authored The Self Sufficient-ish Bible with his twin brother Dave, is to hold foraging walks in Castle Park.
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Andy, who lives in Netham, describes the walks as "a quick half-hour taster of a forage for the terrified", and will be taking a look at plants and their uses.
"I used to work in an office as a very bad software sales assistant for Bristol University, so I know what it's like to be stuck behind a desk on a beautiful day and wishing you were outside," he says.
"I chose Castle Park because it's a central place that is easy for a lot of people who work in the city centre to get to in their lunch breaks."
But surely Castle Park is mostly grass, with not much to see?
"There's a wall of Rosemary, a fig tree..." Andy replies, before stopping himself.
"I could say more, but I'm not going to give away too much about what will be on my foraging walks!"
As well as pointing out edible plants on the £5 walks, Andy will also be providing information about all sorts of plants and herbs, and their medical and mythical uses.
He observes: "After doing a foraging walk, the way people look at the world seems to change – they look around and they can see potential food, and plants that they know the names of."
Andy himself looks at plants in a different way to many people.
While most people would be inclined to get out the weedkiller at the sight of an invasive plant like Japanese knotweed, Andy points out that it can be cooked and eaten in all sorts of ways and tastes rather like rhubarb.
"I feel really sorry for people who have it growing in their gardens because it grows so fast and can do so much damage," he says.
"But by using Japanese knotweed as food it can be kept in check to some extent."
The Self Sufficient-ish Bible includes recipes for knotweed crumble and knotweed fool. But how did he find out about the culinary possibilities of Japanese knotweed?
"You share your knowledge with other foragers, and there's usually someone who has tried something out," he says.
"Obviously you pay attention to what plant family it is from and take great care with anything unfamiliar, and I wouldn't advise trying a poisonous plant like hogweed."
Later this year, Andy will be publishing a book entitled Booze for Free, which is about making drinks out of foraged plants. He started leading foraging walks in areas of Bristol, such as St Werburgh's, about three years ago, after previously doing them for about a year on an unpaid basis.
Demand for the walks has grown since he began, and the type of people taking part in them has changed. "When I started I'd be booking people on to courses at the last minute, but now people are booking well in advance. I was even taking orders at Christmas for things I'm doing this year," she says.
"To begin with the walks attracted people who were quite into the environment, but in the last year I've been getting all sorts of people, ranging from personal trainers to policemen.
"The only problem with doing foraging walks is that I never switch off.
"My girlfriend has got used to me suddenly disappearing into bushes when we're out on a walk and emerging a bit later clutching some edible species of plant.
"I have to go on holiday in winter when there isn't much growing so I can truly relax!"
Andy Hamilton's Wild Food Lunchtimes in Castle Park, Bristol, will take place between 12.30pm and 1pm on May 5 and 6, and June 27 and 28. They cost £5 per person.
To book a place on a foraging walk, or for further information on self-sufficient living, go to the website www.selfsufficientish.com.