The Hedgewitch: Foraging with Jane Fairman.
Jane Fairman, aka, The Hedgewitch, takes me down a winding country path in a village nestled just outside of Lewes. We’re heading for the marshes of a salt-water lake to forage for sea herbs and nettles on a stormy summer day. It’s a striking view – my eyes sweep over the tangle of greens creeping into the footpath to the dramatic horizon of the downs, grey rain clouds threatening to burst and light reflecting off the water. But Jane lives in a different world to the rest of us. While I’m focusing on the bigger picture – soaking in the jewel tones of country greens and rolling hills absent from city life, Jane’s interest lies in the hedgerow. The weeds that I pay no attention to, to Jane, provide riches of culinary and nutritional magic.
Foraging is a way of life for Jane. The pleasures and alchemy of harvesting and cooking with wild plants have compelled Jane to create her current life as the Hedgewitch, capturing the beauty and magic of foraged foods to sell to the public. Her desire is to introduce people to a whole new world of flavours and ingredients. And, as I learn, it’s a world that we’re completely oblivious to, with over 80% of the plants surrounding us edible – and bursting with unfamiliar yet wonderful flavours.
What is a ‘Hedgewitch’?
Hedge witchery is not just a romantic name, but a lost art; its roots lie deep in our country’s history, though history itself has seen this knowledge of wild plants stamped out. From Pagan times, when the ‘hedge’ referred to the untamed land surrounding a village, hedge witches were women who had extensive medicinal, spiritual and culinary understanding of plants, as well as a deep reverence for nature. And, while hedge witchery may refer to a very unique understanding of our natural world, for centuries country folk have relied upon herbs, leaves, stalks, berries, nuts and blossoms from their surroundings to supplement their diets. But the Industrial Revolution swept in a commercial way of living, where our food comes only in packaging – and is only edible if we recognise it on our supermarket shelves.
Jane, however, is reconnecting us with this natural way of living. With her love and extensive knowledge of foraging and concocting delicious kitchen delights, Jane is introducing wild foods back into people’s diets. Once they realise just how delicious they can be, by transforming them into accessible and healthy products, she hopes people will try the pleasures of foraging for themselves.
The Benefits of Foraging
When I ask Jane about the benefits of foraged foods, she’s passionate in her response. “Taste”, she assures me. And, from my snippet of foraged foods experienced today, I can certainly affirm. There’s a bitterness to wild greens that is lost in commercial varieties; it’s this bitterness that holds the unique and powerful phyto-nutrients that make wild greens so intensely nourishing. But, more so, the flavours vary and differ so much from our usual palettes, enriching our culinary experiences to new heights. As she hands me a (worryingly named yet entirely edible) leaf called Ground Ivy, I’m struck by its minty, peppery taste. Quite unlike any herb I’ve had before, my initial reaction is how wonderful this leaf would be as an addition to salads. I’ll definitely been looking out for it the next time I’m surrounded by country hedgerows.
Wild nettles, cow parsley and ground ivy. A snapshot from our walk – all edible and entirely delicious.
As we reach the marshes, Jane points out the edible plants, occasionally picking some for me to try. There’s ‘monk’s beard’, and blue-green sea purslane, with its wonderfully herby saltiness – more palatable, yet lesser known than samphire. She points out wild beetroot, with it’s spinach-like leaves. We eventually reach a patch abundant with nettles. I’m dubious. They’re okay to cook or ferment for beer, but to eat raw? She rolls some leaves to deactivate the spines, and hands some to me. Nervously, I cast away my childhood memories of seemingly being constantly stung by the plants, and give it a go.
Beautiful: they’re fresh and green tasting – not a single sting! With our countryside bursting with the plants, how have I never encountered the deliciousness of raw wild nettle before?
Foraging is a matter of confidence, she claims; and, after a morning spent with her in the Sussex countryside, I’ve certainly gained a new-found confidence in picking wild herbs. I’m excited to search for Ground Ivy, identify wild beets, pick the leaves of Monk’s Beard and Sea Purslane, and, maybe, if I’m brave enough, roll some nettles leaves of my own.
Country walks may never be the same again – and I couldn’t be happier.
Want to try wild plants for yourself?
Look out for the Hedgewitch’s exciting products in our hampers! The beauty of these foods? Batch-to-batch, they’re never the same. Nature does not conform to supermarket standards; these plants are wild, varying and for too long, missing from our diets! Prefer your foraged flowers and herbs infused in vodka and gin? Keep an eye out for Jane’s Wildside events…
Sea purslane and monk’s beard, in shades of sea green and blue, harvested from our walk.