The Cottage Smallholder

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Review: Marcus Harrison’s Wild Food Mentor course


Photo: Old tactor and strawberries

Photo: Old tactor and strawberries

One of the things that I’ve always longed for is to spend time with someone who can teach me about foraging in depth. There are courses but rarely local to me. Also some of the best ones can be ridiculously expensive once you add the price of the petrol and staying overnight.

I have several foraging books and these have proved to be very useful – especially the small edition of Richard Maybe’s Food for Free which can be slipped into a pocket or Jalopy’s glove compartment. But I knew that I wasn’t even beginning to take full advantage of the free food that’s on offer nearly all year round.

I subscribe to Robin Harford’s site Eat Weeds which is a brilliant resource for foraging recipes. That is where I found out how to make rosehip tea. This site is also promoting Marcus Harrison’s Wild Food Mentor course. Not having found a personal mentor I decided to bite the bullet and sign up for the course. This is a seven month video course paid for in monthly instalments.  I have found it to be all that it promises and so much more. Each month a range of plants is examined in depth – history, healing and culinary uses. Clear identification is through videos and photos. Marcus is a companionable guide.

It is just like going out with a chatty and relaxed professional forager. Here are plants that I’ve never even heard of before. Loads of information and even better I can learn at my own pace and watch the videos tucked up in bed.

If you have an interest in increasing your foraging skills and knowledge this course is well worth considering. I’ve learnt masses already and I’m only half way through module one.

N.B. Marcus Harrison is now offering a discounted course to Cottage Smallholder readers click here to view.

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  1. Rebecca Clark

    I am very interested in this course, but wonder if it would be relevant enough for me. I live in the southeastern US. And opinions or ideas?

  2. forget sloe gin try slow brandy and put in two tea spoons of fennel seeds I promise you wont be dissapointed

  3. Hi Fiona:

    We have someone in New York City who gives tours in various parks, including Central Park, on a regular basis. He is incredibly knowledgeable and fascinating to listen to.

    Hope you’re on the mend at last.


  4. Oopsie! That should be November 2009


  5. If eating the smelly ginkgo fruits intrigues you, take a look on the November 2010 entries on my web site and click on the hot link for Ginkgo at the New York Botanical Garden. There’s even a recipe for chawan mushi. There’s mushroom “stuff” in the September and October entries.

    I tried to make hot links here but couldn’t figure out how to do it.

    A friend of mine goes into Chinatown in New York City every other Monday for an erhu lesson (a kind of Chinese violin). On her way back to the bus station she stops at a local grocery store and gets all sorts of fresh vegetables very inexpensively for us to share: lotus root, edible chrysanthemum leaves, baby bok choy, yard-long beans,snow pea pods, and the latest delight – fresh shitake mushrooms at half the cost of “standard” supermarkets.I guess it is foraging of a sort


  6. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Judy

    Thank you so much for all that useful information. I can see that I have so much to learn.

    I really enjoy foraging too.

  7. There are all sorts of “free food” with which most people are unfamiliar – male flowers off squash plants from the garden. Daylily flowers too, the tawny daylily that’s a oradside invasive here in New Jersey, USA. The bulbs of Lilium lancifolium (formerly L. tigrinum) were raised for food in Asian countries. Burdock roots (gobo in Japan) as a weed. Nothing for quantity consumption, but I just collected ginkgo nuts (messy, smelly business) and used them in chawan mushi, a savory Japanese steamed custard. Acorns from white oaks (Quercus alba) are said to be the best, still need leaching but less bitter than the red oaks that are on our property and tremendous prolific this year. And with all the rain this has been a superb year for some mushrooms, especially chicken of the woods and hen of the woods.

    I enjoy foraging but consider it a luxury, a welcome taste of the spirit of place, but fortunately one on which I do not need to rely upon for all my needs.


  8. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Diane

    Lucky you with shellfish on the beach!

    I will share my experiences when I gather stuff – I’m at the beginners stage though.

    Most people around my neck of the woods don’t forage. Each year I pick pounds of wild plums for jam and chutney and wine. Lots of people stop and ask what I’m going to do with them. I forage rosehips too for tea 🙂

    Crabapples are hard to find around here so if I find a tree I tend to keep it secret.

    Yes one of the golden foraging rules is to take a bit and leave enough for others (humans and animals).

    I find the whole foraging thing tremendous fun!

    Hi Gary

    It’s a great course.

    Yes HFW has some brilliant courses, books and a really good forum. I discovered that he is now selling his own seeds!

    Thanks for the link to your recipes!

  9. Sounds fascinating.

    Another useful resource may be Hugh Fearnley Whittingstal – check out his reference books.(

    We often forage for “Free” fruit for our summer jams, check out the recipes at

    Contributions are welcome!


  10. This sounds like tremendous fun, not directly applicable to me in New England, but I hope you’ll share some general information. I have done a little foraging and living on the coast I have access to shell fish (which you can just pick up as opposed to active fishing) but otherwise protein seems to be difficult to find. Am I overlooking something? Also, starchy stuff seems to be really tedious to harvest. Anything easy to find? We do have a lot of European wild plants known here as weeds! I used to collect mushrooms when I lived in the Rocky Mountains but it takes a lot of work to do that safely and I never resumed when I moved here. Mostly I have picked rose hips (Rosa rugosa is an invasive alien here) and pin cherries.
    I also try to be careful to collect only a small proportion of the harvest because wild animals might depend on it. Do you have any rules of thumb for this or does it depend on the plant?
    And last, do you keep your discoveries quiet in order to protect the locations or assume most people are too lazy to bother?!
    It’s a great motivation to get outdoors and hiking so maybe the “harvest” doesn’t matter that much.

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