Headshot of John Rensten, forager at White Pepper

Meet the Forager: An interview with John Rensten

In Events & News by Luke StuartLeave a Comment

After opening a gastro pub in 2004, John combined his love for foraging with running a London-based eatery, adding more and more wild food to the menu. He left the pub world to start running urban foraging walks, seashore foraging trips and mushroom hunting forays. He leads the Forage Fungi and Foray in Summer courses at White Pepper.

John’s courses cover numerous topics including wild plant nutrition, horticulture, basic herbal medicine, cookery and the history of plants and fungi. He studies, picks, eats and shares his foraging wisdom on a daily basis. Here John tells us what he’s found this month, his local London hotspots and safety tips for newbie foragers.

What and where have you been foraging this month John?

I’ve recently explored the grounds of a climbing centre near my house in Highbury, London. Spring is always a busy time for a forager, as everywhere is erupting with delicious edible delights! I found an abundance of wild plants there: three cornered leeks, garlic mustard, nettles, cow parsley, the first elderflowers and lots of other edible and poisonous wild plants. I have documented it in a short video.

Many people probably don’t think of the city as a foraging hotspot. Are there any hidden gems in London?

To be honest most city parks have more wild food than you might expect. Everyone’s local park is a hotspot in London. A couple of years ago I wrote this piece about mine, Clissold Park in Stoke Newington. I’ve learnt more about foraging and botany in this one square mile of greenery than I have in the rest of the country. It was such an epiphany!

Have you got any recipes you can share with us?

Yes, to keep things seasonal, here’s my 5 Wonderful Wild Spring Recipes, it’s got things like like wild garlic and chorizo soup, cow parsley ice cream, cherry blossom syrup and Japanese knotweed tarts.

What advice would you give to a newbie forager, particularly in terms of identifying if something is safe to eat?

Don’t taste before you know 100% what you’re dealing with. When you’re eating something new for the first time, do a simple tolerance test before eating huge amounts. Avoid trying any new wild food if you are pregnant. Wash anything you find at ground level (i.e. avoid the dog poo and wee zone) and don’t pick anything from the base of city trees.

Find out more about John’s foraging on his website, or find him on Twitter and Facebook. Have you been foraging before or do you have any stories to share? Tell us in the comments below.

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