Jason Irving, 29, foraging instructor
What’s so great about foraging?
‘Being able to feed yourself, learning about your natural surroundings and taking advantage of what’s there.’
Is that why you decided to make a full-time job of it?
‘I’ve always been interested in foraging: I used to go out with my dad picking mushrooms. I studied politics in London, but visited my uncle in Kent and ended up working full-time in foraging there, learning on the job. I also have a degree in herbal medicine, which I did when
I moved back to London.’
Isn’t it a bit dodgy eating food off the floor?
‘Accidents normally happen when people confuse two plants that look similar. There was a case of people digging up a plant called hemlock water dropwort and thinking it was wild parsnip. They died because of it.’
Crikey. How do you avoid that?
‘You need to have a good book on identification, edibility and toxicity. Or go out with someone who’s experienced.’
What’s an average foraging day like?
‘Getting my baskets of goodies ready with various syrups, tinctures and dried plants for the course, which I teach one day a week. I’m at Kew Gardens the other four, working on a database of medicinal plants. I also work with restaurants, like Ask for Janice – I’ve been helping update their cocktail menu. It’s quite a mix.’
Where’s the best place to forage in London?
‘Your local area, because you pass it every day. Outside my front door in Stamford Hill there are some rowan berries, which are all over London. People make jelly from those. The canal up in Tottenham is laden with elderberries, which make a nice vinegar that adds colour to salad dressings. Once you start looking you can find stuff everywhere.’