Late Lunch With The Munch Bunch

Shaun Joynson discovers an amazing world of plants at Gunnersbury Triangle

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Last Saturday, The Gunnersbury Triangle ran an edible wild plants tour. Local youth worker Shaun Joynson joined the tour and was transported back to days gone by. He writes....

It’s a sign of the times when it takes a Pole and a Spaniard to show the English how to enjoy the edible delights of their own countryside. However, there is a good reason for it.

As Polish born Honia explained to me over an excellent plate of wild blackberry cheesecake, “When I was a kid, we used to go out all the time looking for berries and all sorts of herbs – even wild mushrooms”

Enric – the Spaniard – said much the same thing at the end of our tour. And it set me thinking.

For many years I took the youth of Chiswick away on the last but one weekend before Christmas on survival camps. On those camps I taught children how to turn nettles into soup, create rope from grass, find wild garlic AND make the best tasting tea ever out of half a dozen bramble leaves.

When I did that, Enric and Honia would have been of Scout age too – for both are in their mid to late twenties. Doubtless, Polish and Spanish children continue to be taken for walks along the hedgerows by expert adults who will show them (as Honia and Enric
did) how poisonous plants can sometimes hide amongst edible ones, whilst at the same time pointing out to them the delights of honeysuckle, horseradish and the common mallow.

They are also probably still showing them how to light fires with a friction stone and silver birch bark or boil water using a Kelly Kettle. Sadly, for most British children (except the few who were lucky enough to be on this tour) this delightful aspect of childhood is now a thing on the past, thanks to the notorious ‘Elfin Safety’.

These days, most English parents rock up to Sainsbury’s and fill carrier bags with processed foods for their young. But how much more fun would it be if once in a while, they hit the countryside and (with the landowner’s permission of course) filled baskets up with all the ‘Food for Free’ that lurks there.

You don’t even need to go very far. As a child growing up in inner city Paddington, I knew where to find wild mulberries. I taught myself to make coffee from acorns (it comes out pink and tastes like tea). I also learned the hard way that one should never eat raw elderberries!

And there is much that is edible here in Chiswick too.
At the start of the tour, Honia asked us how many edible plants we could find at the entrance to the Gunnersbury Triangle. Trying to be clever, I said ‘six’. But there were around 15 edible wild plants – JUST AT THE ENTRANCE. And there was much more to come, as we wended our way through what must surely be one of London’s most hidden delights.

The tour took over two hours – but the time flew by. I thought I knew a lot. But I learned an awful lot more on what was one of the best afternoons out I have had in many a long year.

Thank you Honia and Enric. Please, run your tour again. And if you do, I suggest to the parents of Chiswick that you take your children with you. For they will learn that out there, in the English countryside, there are things growing wild that are – to paraphrase Harold Shand – ‘a little bit more tasty than a hamburger!’

Shaun Joynson

August 29, 2007