It’s a chilly morning in the shadow of Abergavenny’s Blorenge Mountain, and I’m being taught why Wales is a forager’s paradise by one of our best experts. It’s our landscape partly, she says, with its incredible variety: jagged peaks, twisting hills, active rivers and seas. But it’s also something else, says Adele Nozedar of Brecon Beacons Foraging, who regularly leads foraging trips around Mid Wales. 'It’s our weather,' she smiles, her woolly hat snug on her head. 'We're so exposed to the elements, and every year it’s different. It makes foraging here different every time – and just as exciting.'
You don’t have to live remotely to enjoy foraging either, and this is another joy of Wales as a foraging location. Wild food can found in deep wildernesses, sure, but many Welsh towns also feature nature all around them. Adele plucks her first find of the day from an unlikely location to prove this – a bush just on the edge of Abergavenny’s King Street Car Park. These are wall valerian leaves, good for steeping for a sleepy night-time tea. She throws them in her basket, then we stomp down through the woodland path by the castle to the Gavenny, the town's little river, which flows into the Usk. 'This will be full in an hour,' she laughs, gesturing to her basket. 'I bet you!'
We walk and find young common hogweed, the shoots and unopened flower buds of which are a chef’s delicacy, wild garlic and nettles, which are gorgeous when cooked. People get nervous about foraging, Adele says, but once you get to know about plants, where they grow, and take sensible precautions, your eyes are opened up quickly to the bounty of Wales’ natural world. 'It’s so good to get stuck into the nature around us. You get out into the open air, and see so much more of where you live, or where you’re visiting, if you’re here on holiday. You often get something for your dinner too!'
Aside from her beloved Beacons, Adele’s other favourite foraging spots in the country are the West Wales coastline and Anglesey. But she also teaches people how to forage in their own back gardens, insisting that foraging is accessible to all of us . She also knows why so many more people are interested in foraging today.
People feel disconnected from the modern world, and foraging is the opposite of that. "
'People feel disconnected from the modern world, and foraging is the opposite of that. Take us picking this wild garlic today – there’s nothing between us and the people who did the same here thousands of years ago. Isn’t that fantastic? Foraging reminds us that we’re all part of something much bigger, she adds. 'No one is separate or superior in foraging. And it's humbling to see nature keep on keeping on.'
Wales has lots of 'edge places' which are great for foraging too. As we wind our way through Castle Meadows, the town’s traffic bustling nearby, Adele says how fenced-off areas in small towns and sides of small streams are often particularly fruitful. And she's right: seconds later, she spots a plant called Jack By The Hedge, also known as Garlic Mustard. I try some raw, then some more, as it’s so delicious. We then find lots of Ground Elder, a pernicious weed that is often the bane of gardeners’ lives. But out here, it looks beautiful. It has another unexpected plus – its young leaves are tasty too.
The edges of town parks can also be fertile places. Around Abergavenny's Linda Vista Gardens, yarrow and lemon sorrel are growing (the latter’s even nicer, I discover later, wilted like spinach in butter). We also find unusual, medieval-looking fruits like rosehips and medlars, which handily both grow through the winter. The latter are usually inedible until they are 'bletted' (over-ripened in a cool place). But because of recent sharp frosts, these are ready to go. A first-timer, I eat three, and am instantly craving another.
As we get back to our starting-point, Adele is proved right – her basket is nearly bursting. We stop together to pull out our wares. There’s some chickweed, dandelion, cornflower stem, mallow and lavender in the mix too, some good for eating, some for steeping, some for herbal remedies – but all these foraged findings have a purpose, which makes today even more rewarding.
'And if I came here in a month, some of these would be here, but there’d also be others,' Adele smiles. 'That’s the beauty of foraging in Wales. You never know what you’re going to get, but you'll definitely get something – and lots of it – and that makes it fantastic.'
Note: Wild food foraging should only be undertaken with a guided expert. Search for more foraging experiences across Wales.