If you own a property in the UK or have anything to do with property you will know that this stuff is the worst thing you can find close by.
Japanese knotweed is the Lucifer of weeds, the Capo Dei Capi of fibrous horrors. It’s roots can burrow through concrete and you only need a fraction of a centimetre of stalk for it to regrow. It has no natural predators, is not attacked by bugs and if a bank (or other lending predator) hears it’s close by, then kiss goodbye to any sort of mortgage.
When I worked at the Olympics we took a lot of temporary property and agreed to hand it back clean and remediated – except we wouldn’t guarantee the removal of Japanese knotweed. Heavy metals, hydrocarbons and all other forms of pollutants, but knotweed was just too @&£)(;;:5))7) persistent.
Like most people, therefore, I saw no good in it whatsoever.
And then I went foraging. The Vet loves finding new experiences, especially involving food, and came across a day foraging in the Kent countryside and coastline with a slightly bonkers chap called Fergus.
We met at a farmers market by Canterbury West station at 9am on Sunday last and set off for a stretch of river that nestled behind a tired housing estate and a cash and carry on the outskirts of the city.
Fergus gave us a talk on wild plants, on safety and all sorts and I was cramping in my buttocks by now so delighted to set off. We were collecting material for our lunch.
Dock and dandelion, hogweed and cow parsley, bittercress and Violet. We learnt the difference between hemlock and other common plants which was a shrewd lesson, and we collected nettles in ways that aimed to avoid stings but weren’t universally successful.
And we filled a large bag with knotweed. You break it off two notches down so it makes a pop. Like on this clip.
We didn’t throw away the leaves, of course – they were bagged to be burnt later.
Fergus assured us it was delicious.
He gave us some made into candy which was but looking at the raw material…
Yep, we didn’t believe him either.
Lunch was fabulous – at Fergus’ mum’s place – he trained as a chef too so he knew what was what – a dead nettle and dock risotto and a salad with both traditional leaves and foraged, plus a vegetable soup.
And then it was off to the coast at Reculver
a smidgen of nothing beyond a ruined church clinging to the cliff edge and and a caravan park. Except it’s more than that.
It’s a foragers’ paradise with several types of seaweed to harvest as well as pine pollen and figs growing randomly, Berberis full of delicate orange flowers that will morph into delicious dark blue berries later in the year and all of which make gorgeous ice cream.
It also happens to be where I spent every childhood holiday and several Easters up to the age of 12, living with my gran in nearby Herne Bay.
The Archaeologist and I walked this coastline, hunting out sharks teeth from the cliff falls, chasing clouded yellow butterflies as, battered by summer winds they buffeted across the downs.
Still the same sand martens too.
Not only did I experience every shade of deja vu but I got to eat a three course meal cooked on the beach.
Fergus brought us some fish already marinaded in spices, but we cooked up a ratatouille of vegetables collected earlier to accompany it and, for afters, knotweed crumble.
Believe me it was divine, and I defy anyone to tell knotweed and rhubarb apart.
And the seaweed? Well it’s best eaten like crisps (or chips for those across the pond) cooked thus…
It was the wrong time of year for fungi, his other speciality, but if you want to learn loads, realise there are so many ways to eat on these islands without cost then sign up for a Fergus forage. You’ll never spend a more fascinating and fulfilling day living on what you previously thought was inedible. Though maybe that was just me.