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FORAGING FOR FOOD IN CITY PARK; A new foraging course is being held in Cardiff, informing city-dwellers how they can ditch the supermarket for their local park. The Echo's SION MORGAN joined Marlow Renton and Eric Biggane, the men behind Wild Food UK, for a forage around Bute Park.

EARLIER this year, Marlow Renton sold his London-based web company for a stab at the "good life" alongside business partner Eric Biggane.

The two have since been offering three-hour foraging courses throughout the parks of southern England at a cost of PS20 a head under the banner Wild Food UK.

This weekend will see the venture's first foray outside England, as they explore Bute Park with paying guests.

"It started as a hobby a long time ago, then commercially we started selling to a few restaurants which led me to believe there may be a living to be made from it," Marlow said.

During a morning with the pair, it quickly becomes clear that Cardiff has an abundance of wild produce waiting to be picked and eaten.

We find salad leaves, herbs, seeds and, of course, an array of colourful fungi and mushrooms.

"City-centre parks are generally really good for mushrooms," Eric explains. "We're treading on mushrooms everywhere in the UK, unless you're stood on Tarmac.

"There's mushrooms probably growing underground on 75% of the UK's woodland.

"Those mushrooms don't always fruit, but when they are growing underground and they reach a nutrient boundary like a road or a car park, they can't grow any further underground in that direction so they fruit more to try to cross that neutral boundary."

According to Eric, the wild food revolution began in Copenhagen.

"There's a place there which has won world restaurant of the year a few times," he said.

"It's called Noma and relies entirely on foraged food.

"Because of its success, a trend has been set in the restaurant trade."

"With the recession, there's also added interest," Marlow said.

"In all honesty, I don't think many people could afford to eat some of the things that we find in the wild, things growing in this park in Cardiff." Foraging is not without its dangers as Marlow demonstrates with one leaf.

"This is an interesting one," he said.

"It's wild chervil, a plant related to the carrot family or umbelliferae.

"The carrot family is really interesting to foragers because it has some of the best plants to eat."

Eric said: "Umbelliferae also has some of the deadliest plants in the country.

"If you are a novice forager, this is a plant that you would take very great caution in picking.

"Hemlock, for example, looks very similar to wild chervil but is a deadly poisonous umbelliferae.

"It was the poison which Socrates chose for his execution."

Marlow said: "Hemlock eater dropwort, which again looks very similar, is even more dangerous.

"If you ate a good mouthful of that, which could be found in parks like this one, it would kill you before you had time to get to hospital."

He added: "The advice is if you don't know what it is, don't eat it."

There are also written rules about foraging which novices should be aware of.

Eric said: "With regard to the Countryside Act, you are basically aloud to pick the four 'Fs' which are fruit, flowers, fungi and foliage.

"You can't dig up roots, you are only allowed to pick from common land or public places for your own personal use."

Marlow added: "The fact is though that there is free food on all our doorsteps and with a little education, anybody can enjoy it."

WHAT WE FOUND IN BUTE PARK | Ground elder Marlow Renton said: "This can be used as a herb and a salad leaf and there's not many parks in the UK that I've been to where it doesn't grow. If you're walking through the park and you wanted a little pot salad or some parsley herb for something you were cooking, then it's here, you don't need to visit the shops."

Wild chervil Eric Biggane said: "These are plants related to the carrot family and are called umbelliferae. This park is absolutely covered in wild chervil or wild parsley, as it is also known, which again gives off a mild parsley taste."

Hogweed Marlow said: "We got a chef at a Michelin-starred restaurant to try hogweed and he's probably had 20kilos from us since. You have to be careful with it because the sap can cause skin burns for those with sensitive skin. But the seeds are also really good for cooking and have a similar taste to cardamom." | Honey fungus Eric said: "In Bute Park, we've found the biggest patch of honey fungus we've ever seen in our lives, kilos and kilos of it, and it is edible, so free food for any family. Any tree with this growing on it is as good as dead, it will kill it. Which means there is even more reason to eat it."

Wood blewit mushrooms Marlow said: "The French call it Pied Bleu and it is found all over France, in top restaurants. Wood Blewit grow prolifically all over England and Wales. They are really easy to identify from the colour and commercially they are worth PS25 a kilo, which is a restaurant rate. A little bag of these mushrooms will cost you upwards of PS10. For most household budgets, this is too expensive to put on the table and yet it's here, for free in your local park."


A wood blewit mushroom

A sprig of ground elder

Honey fungus growing on a tree stump

Marlow Renton, Sion Morgan and Eric Biggane ready to go foraging in Cardiff's Bute Park PICTURES: Peter Bolter (c)
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 3, 2012
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