Escape: Foraging in Brandenburg

Most of the things I learnt about foraging as a kid are buried somewhere in my brain, I just forgot where… When I went on a guided foraging tour last week, many memories came back. Jonathan Hamnett, our guide of Grunewald Foraging, never went foraging as a kid, but discovered the joy this brings him later in life – maybe that’s the reason he’s now eager to share his knowledge and actually enjoys to bring us lazy city-people out into the fields and woods surrounding Berlin and taste the many pleasures nature offers. You should join him! I did…

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I’ve been foraging a lot as a kid, growing up on a farm, my friends and I tried most things we found at least once – some of these experience created memories I still cherish today – like sucking the sweet juice out of the tender white blossoms of the white nettle early in the morning. Others I’d like to forget but can’t – like this one time we had a giant corn field behind our house and we children thought it’d be a great opportunity to eat it fresh off the cob, only to dig in and promptly realize this wasn’t meant to be eaten by humans, which ruined my relationship with corn forever.

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What a carrot used to look like
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Evening primrose, growing just by a path.

I’ve heard about Jonathan from chef friends before, who know about my love for all things countryside and said I should meet him, and when another friend organized a tour and asked for people to join I was immediately in. We started in Buch, an S-Bahn Station north of Berlin and took about four hours to walk about 6 kilometers, (just because we had so many questions, you can do the tour in two hours, if you’re short on time). Jonathan’s stories, explanations and botanical wisdom is vast, but he managed to keep it very entertaining and never bored us with too many latin names or botanical science details, instead focussed on showing us big fields of arugula (so much more intense than the plastic wrapped stuff they sell in supermarkets, and free!), plants whose leaves turned into green soap when rubbed with a little bit of water and the pretty red and green evening primrose.

Arugula, Rucola or Rauke.
Not a random field of weed, but actually arugula shrubs.
Common soapwort, made to soap.
Common soapwort, made to soap.

He showed us the wild carrot, a thin and pale root that’s too fibrous to chew raw, but still holds a lot of the sweeter flavors that must’ve convinced early farmers to invest their time into breeding this one plant to the gorgeous orange variety we enjoy today.
Foraging is a lot about learning how to see your environment, spotting tender  wood sorrel leaves among stinging nettle, the sweet pea pods by the wayside and also, distinguishing the poisonous from the healthy. Some cases are easier than others, but when it comes to the difference of hogweed (Bärenklau) and Achillea (Schafgarbe), better leave it to Jonathan.

Delicious mustard garlic (Knoblauchrauke).
Delicious mustard garlic (Knoblauchrauke).
The actual sweet peas.
The actual sweet peas.

Jonathan does regular tours in English or German, you can follow him on Facebook or just send him an email through his website. It’s a terrific past time that will teach you loads about where we live. Fun, enjoyable and more serious things – walking and looking for plants will probably lead to you asking for more rain in Brandenburg. When we went, the soil was so dry, many more delicate plants were desperate for water. A very impressive example of climate changed, and the fact that Brandenburg has the lowest precipitation in Germany.

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  1. daniel paul marshall on

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    i am thrilled to see people so interested in my good friend Jon. when he visited me in jeju i enjoyed watching his curiosity pique at the exotic flora that even in winter blooms here.

  2. multikulinaria on

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    The day I got my first edible plants cookbook about 3 years ago I was hooked to the topic. Since then I’ve been learning to identify and loving to experiment using numberous wild plants. It amazes me, that one doesn’t really have to go far to spot edible plants. I live in the southeast of Berlin and most of the times explore by bicycle and almost every time find edible plants I’ve not seen or known before. It’s great fun as one is accompanied by a proper guide book or person of knowledge’ and removes plants or plant parts mindfully.

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