If you’ve been around foragers in winter, or been reading about it, or been foraging yourself, the chances are that you’ve come across the expression “bletting“; But what does it actually mean?

Simple definition of bletting

Well, at its simplest it’s a stage of fruit development in-between ripening and rotting. It describes when a fruit has fully ripened, has started to break down, but is not quite rotting yet. There’s a bit of semantics at play here, strictly speaking bletting is actually the early stages of rotting, but before the fruit goes bad. 

Bletting Medlars
By Nadiatalent – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22967467

What does it really mean?

For certain fruit, bletting is actually an essential process to make it edible for us. Fruit such as Sloes (the fruit of the Blackthorn bush – Prunus spinosa) and Medlars (Mespilus germanica) for example, are quite sour and astringent when ripe. Leave them to “blet” a little and the cell walls begin to break down and release sugars, thereby sweetening the fruit. Rosehips (Wild dog rose – Rosa canina) are often rock hard until they’ve begun to blet, at which point you can squeeze their citrus-like juice out with your fingers. For fruit such as Sloes, it was always recommended that you wait until after the first frost to pick them, as the frost creates ice crystals in the flesh which has the same effect as bletting; However, nowadays with our changing seasons and modern technology, it’s much simpler to pick them as soon as they’re ripe and put them in the freezer!

By 4028mdk09 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8256632

So, “Bletting”. An odd word, a simple yet important process, and nature’s way of helping us to have more food to eat.

If you read all there is on the internet about Chickweed, you could be forgiven for expecting to trip over the stuff every few minutes. Maybe I’ve just been unlucky, but apart from having a tiny patch pointed out to me in January, I’ve seen none of it.

Chickweed spotted

On my way to Mudchute park today, I spotted it growing in several places by the side of the road. Fairly easy to spot when there actually is some!

Why sneaky?

Simple, because on the way back from Mudchute park, I found its hiding place:

Growing half-way up a London Plane tree

Halfway up a London Plane tree!

Whilst the London Plane tree is of no use when foraging for food and drink; And as far as I’m aware, not especially useful for bushcraft; given that it accounts for probably half of the large trees in London, I think it’s worth being able to identify, if only for the purpose of elimination. Environmentally speaking, they are very useful as they grow very tall and have a natural ability to absorb pollution from the air (no wonder they’re planted so much in London!)

I was in Island Gardens when I found myself surrounded by them. Apparently Berkeley Square is also a good place to see them.

London Plane trees and Island Gardens

London Plane Identification

Luckily, it is one that is pretty easy to identify, even in winter. The bark is the thing that stands out the most, being a sort of urban camouflage. It is a smooth, but flaky bark, with the flaky scales often being coloured mottled green, brown, olive and grey. When the tree gets older, the lower parts of the trunk can appear more fissured/grooved, but the usual pattern will continue higher up.

London Plane Tree Mottled Bark
Older London Plane Tree Bark

As well as the bark, the fruit often remain on the tree through to spring, and they are small, spiky balls of 2 to 3 cm diameter.

London Plane fruit in winter

I’ve been on the lookout for pesky Alexanders for a while now. Mostly because I’ve read about how widespread they are, and about how they came to the UK with the Romans as a food stuff. Anyway, I’ve had a few moments where I’ve thought I have them, but then I’m not sure. The difficulty is that they’re not in flower until April, maybe late March, but definitely not in January and February.

Alexanders in Mudchute Park

So anyway, I was reading about making Gin Alexanders and getting irritated this weekend. After I’d given up I was reviewing my photos from last week, where I’d laid a broken ash twig on some weeds as a contrasting background. Guess what those weeds were? That’s right, and a great big pile of them too; And I’d seen them growing in quite a few different spots in the park.

Ash Twig on on Alexanders

In my garden

As if that weren’t frustrating enough; I was chasing our pet rabbits away from the flower bed, as usual, and guess what I spotted growing in the corner behind the Elder tree? Yep, pesky Alexanders again!

It could have been worse, at least I know I can find it now.

On a recent trip to Epping Forest, I came across some bracket fungus growing on an old log pile. I didn’t know what it was at the time, so I took some pictures with the intention of identifying it later.

Turkey Tail Fungus
Turkey Tail Fungus on old logs

So here I am and it looks like it was Turkey Tail Fungus, one of the polypore mushrooms. It has many pores on the underside instead of gills to distribute its spores.

Can you eat it?

I’ve done a bit of research and I’ve found that whilst it’s not dangerous to eat, it is tough and tasteless, so not worth the effort.

So is it any use?

Well, according to many reputable sources, Turkey Tail fungus (Trametes versicolor) is very useful as a medicinal. A simple internet search brings up many brands of Turkey Tail fungus extracts for multiple ailments all around the world.

Cancer fighting

The big news appears to be that Turkey Tail fungus could be useful alongside conventional therapies for fighting cancer (https://www.hindawi.com/journals/isrn/2012/251632/). Apparently it has good immune system boosting properties. However, due to the fact that it has been used widely for a long time, it is unlikely that it could be patented, therefore the pharmaceutical companies wouldn’t be able to make money out of it, so research is unlikely to continue to be funded.
Some websites claim that studies in Asia have found that it can double the life expectancy of cancer patients, but they don’t cite their sources so it’s hard to verify.
Huffington post has an extensive article if you want to know more – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-stamets/mushrooms-cancer_b_1560691.html

How is it used?

Nowadays, you can buy extracts from organically grown Turkey Tails. Traditionally, it was either boiled into a soothing tea, or chewed like gum! I may well give the tea a try, but I won’t be using it as gum! Boiling will kill any contaminants (including bugs), soften the flesh and extract the soluble polysaccharides (which are the medicinal compounds).


This site has some well structured information for identification etc. but basically, it has the multi-colour, fan shaped upper side that you can see in the pictures above. It has a white underside, with barely visible pores (up to 3 per mm), and white flesh. If it doesn’t have the white underside, it could be Velvet-Toothed polypore (Trichaptum biformis) with a violet, toothy underside, or the False Turkey Tail ((Stereum ostria) but that is more petal-shaped, hairy, and has a brown underside.

I had a couple of hours spare so I thought I’d go foraging the edges of Epping Forest in Winter (late January to be precise).

Wildlife Seen

Not much to see today, but then it is absolutely freezing. The wildlife clearly has more sense than me! However, I did see a lot of Redwings on the village green, which was quite nice and not a bird that I was familiar with. I also didn’t have my camera handy, so this picture is courtesy of the RSPB website (www.rspb.org.uk).


Trees Identified

Now this is something I’ve been trying to work on, identifying trees (especially deciduous trees in the winter). Silver Birch are pretty easy and straight forward any time of year, Elder is also fairly easy for me as I have one in the garden. Oak is quite easy, especially with all the Oak leaf litter around it. New to me was Hornbeam. Similar to Beech, but it has papery, winged fruits called ‘samara’ which contain the nuts/seeds, which in winter, hang down like brown papery decorations. Also plentiful out in Epping Forest is the good old Beech tree. Obviously, there are plenty more, but there’s only so much I can take in in one day.

Foraging for Free Food

Onto the key part of the day’s activities. Well, the sap isn’t up in the Birches yet, so they weren’t much use; the Elder is bare and didn’t even have any Jew’s Ears fungus either, however, the nuts from the Hornbeam Samara are edible, and there were still plenty of Beech nuts around too (although this is probably the last that they’ll be any good for eating).

Hornbeam Samara

The Hornbeam nuts are rock hard and tiny, so probably not much use except in dire circumstances, and with Beech nuts around, why would you bother? The Beech nuts are lovely. Opinions vary, but I think that they taste like Almonds. The Beech cast is the spiky part, inside that are the three-sided nut pods, however, the nut itself is inside that pod, so break them open first (yes, I have tried to eat the whole pod before, and while it still tastes nice, it’s a bit spiky!)

Beech Nuts and their masts
‘Bare’ Beech nuts, ready to eat

Once prepared, the Beech nuts look a little like pine nuts (in my opinion) which got me to thinking that they could probably make a nice alternative in a wild pesto (using nettles, or wild garlic to replace the basil).

Finally, on my way home I came across some crab apples. They were the last on the tree and well past their best, however, the recent frosts had managed to get rid of some of the bitterness.

Crab Apples

So, in general, the Beech nuts were the only thing worth having on this trip, but I’ve learnt quite a lot too.

Crow Garlic

So this may be a basic one for some people, but I’d never heard of crow garlic until last week. So on Sunday I was looking out for it and there it was; By the side of the path in Lee Valley park. I thought it looked like the pictures, so I grabbed a few blades and rubbed them in my hands. The smell of garlic was so strong. As sometimes happens, I see it everywhere now, by the side of the road near where I live. Next I’ll be thinking of where I can use it…

Where to find it

Apparently, this is a good time of year for it as the usual undergrowth that crowds it out is low at the moment allowing it to push through. Before long the undergrowth will be crowding it out, but if you make note of where it is, it should keep you in supplies until early summer.

What it’s good for

Tasting similar to chives, it can be used in most savoury dishes, and like most of the garlic family it is supposed to have certain health benefits including lowering cholesterol and helping the liver to remove toxins.