This is Fern Freud, doing what she loves most, foraging for wild ingredients in the countryside around her home in Worthing, East Sussex. With the name like Fern Freud, clearly, she was destined to work thoughtfully with mother nature. Fern is a forest school teacher, the ultimate medicine woman of the South Downs, a born-and-bred Sussex girl, who takes groups out on foraging adventures around Sussex, which she peppers with anecdotes and stories on folklore, then turns her foraged finds into wildly beautiful edible creations.
What’s special about Fern is that she makes these interests feel so accessible and magical through her Instagram and on her Facebook page, where you can tag along on her foraging adventures and drool over her finds, like baskets brimming with edible mushrooms, and of the picnics and desserts she makes for the people who attend her workshops.
So many dismiss foraging as some kind of hippie activity, but it’s so much more than that. “It’s a long, rambling walk in the countryside or along the seaside, it’s working with strange, new and exciting ingredients, it’s cooking for your loved ones, it’s sharing delicious meals made with food you have harvested with your own fair hands and most importantly, it’s making memories,” explains Fern.
Fern got into foraging when her Dad took her mushroom hunting as a child. “It was a massive adventure because we knew it could be quite dangerous and we had no idea what we were going to find. We found mushrooms of all shapes and sizes, threw them into baskets and took them home to identify! We leafed through old dusty books and cut them and drew them and made notes on them, I remember feeling like a wise old botanist.”
She foraged her most impressive find just 10 steps from my front door, when she wasn’t even looking for it. “It was a big and beautiful ‘chicken of the woods’, an edible mushroom, highly prized for its meaty, chicken-like texture. I’d been looking for one since I started foraging and never had any luck,” she says.
“I’d gone to ridiculous lengths, such as performing a ritual which involved asking the forest to help me find one, while walking barefoot through the leaves, but… no luck! Then one day, when I was feeling uninspired (which is very unusual for me) I spotted a huge, fully grown, prime chicken of the woods growing on the tree outside my neighbour’s house! I was thrilled!”
It’s the ingredients we walk past every day which excite her most, especially nettles. “They are so abundant and so undervalued,” she says. “They’re more nutritious than spinach, can be used as a green vegetable in soups, salads and as a side dish (think tossed in sesame oil and seeds), or dried for teas and powders, which can go into breads or be made into a ‘matcha tea’ alternative (If you haven’t tried nettle latte, you haven’t lived!). You can also use the seeds in the autumn, which are like a natural energy booster and have a lovely mild taste. They can be used as a sprinkle or if you’re feeling fancy you could roll chocolate truffles in them. You can even make nettle pesto and beer!”
Her ultimate future plan is to buy a little bit of land to make into an outdoor community centre. “I see so much joy and peace and friendship blossoming in my workshops, I would love to create a space where it could happen more.”