Wild Roots Foraging

Discovering Nature’s Pantry with Wild Roots Foraging

Lucy Cuzzocrea, from Guisborough, forages along the North Yorkshire coast for her business. We join her on a Wild Roots walk…

Elysia Fryer

Editor at Luxe

It’s a fairly mild and sunny February morning and I’m meeting Lucy at her go-to ‘mushroom spot’ off the beaten track in Upleatham, between Guisborough and Saltburn.

Lucy greets me with a basket of goodies – homemade mushroom jerky, seaweed snacks, nettle seeds, wild rose powder and more. Treats she has made from the foraged goods we are about to discover.

Wellies on and basket in hand, we head off up the hill in search of mushrooms – and straight away, it’s clear to see how passionate Lucy is about the wild food on our doorstep in this beautiful part of the world.

Lucy tells me how apt it is that we’re meeting today – on 1 February 2024 – halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Today is Imbolc – a Gaelic traditional festival marking the early signs of spring, encouraging us to notice the shoots pushing through the soil, but also a shift within ourselves.

Imbolc means ‘in the belly’ referring to the lambs who lay in the sheep’s belly about to be birthed – a time of fertility and new ideas.

“According to the ancients,” Lucy starts. “It’s a time to celebrate Goddess Brigid – bringing fire, light, warmer days, new life, creativity and inspiration.”

So, as we turn our heads to the new season and one where Lucy’s work and passions really come into their own – we are blown away by the timing of this walking meeting.

Lucy lives in Guisborough with her husband and two children. And, although she is now in the perfect spot to forage – with woodland, moorland and the coast at her fingertips – she hasn’t always been blessed with so much nature on the doorstep.

Wild Roots Foraging

Nature is Everywhere

“For a long time, I lived in central Middlesbrough, so it was very different in terms of having nature so readily available.

“But I want people to know that, that doesn’t matter. Yes, we are lucky to live where we do and the natural environment presents so many opportunities, but at the same time, nature is everywhere we go.

“When I lived in Middlesbrough, I still foraged but just in a different way – in the back garden or in local parks. I made many an ‘Albert Park pie’ after rummaging in hedges.”

Foraging is available for everyone, no matter where you live. It’s just about knowing what you are looking for, learning about how you can use it at home, and really understanding the benefits. Once you’ve got that down, it really is just a lifestyle change. Lucy reminds me that it doesn’t have to be as overwhelming as it may sound, it is a process and baby steps are great.

At this time of year, before we dive into the bounty of goodies that grow and show in spring, Lucy takes us on a tour of one of her go-to mushroom picking spots.

“You never ask a forager for their mushroom spots,” she laughs.

“That doesn’t mean that there aren’t loads out there, people just have to find their own places, because we’re all looking for different things.”

Once you know where to look and have burned the bridges between what you can and can’t take home (we don’t want to poison ourselves!), the world is your oyster excuse the pun.

Wild Roots Foraging

Intricacies of Wild Roots Foraging

“You don’t struggle to find wild food when it comes to plants – even in gardens and urban areas. With mushrooms, it’s a bit more tricky, but once you know what you’re looking for, and you have an idea on where to look, you will find them.

“Mushrooms are fascinating. They grow in a symbiotic relationship with trees. They send each other nutrients and help each other out. Somewhat like scientists of food – they work with each other. They’ve all got different jobs and they’re all there to do something.

“At this time of year, because we know that oysters are around, every time I walk past dead wood, I’ll have a look around and see what I can find. If they’re getting a little bit old, they can get quite rubbery, but that’s fine for things like mushroom jerky.

“Your gut will tell you if they look healthy enough to pick. They start off quite light and grey in colour, then they tend to go a bit rubbery and gold in colour.”

It’s not too dissimilar to picking your best looking punnet of something in the supermarket; but in nature – before anyone has had their hands on them and before they’ve picked up any food miles.

It’s seriously fresh stuff, and I can sense from Lucy that, much like how I feel when I turn a blank page into a story, there’s a real buzz that comes with creating something from scratch – literally from the earth.

Wild Roots Foraging

Lucy’s Journey into Wild Roots Foraging

“Mushrooms are so versatile,” says Lucy. “I was never actually a huge fan of them as a child. It wasn’t until I started foraging for them and realising what you can do with them, that my opinion changed.

“There’s nothing better than getting creative with the produce you’ve picked. One thing I did in winter was… we hit the beach with our oyster mushrooms, alexanders and wild garlic.

“We made some kelp spaghetti and fried up the oysters, alexanders and wild garlic and poured some cream in, mixed it all together and it was gorgeous. It was a bit of a challenge on the beach as it was a bit windy.

“Talk about being open to the elements! But it was a lovely experience, enjoying the produce from our natural environment, in our natural environment. How amazing is it that we can do that?”

Chatting to Lucy, it’s clear that she was made to flourish in the great outdoors, really coming into her own in nature. But foraging wasn’t always in her plans.

“I did graphic design at university,” she starts.

“Obviously, it’s totally different to what I do now. But looking back, as I try to find connections, it was more about activism than anything – about recognising the effect that capitalism and globalisation has on the world.

“So without even knowing, that definitely got the cogs turning for me and I set off on a bit of a mission to figure it all out.

“I also really wanted to improve our family’s health and do what’s best for the environment. I’m quite an obsessive person, so once I get into something, I’m totally addicted.

“The learning is never ending, and I really love that about foraging. There’s always something new to explore.

Building a Community

“If the passion and the willingness to learn is there, you’re onto a winner. I spend a lot of time reading books and looking at traditional recipes, but also tasting things and trying to understand the flavours.

“I’m generally just led by the natural environment and what is around us, but I’ve also got an allotment, and chickens and ducks. I wish I had my own land, but there’s so much on the doorstep and it’s actually quite exciting to be able to go out and explore something new every day. We have that luxury here.

“You can feel quite alone as a forager sometimes. Most of the time, it is literally just you and nature – which is obviously incredible in itself, but we all crave human interaction and being able to share our experiences. That’s why I set up my business.

“Foraging should and traditionally has always been a community thing, which is what I’m trying to do with Wild Roots Foraging. Back in the day it wouldn’t be just one person going out foraging then coming back home and processing, it would be whole families working together.

“The more people I share this information with, the more they become obsessed with it, and then that community will build again. We’ve got to start somewhere. That’s the plan!”

In her work, Lucy really brings traditional ideas and qualities back to life. And she is inspiring in many ways – from her knowledge of the natural environment and what we can find on our doorstep, to her passion for creating and nurturing community living, and her historical expertise, found from her love of wild food.

Wild Roots Foraging

The Value of Reconnecting

“It gives you a realisation of how much we’ve lost,” she says.

“Everybody used to be so connected, and we need to work really hard to get that back. My grandma’s sister was in her 90s and saw me cooking with my foraged mushrooms and she said she always used to forage them down Fairy Dell Park in Coulby Newham, where she lived.

“She would go there and bump into her friends doing the same for their families – everyone knew what they were looking for, and it’s crazy that, just a couple of generations down the line, we’ve lost it because everything is just so readily available in the shops, in a packet.

“There’s so much we can learn from our ancestors. And that is often overlooked in today’s fast-paced society. Our ancestors said that hawthorn could ‘heal a broken heart’, and now we know that it’s one of the most powerful heart medicines that we’ve got. It’s amazing.

“I’ve got an irregular heartbeat and was told it wasn’t life threatening, but just something I had to live with. Years later I discovered that I could have hawthorn, and all of a sudden I don’t have an irregular heartbeat anymore. It’s incredible.

“There’s so much we can learn from nature – and at first you don’t quite trust it because we’ve been taught not to. It all comes from nature.”

Wild Roots Foraging – Empowering Others

Lucy has taken matters into her own hands and has found the answers. She acknowledges that this isn’t always the case, but if what we find in the natural environment can positively impact our lives in one way or another, it’s important we share that.

“The first part of this year, I’ve been really busy running wild medicine courses, teaching people about the medicinal qualities in some of the produce growing around us, and how we can make our own medicine.

“It’s actually really easy. And to me, it’s a no-brainer. Don’t get me wrong, the medical industry is so important and it is needed, but what I’m saying is just that there are things we can do at home to help with our own health and wellbeing.

“The healthcare system is simply not able to meet the needs of the nation at the minute, so if we can help ourselves as much as possible, surely that’s going to benefit everybody?”

In the world we live in currently, it is understandable that people struggle to find the time to take up a new hobby or change their way of living. But with a Wild Roots Foraging course, it’s about learning the basics to be able to make small changes and build on them.

“People see foragers out there who live off their land, they live totally off-grid, and they see that lifestyle as absolutely unachievable.

“But it doesn’t need to be like that. It can be done around busy work schedules and family life. You just need to find a way to incorporate it into your life – like we do with anything.

Wild Roots Foraging

It’s a Lifestyle!

“For example, a weekend walk with the family, or your daily dog walk, could become a time to forage and explore your environment a little more. It’s just about opening your eyes and seeing the world differently. I can help people do that. It wasn’t an overnight change for me. It took years, and each year I learn more.”

Like many things, there’s a ‘lightbulb moment’ and something just clicks. And for Lucy, this way of seeing and working with the world has gradually changed the way her family lives.

“My kids don’t quite realise how different they are from other kids just yet,” she smiles.

“I remember a couple of years ago, my dad had taken my little boy out for the day and when he came back he said, ‘I fell over and hurt my knee and Grandad didn’t even get a plant for it!’.

“When they get bigger I think they’ll realise that they’ve had a bit of a different upbringing to other kids. We ring the bell for organic a lot, so they’re starting to understand that a little. I teach them about pesticides, good bugs, gut health and things like that.

“They’re not always into everything and sometimes they want to be more like their friends, so it’s a journey, but I’m hoping they can take it on board when they’re a bit bigger.”

Foraged Goodies

Mid-stroll, we take a seat on a fallen tree to have a look at what goodies Lucy has brought in her basket. Homemade jars of seaweed snacks, wild garlic salt, nettle seeds and wild rose powder to name a few. She talks us through her treats…

“People are spending a fortune on tiny packets of seaweed online, and it’s driving me insane because there’s so much of it everywhere, all up the coast.

“It’s full of minerals and iodine – we’re all deficient in iodine now and it’s causing all kinds of problems. The salt in it is good salt.

“I dry it and then simply just use it to flavour things; sprinkling it in dishes can add so much flavour – a fantastic substitute for salt.

“Wild garlic is so easy to forage and is so versatile at home. It starts to pop up at the end of winter, right through until June, so there’s tons of it around. Most people put it in the food processor to make wild garlic salt, but I find it quite mindful just sitting with my pestle and mortar and mixing the garlic and the salt – the crunch, the texture, the aromas – it’s just amazing.

“Then you lay it out on a baking tray and dry it out in a low-heated oven. I make jars and jars of it. Our favourite recipe is wild garlic salted homemade chips, if you’re craving a takeaway. Even scrambled eggs on toast, it adds so much flavour, and you’re getting so much goodness.

Wild Roots Foraging

What Wild Roots Foraging is All About

“Nettle seeds are also one of my go-to things to make up in jars. They’re fantastic for reducing stress. And I’ve also got some wild rose powder. I quite often make a bedtime milk for the kids, or a moontime milk for me once a month.

“The rose powder goes in it with a bit of honey. It’s gorgeous. It’s also great for adding flavour to cakes or whatever it is you’re baking. You literally just dry the rose petals and grind them down.”

Wild Roots Foraging is all about working with like minded people (or just people with a willingness to learn) to educate and empower. It’s about making a difference, to the lives of individuals and their families, but also to our communities and our natural environment. We need nature and nature needs us.

Whether it’s a wild medicine course or a foraging and fermentation course, you’ll leave with new knowledge and a new outlook on life. I can vouch for Lucy when she says foraging can ‘rewind and rewild your life’, because after our short nature walk, I’m totally inspired and I’m certainly going to be looking at what is around me on my next dog walk.

The Wild Roots Foraging buzzwords are: gather – forage connect, and it is as simple as that.