Tasting terroir – why the plant is not the problem… you are

Today I want to share with you a little about what I have learnt as a forager.

And it goes against the grain about how we usually look at food.

I have an aphorism: “Wild culture is not mono-culture”.

“What the bloomin’ heck does that mean Robin?” I hear you think.

Let me explain.

Note: I am using hawthorn as an example. It might not actually be in season when you read this.

So bare with me.

It’s the PRINCIPLE rather than the specific plant that I am trying to teach you.

Note: Please read the hawthorn safety guidelines here.

If you’ve never tried hawthorn berries raw, then do.

They taste a little like small apples.

“Small apples Robin, are you sure?”

I often get this response from folk attending one of my foraging courses, and I totally get it.

Chances are you have nibbled on a hawthorn berry.

Turned your nose up.

Then posited the usual, universal response…

“That’s AWFUL! What on EARTH is it doing in the wild food books!”.

It’s a common reaction. One I had too, in the early days.

Yet it led me to an understanding that “wild culture is not mono-culture”.

Our industrial agriculture systems have to grow plants that look and taste the same.

Regardless of whether they are in the north, south, east or west of these isles.

Food that is uniform (and on the whole bland). So that most of the 65 million souls in this country will want to eat it.

In the wild this doesn’t happen.

In the wild a plant can taste very different to the same species you find a few yards away.

It’s ‘terroir’ at a granular level.

Terroir simply means…

“the complete natural environment in which a particular food is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate.”

And hawthorn is a brilliant example of this.

Back in 2004 when I returned to foraging. I was going around my grazing grounds nibbling on everything I could find.

To clarify. I only nibbled on what I was 100% CERTAIN was edible.

I DID NOT nibble on all and everything!

That would have been dumb.

And hawthorn had me foxed for quite awhile.

I was going to give up on it.

Then one day, I chanced upon a hawthorn tree laden with fruit.

As soon as I nibbled on some of its berries, I realised why it was in the wild food books.

It tasted amazing.

Not the usual dry, tasteless bad mouth experience other hawthorns had given me.

Another of my aphorisms is…

“the plant is not the problem – you are”.

So the next time you have a bad taste experience, don’t give up on the plant.

Chances are you have just gathered it at the wrong time in its life cycle.

Or maybe it was growing in depleted soil.

There could be any number of reasons.

Just keep playing with it until you find the perfect time to gather its gifts.

This will vary depending on where you live in the country. As well as a whole range of other reasons.

See it is an exercise in “tasting terroir”.

Becoming more intimate with the place where you find your feet.

And that means, getting outside every day. Paying attention to the plants around you.


  1. Hello Robin.
    Thanks for a most informative and entertaining article about the hawthorn tree.
    The Christmas / new year period gives me a few weeks to ‘chill out’ after a year of work.
    Reading your article after a late breakfast greatly supplemented with wild plants from around the house, makes me feel doubly satisfied!


  2. I started following your blog towards the end of last year. I decided to try making hawthorn jelly – spectacular fail could not get it to set. BUT I bottled the resulting syrup and have been adding it instead of sugar to my home-made chutneys and they are wonderful. Will be trying again with the haws this year – who knows where they will end up!

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