Using What3words for Foraging
As I write this, I can still see sparkly crystals on the plants outside from the overnight frost, and my feet are cold. So it is hard to imagine that, in a few short weeks, Spring will be here and everything will be bursting out all over. And yet, that is just what will happen. And the foraging season will begin once again! We now always use the What3words app when we are out walking, to help us find seasonal fruits and flowers each year with which to brew wine and mead. Whilst the app was originally developed for rather different reasons, using What3words for foraging works brilliantly.
Brewing with the Seasons
As the new year progresses, we will often stumble upon a new foraging opportunity somewhere on a walk - a wild plum tree, a sloe bush, a patch of meadowsweet. It might be that we don't have a bag with us, or have the time to pick them. Or it might be that we identified an elder bush, but the elderberries are not yet ready. We used to think we would remember where that bush was. We never did.
Whilst on the subject of seasons, sometimes you'll want to make a wine with a combination of fruits that are not in season together, or fruits that are not currently available. You may even know where all the trees and bushes are that will bear fruit, because you saved their locations last year. Having a freezer helps enormously. Simply bag up your blackberries when you pick them, for example, and freeze them until the sloes are in season. Freezing fruit in this way can help to break down the fibres in the fruit, which is an added bonus. It means you will be able to get more juice from your fruit. In fact some recipes specifically advise you to freeze the fruit before you make wine with it for this very reason. We use a vacuum sealer to freeze fruits and flowers, which saves a huge amount of space in the freezer in high season when we always seem to be finding something to pick. Anyway, back to What3words.
What is What3words?
What3words is a system that gives every 3 metre square location on earth a unique three-word address which is easy to say, and easy to share. And it is free to use.
Prior to last year, we only used What3words to communicate our shop's exact location to new click and collect customers who use the app. The what3words location which brings customers directly to our shop door is: cactus.walked.bats. and this is more helpful and accurate than simply giving customers our address, if they use a Sat Nav. Not least of all because our post code leads them to the residential care home car park located behind our property, rather than to our shop.
What3words is used by many emergency services in the UK to identify a location with a much greater degree of accuracy than using a postal address, or giving directions. What3words is also just brilliant when you're trying to find the exact location you've been to before. And whilst being able to find these damsons again next year doesn't really constitute an emergency, the app is proving incredibly useful for foraging.
Using What3words for Foraging
Sometimes we are in the perfect situation where we stumble upon some fruit or flowers, we have a foraging bag with us and we have enough time to pick what we need to brew wine or mead. However as the years pass, you become more familiar with the fruits and flowers in your area, and find yourself thinking about what you'd like to make next year. You might even have a seasonal wine making plan.
These annual rituals are such a blessing, and really keep you tuned in to the seasons. We always plan, for example, to make Elderflower Champagne. This is an awful lot easier if you know where the elderflowers are going to be because you have seen them, rather than having to start searching for a tree or bush when the mood takes you. And if that tree is in the middle of a field, a postcode isn't much use really.
So these days, we use What3words to return to the local elderflowers each year. And when we find a new Sloe Bush, we make a note of our exact location for future reference in the what3words app. So if has already fruited, we can find it again next year.
And if it hasn't fruited yet, we know to return to it later in the year. And if it goes on to bear fruit then happy days, for sloe gin here we come.
How to use What 3 Words
Download the What3Words app and record where you are, and what you have found. What3words will then lead you back to that exact spot whenever you like.
This also works perfectly when you're walking in the spring and identify, say, the flowers on a blackthorn bush. When you return in the autumn, with any luck it will be a bush covered in sloe berries. #toptip
The app is ideal for anything you gather in the countryside. So you can, for example, keep a note of where you find wild garlic as it will grow back in the same place every year. It's also great in mushroom season, as many mushrooms will also re-appear in the same place.
No phone signal, no data, or both? No problem. Without phone signal, the app functions the same way as when you have no data connection: you can view the location of any what3words address you enter. You can also navigate to it.
More about using the app offline from what3words' CEO Chris Sheldrick here.
What you can't do in that situation is text the what3words location of this amazing bush covered in juicy sloes to all your friends (if you're feeling incredibly generous). You will need signal and data for that :)
The Forager's Calendar by John Wright
Foraging with Kids: 52 wild and free edibles to enjoy with your children by Adele Nozedar
The Forager's Cookbook by James Wood
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Other Almost Off Grid Favourites
Medicinal Mushrooms: Turkey Tail and Birch Polypore
Fresh Elderflower Cordial Recipe
Sloe Port Recipe using left over berries from Sloe Gin