Nature's Secret Larder - Pignut Foraging - Tutorial (Conopodium majus)

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Bushcraft Blog

Pignut Foraging - Tutorial (Conopodium majus)
29th April 2009

 Pignut Conopodium majus

The pignut conopodium majus is a small and quite elusive plant of British woodlands, which by its nature can be a little tricky to find. This tutorial takes you through the steps of finding a pignut, which makes a pleasant wild snack. But of course you must be extra careful not to gather something which looks similar. I will keep this tutorial relatively short and picture heavy to give you some idea of what is involved, but please do use this information correctly and only ever take what you need. British woodlands need respect, as do the animals and plants which live among them.  Also bear in mind digging up wild plants without permission from the landowner is an offence, so ask first!

The pignut blends in quite nicely with its surroundings. It can often be found growing amongst bluebells, which not only makes it more tricky to find, but also a little more difficult to harvest, as you don’t want to eat a bluebell bulb! The pignut has very fine, feathery leaves and once in flower it has delicate white flowers. The best time to hunt for them is generally April and May.

 

Once you have found a pignut you will need to take some time clearing the ground around the base, being careful not to break the thin stalk.

Pignut forage

Once completed you will need to grub for it. Traditionally this was done with a digging stick, but I have decided to use a pignut shovel (purchase yours here) as they are fantastic for this purpose and fold up to fit in your pocket.

Pignut Shovel

For demonstration purposes only, I have taken the surrounding earth out so you can see what I’m doing. This would normally be done on the ground to avoid digging the whole thing up, which is not good practise as a general rule. 

Carefully follow the stalk to the nut (root). You will notice the nut lays at a 90 degree angle from the stalk, this is to confuse you. The stalk has also evolved to break free from the nut very easily so that you can’t find it with ease!

Pignut in mud

This is the whole plant (below), the nut is actually a root which as you can see in this picture is often small, sometimes much smaller than this, and occasionally the size of a golf ball, but that’s quite rare.

Pignut leaves and root

Here you can see two bluebell bulbs, which are very poisonous, so be extremely careful to forage for the right one. The bulbs of both species will vary greatly, and vary in size a lot, so whilst they look different here, they don’t always, although the root of the pignut wears a little brown jacket.

Bluebell Bulbs

Now you need to peel the brown jacket off of the pignut. It’s easy to do, usually a rough rub does the job.

peeling a pignut

Here we can see the bulb of a tiny bluebell and the root of the pignut (as already stated they can vary greatly).

Pignut root and bluebell bulb

In this case I cut the pignut in half as my friend wanted to try some. They have a pleasant fresh taste.

Cutting a pignut

I hope you have found this useful, but please do take care not to harm the environment or yourself. If you want to accompany me on a course and learn how to forage for pignuts, then please contact me.

Catch you on the trail
Kris

CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE PIGNUT


Comments

Trevor Barnes on 27/03/13

I remember as a child going with my father (60 years ago)digging up pig nuts,but couldn't remember how to find them,thanks for the info i will keep a look out next spring,at the moment the fields are under a foot of snow.

Tony Green on 12/06/12

I forgot about this untill writing the second part of my book.My Wife knew nothng about them.(pignuts)

Bel on 03/06/12

Jim, you need to get a grip. If you think encouraging people to use more supermarkets is a good idea you are deluded, if anything why not point out using local businesses like green grocers and butchers? You can't get on some moral high ground about the way you live when I'm sure your carbon foot print is just as big as everyone else's. Just because you grow a few pig nuts and don't eat them doesn't make you a hero.

Kris on 27/02/12

Greg,

Thank you for the posts. Just so you're aware, I split the post into two, because the first half related to the other page, so it can be found there.

To answer your question... I am thinking of starting a basic newsletter at some point which will be delivered via email. So, if you wish, I can add your email down for this?

The Facebook option really is for little reminders to whats around now, and then will direct back to this site, so basicly, one way or another it's all going to be contained here anyway.

Many thanks

Greg on 27/02/12

I must say , from my perspective a very informative, easy to follow introduction and clearly identified tutorial regarding the skills and knowledge "you" have aquired regarding the "way we were" , prior to Sainsburys sandwiches !!!, (if thats how its spelled, I don't shop there personally, maybe thats what the fields and forests were called by the local inhabitants before the multi national billoionaire major food conglomerates took over the way we now consider "sourcing" or "foriging" for food )

THIS IS TO ALL THE.... WHO CARES

Before you decide to attack this statement, yes, I do buy my goods from several shops, SPAR, ALDI , MORRISONS, etc, and no, to my knowledge they are not shops that are world wide concious of where the food comes from, but they are convenient and affordable to my income, (my bad). Are any of you other readers/ consumers bothered, or are you in the minority that are self sustainable! think caefully before you judge....

At the very least, the education of wild edible plants and food is fundamental knowledge that was passed between generations of inhabitants of our lands that we recognise as our ancestors, and to ignore their teachings and knowledge is not only ignorent, but foolish.

I recognise the fact that JIM, ( and I do appologise for highlighting you for your comments, I don't know you!) , has a point.

With all due respect, JIM, you do offer a valid counter argument , yes I agree with you on one level, that the countryside is there for all to enjoy, and digging up land to access this resourse could have a detremential effect.

My question to you is this

"Where do you get your food from, and how ?


ALL THE POPULATION OF THE WORLD ONCE HAD TO SURVIVE ON THEIR KNOWLEDGE OF THE FAUNA AND FLORA THAT SURROUNDED THEM, OR THEY WOULD HAVE STARVED TO DEATH.

Do you not believe that if this knowledge is not passed on, encouraged, then the next genreation and also our own will be a weaker, less able community.

The countryside IS NOT A SUPERMARKET, you need inhernt ancient taught skills and knowledge to be able to begin to understand it, what is fresh and in season, what is not poisionous and what is edible, how do I grow this, what is the best method of maintaining this, where do i get this from,

HOW CAN I PASS THIS KNOWLEDGE ON

the list is endless.....

I'm going to leave it there.

So, in respect to JIM'S "i'm going to order a Pizza", and the environment is saved, Hoorrah.

Is It?

I dont have to get dirty, i can pick up the phone, Jim is obviously going to make his own pizza, hope he has enough room to GROW THE WHEAT TO MAKE THE FLOUR, as long as he does not pick it from anywhere that anyone is going to miss a few .................But if he is looking at this, then his PC, internet connection, BLA BLA BLA, ................. Hay Jim, I did say the list is endless, be carefull what you say, aye!!

THIS IS WHERE I STARTED BEFORE LOOKING AT YOUR SITE (which is very good by the way, and very informative)

Kris, Sorry for the RANT Is it possible to still get your updates via email, no facebook account?

with the kindest regards
Greg

wakefield on 05/02/12

Im 15 years old and have spent the last 8 years studying wild food and ive got to say that there are much better alternatives to pignuts such as couch grass roots which are alot commomer and taste a lot better

Oz on 05/02/12

Well you can't please everybody, so we'll all just please our selves hey.
I am an indiscriminate eater when I forage, although the golden rule is leave anything that is on it's own to reproduce for next season, Common sense really only forage what is plentiful. But there is always one who likes to vent their spleen and be a killjoy.
I like Pig nuts, Kestrel's and Otters, although Otters are by far the tastiest. Bon appetite!

Jim on 20/01/12

I do appreciate the need to educate people but do we really need to eat things in order to be educated about? That is really not a valid argument. I am extremely interested and have taken much time to learn about nature, but I have never felt the need to dig it up and eat it in order to get interested. There are many, many plants out there that are not edible, so are we only to be interested enough to conserve those that are? I think this is a very narrow minded approach and if your point is truly to conserve then it is one ultimately doomed to fail. I only picked Sainsbury as I'm sure you are aware because it is a popular supermarket. Few of us have enough land to grow what food we use in a year, in fact there is not enough in the country to grow enough food for our growing population and certainly not if we are to keep our wild flora. I really don't think you can argue foraging is the way to feed oneself and I really don't believe you are foraging as means of feeding yourself. One person writes they haven't seen a pignut in 30 yrs so what does she do? Eats it! Other's talk about finding the biggest they've seen and eating it. This is not of any benefit to the pignut. If you are TRULY interested in it you would not eat it. I would argue your interest is only in feeling a sense of 'back to nature' and to cock a snook at the modern world. I seriously doubt a single one of you has eaten a pignut because it was going to keep you alive. You don't need to eat it. You choose to. And since it is illegal to disturb many of our wild plants to be encouraging others to dig anything native up for unnecessary food is irresponsible.

Though you may have dismissed my words as rant, it is because I am truly passionate about our native flora that I wrote in the style that I did, not out of mindless anger as your choice of words implies. My point is just as valid. There is no need to eat a plant to be interested in it. It is this selfish attitude that is the root of the raping of our countryside. I doubt you would feel comfortable applying that same argument to a kestrel or otter. If you are going to eat pignuts at least be honest about why you're doing it and moreover buy the seed or plugs from a reputable nursery. That is truly sustainable.

Kris on 14/01/12

Stephen,

Thank you for your post. I'm pleased that you found the site useful. I will be adding much more in the near future.

Thanks again.

Kris

Stephen on 13/01/12

I think you need to count to 10 Jim, that was quite a rant. Kris is correct, with education comes understanding and respect. When people do not understand the rich resources areas of countryside can offer they see areas as wasted land and are much less likely to complain when the likes of Sainsburys, to pick a name at random, buy-up to develop or land bank.

'Raping the countryside' as you delightfully put it Jim is a due to a lack of understand of natural respect and sustainability. Not harvesting an entire area/tree/patch , minimising impact etc etc. I work for the BTCV and this is the ethos that we teach.

I was looking for background info/pics to refresh myself prior to our spring training programme. Struck gold, great guide!. Thank you Kris

Kris on 11/01/12

With all due respect, Jim, I think you're missing the point. By keeping this type of knowledge alive and sharing it with future generations we are promoting an interest in our wild flora. With an interest comes a respect for nature, and in turn, most will promote the conservation of such species. Fuelling supermarkets with extra funds only secures a grey future for our remaining meadows, grasslands and woodlands, not to mention the intensive farming techniques used to produce the ingredients for a mass produced product such as a pre-packed sandwich. Anyone who takes the time to learn about the uses of our native plants will also know to only ever take what's needed, when there are abundant amounts growing in any one location.  

Jim on 11/01/12

It makes by blood boil! In these days when people are throwing away 1/5 of the food they buy and ever decreasing flora and fauna there really is no need to be raping the countryside still further so you can feel we are 'getting back to nature' or whatever it is that's going on with your 4x4 and laptop to hand. If you really want pignuts so badly then grow the bloomin' things like I do. I grow them for the wildlife however not to fill my belly. Thankfully there are still many people like me that want to conserve our flora and fauna rather than ravage what little is left in the name of nostalgia. Take a Sandwich from your Sainsbury weekly shop if you're hungry and leave our countryside alone! As for getting permission from the landowner, half the time it's the landowners we need to saver the countryside from.

adam on 23/05/11

near bodmin in cornwall i recently found an area riddled with the things, my partner and daughter had a mini feast in a small patch that seemed to bare the largest plants, amongst which i found the largest pig nut i have ever seen, easily the size of a very gnarly golf ball.

arn on 26/04/11

thank you so much for helping me out iv herd of pig nuts but was warie of trying them now i know

ian miller on 11/04/11

i can remember eating these when i was young but we knew them as narnocks.does anyone know them by any other name

Carrie on 31/01/11

Being brought up on a dales farm my sister and I would often dig for pignuts in the summer. Always had a broken peg in our pockets to dig for them. This is 50 years ago now - lovely days!

Tony on 10/01/11

When I was a young boy my older cousin used to dig them up in meadowland and I remember eating them, but that was more than 50 years ago. I still remember them but I never knew how to find them until now.

maz carrington on 30/10/10

elderly uncle was reminiscing,and said he used to eat pignuts. never heard of them b4.so looked up & found your site.very interesting and informative,so easy to follow. i will b looking out for them from now on. !!!

lis on 04/05/10

Where I live in southern Ireland, Badgers are very partial to them and if cattle get in a field with pignuts, they are soon gone for ever as they dig forn them, donkely too. L

tim on 11/05/09

great to see some one doing exactly what i did last sunday. i hadnt tasted one for thirty years.


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