London foraging expert John Rensten shares tips on how to make cocktails using wild ingredients

According to Forage London founder John Rensten, the city is “overwhelmed” with interesting urban green spaces for people to hunt for edible plants.

For most Londoners the idea of being able to forage wild ingredients in our built-up polluted city may seem ludicrous.

But according to Forage London founder John Rensten, the city is “overwhelmed” with interesting urban green spaces for people to hunt for edible plants.

The 54-year-old has been foraging in the capital for the last 22 years and has even written a book about urban foraging.

John Rensten shared some foraging for beginners tips with LondonWorld and some of his favourite spots to collect wild ingredients in the city. Credit: John Rensten

Although he now lives in Dorset, with his family, he still runs and organises numerous urban foraging events, wild food walks and mushroom forays in the city

Rensten has been working with the non-alcoholic spirits brand Seedlip on a range of cocktail recipes which can be made using wild ingredients.

“Seedlip Spice 94 is distilled with cardamom and allspice berries, and by garnishing your Seedlip Spice & Tonic with dried wood avens root, you get this marriage of warming spice flavours. Credit: Seedlip

Spice & Tonic garnished with orange slice & wood avens

Ingredients

  • Seedlip Spice 94: 50ml
  • Indian Tonic: 12ml

Glass and Garnish

  • Highball
  • Garnish with orange slice & wood avens

Method

  • Build in Highball over cubed ice
Wood avens illustration from John Rensten’s book “The Edible City: A Year of Wild Food.” Credit: John Rensten

John’s tips

Wood avens is a plant with long slender roots, green leaves with serrated edges and five-petalled yellow flowers.

When you harvest wood avens, the roots that you pull from the earth are wispy, scruffy bits that you can easily dry out at home.

When dried, the roots have an amazing aroma that is similar to that of cloves.

By drying the roots you compress and intensify the flavour, it’s also better to snap off the thicker parts of the root if you want a more intense flavour.

Seedlip Spice 94 is distilled with cardamom and allspice berries, and by garnishing your Seedlip Spice & Tonic with dried wood avens root, you get this marriage of warming spice flavours.

First you note the clove, almost nutmeg like aroma of the garnish, before getting the allspice, woody notes from Seedlip Spice 94.

Try making a clove root syrup by heating equal parts sugar and water, and the rest of your wispy clove root.

Strain and add 10ml to your highball for some sweetness.

When foraging wood avens, ensure you turn over the soil and pat down the earth to allow new seeds to grow.

“Linden blossom not only makes an eye-catching, pretty garnish but it will draw out some natural sweetness and bring your Grove & Tonic to life on the palate.” Crediit: Seedlip

Grove & Tonic garnished with linden blossom

Ingredients

  • Seedlip Grove 42: 50ml
  • Indian Tonic: 125ml

Glass and Garnish

  • Highball
  • Garnish with Linden Blossom

Method

  • Build in Highball over cubed ice
Linden blossom illustration from John Rensten’s book “The Edible City: A Year of Wild Food.” Credit: John Rensten

John’s tips

You might know linden as the flower that can make your car sticky with the sweet nectar that drips from their flowers, but did you know that linden blossom has a warm, floral honey-like aroma?

Linden blossom usually appears towards the end of the Spring season, when the elderflower turns.

It has a slight herbaceous, sweet floral note which goes hand in hand with the uplifting spices in Seedlip Grove 42.

Distilled with three varieties of orange, ginger and lemongrass, Seedlip Grove 42 has a citrusy brightness balanced with a cool prickle from the spices.

Linden blossom not only makes an eye-catching, pretty garnish but it will draw out some natural sweetness and bring your Grove & Tonic to life on the palate.

“Wild chervil is a great garnish to use for Seedlip Garden 108 as the two flavours come together to form a sensory overload.” Credit: Seedlip

Garden & Tonic garnished with wild chervil

Ingredients

  • Seedlip Garden 108: 50ml
  • Indian Tonic: 125ml

Glass and Garnish

  • Highball
  • Garnish with Wild Chervil

Method

  • Build in Highball over cubed ice
Wild chevril illustration from John Rensten’s book “The Edible City: A Year of Wild Food.” Credit: John Rensten

John’s tips

Wild chervil, also known as cow parsley, is a really versatile plant from which you can use the leaves, stems, flowers and seeds.

With feathery green carrot-top leaves, cow parsley is the first of the carrot family to put up new growth and has a second appearance in early autumn.

When you snap the leaves and inhale the scent, it has a fresh aroma similar to lemon, apples, pears.

Seedlip Garden 108 is an explosion of flavour, distilled using peas, hay, mint, thyme and rosemary, it is comparable to the British countryside with savoury, grassy notes.

Wild chervil is a great garnish to use for Seedlip Garden 108 as the two flavours come together to form a sensory overload.

Fresh green notes on the nose before those herbaceous, freshly picked garden flavours on the palate.

To learn more about urban foraging and to find out about different events in the city you can visit Forage London’s website.

Rensten’s book “The Edible City: A Year of Wild Food” is also available to buy online and can be found in various libraries across London.

Rensten has been working with the non-alcoholic spirits brand Seedlip on a range of cocktail recipes which can be made using wild ingredients.