Gourmets' Revenge on Alien Invaders

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AMERICAN signal crayfish with a cappuccino shot, followed by slow- braised sika deer and candied Japanese knotweed for dessert.The names of these animals and plants may be more familiar to conservationists than culinary gourmets, but this unusual and perhaps unappealing menu featuring species which have invaded Scotland is to be cooked up for dinner next month.The "Eating Aliens" Feast has been concocted by Dr Ian Edwards, a botanist at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), who regularly forages for unusual ingredients to cook with at home.The aim is for diners to discuss whether the best way to deal with invasive species - another is Sitka spruce - is to cook them.Edwards, who is co-hosting the RBGE event as part of the city's International Science Festival, said: "We are using things which people have tended to dismiss in the past. Japanese knotweed, for example, is a terribly pernicious weed which is also edible and apparently tastes a bit like rhubarb.We don't have a native spruce in Scotland and although Sitka spruce has become a wonderful, iconic tree it's a timebomb really, because it spreads so fast when trees become mature. I use spruce all the time for things when I cook at home, like salads."It's funny that people buy wild rocket at the supermarket, which has probably been grown in polytunnels in Spain and flown across, when there are alternatives literally growing in cracks in the street. A lot of tree leaves are good in salads, like lime and elm. I once made a meal for friends using ten types of tree to show how many you can eat."Before the dishes are prepared at home, however, the experts warned that some of the ingredients may be hard to obtain. The lobster-like American signal crayfish is illegal to catch unless trappers have a licence to prevent it spreading.It was introduced into the UK in the 1970s by restaurateurs who prized its rich and tender pink meat. But after some escaped they bred prolifically in the wild and have infested some lochs and rivers in Scotland. They pass on a fungal disease which destroys native freshwater crayfish, and their burrows undermine river banks.It is also illegal to plant or spread Japanese knotweed, which was introduced in the mid-19th century as an ornamental plant but soon spread widely after outcompeting native plants. It is becoming increasingly common in Scotland's towns and cities with a prolific growth rate of 40mm per day.Edwards added: "You have got to be very careful. I am gathering Japanese knotweed from a place near the Botanics, but it will be sent in a sealed bag to another restaurant to be cooked before it is allowed into the Botanics. …