I PRIDE myself on being game enough to try any foodstuff that won’t put me into a coma, so when dreadlocked forager extraordinaire Jayson Byles offers me a morsel of seaweed to eat I can’t possibly say no. What he says next makes me think I should have. With a grin, he tells me that I've just eaten seaweed scrotum.

Thanks for that.

To put that in terms David Attenborough would understand (and the viewers of tea-time TV programmes would probably prefer) he means I’ve just eaten a reproductive pod from one of the several types of wrack that grow in abundance along this splendid stretch of Fife coastline. In fact, he tells me, the UK is surrounded by “a forest of kelp”, a natural resource which the intrepid forager can turn to for foodstuffs which are both free and high in nutritional value. All you need is a little knowledge – and a low tide.

We’ve got one today at Kingsbarns Beach, currently busy with tourists and visitors who are walking dogs, flying kites and generally enjoying some late August sun. But all year round you can find Byles here, clad in a wetsuit and wellies, armed with a sharp knife and a pair of scissors and holding a wicker basket packed with all manner of goodies from Neptune’s garden: Bladderwrack, Sea Lettuce, Red Dulse and more. Over the course of an afternoon in his company I’ll encounter all of them.

Byles has Maori heritage and much of what he knows about seaweed came from a kaumātua, the Maori name for a respected elder. Byles encountered him while working on the railways in his native New Zealand. “A grumpy old man he was but he was very knowledgeable about the coast and seaweed and different things. So I learned a lot about it from him.”

Byles moved to Scotland a decade or so ago with his Glaswegian wife and spent six years landlocked, working on community garden projects in Glasgow which aimed to re-establish the link between consumption and production. “I was showing people how to grow food and then the next step, what to do with it and make it palatable for them,” he says. Then one day he received a phone call from a friend who had moved to the East Neuk to take up a job harvesting seaweed. Byles was intrigued enough to take a look. “I came up for the weekend and fell in love with the area straight away.”

He spent three years employed by Edinburgh-based Mara Seaweed. There he worked alongside Cornishman Rory ‘The Sea’ MacPhee, a maritime lawyer-turned-seaweed expert and a legend in the foraging world. Byles now runs his own company, East Neuk Seaweed, and also leads foraging workshops where participants can learn the basics of gathering seaweed and what to do with it when it’s sitting in a bucket on their kitchen table at home. As we slither and slide over rocks and wade through shallow pools, he fills me in with a few of its many culinary and medicinal uses.

First stop is a clump of Laver. Byles pulls it up and spreads it out almost lovingly. It’s a summer variety, most closely associated with laverbread, a Welsh delicacy. But it can also be used to wrap sushi, dropped into soups, dried and crumbled into flakes, or simply fried until it turns crispy. Moving on, Byles uncovers a clump of Serrated Wrack. “You could use this in your bath,” he says. “It’s a natural antiseptic but it’s also cleansing. And it has magnesium and potassium in it, which you can absorb through your skin.” Then we find some Spiral Wrack, which is what I eat. For the record, it’s rather delicious. A little like caviar, in fact.

“There’s not many rules to foraging but it tends to be that the easier it is to collect, the harder it is to process,” he says. That means the intrepid seaweed forager has to be prepared to push far out across the rock and the exposed beach. So along with his knife and his scissors, Byles carries a note of the tide times, a crucial tool to avoid risk.

But bad weather can often be the forager’s friend. A good time to comb for seaweed without straying too far from shore is after a big easterly, when kelp is washed up in abundance. Even today we’re lucky. Byres stoops down between two rocks and pulls up what looks like a bunch of spaghetti. It’s no surprise, then, that it’s known as Sea Spaghetti.

“This has come from deep," he says, admiring his prize. “You can eat it raw – if we were brave we could chomp on a bit now. Or you could have it in a salad with a bit of vinaigrette. If you blanch it, it goes bright green then you can stir fry it. And you can use it as a gluten-free spaghetti.”

Does he practice what he preaches? He does. His family roll their eyes, he says, at the constant diet of seaweed, but he loves the stuff.

“I almost religiously start my day with a fried egg with some crispy seaweed on it – hot frying pan, dried seaweed, drop it in with some oil. When it starts to crisp up, drop your egg in, wait until it’s sealed, flip it over and you have the lovely salty, crispy seaweed underneath. We’re coming into the Dulse season now, that’s the red seaweeds, and they’re super-high in iron as well as the other things like magnesium and potassium. The Dulse is actually nicknamed ‘the bacon of the ocean’, so that’s a good one.”

There is no such thing as toxic seaweed, so have no concerns that the sea harbours the maritime equivalent of the Death-Cap Mushroom. “It’s more likely that a rabid dolphin would jump and get you,” is Byles’s colourful description of the risks.

Shellfish, of course, are another matter entirely, and whether they’re safe to eat depends largely on water quality. Byles does take some, but in very small quantities. Did you know it’s illegal in Scotland to take more than 30 razor clams a day under the 2017 Sea Fisheries Act? Thought not.

“I’m taking my knowledge and I’m looking to share that with people, encourage them to come down here. If we can be putting a certain amount of food on our table that’s straight out of the wild or from the garden it’s got no packaging, it’s got low mileage. These are all things we have to look at. So definitely shellfish is on the menu.”

Unless they’re people he has taught himself on one of his organised excursions, Byles doesn’t meet many fellow seaweed enthusiasts when he’s out and about. But that may soon change because along with dozens of other expert foragers, Byles is participating in Foraging Fortnight, a new Scotland-wide festival which starts this weekend and runs until September 15. Happily, it coincides with what he calls the August Black Moon – a period of super-low tides – so he’s able run a series of workshops this week where normally he can only take groups out twice a month.

Among the other events planned for Foraging Fortnight are a Neolithic-inspired foraged food evening arranged as part of the Orkney International Science Festival, and the fortnight’s activities culminate in the Scottish Wild Food Festival which takes place on the Cardross Estate on September 14. Visitors to that can try everything from a tea-tasting session with brews made from foraged ingredients to a pickle-making workshop and a picnic featuring foraged foods.

For a flavour (sorry) of what the land can offer – man cannot live by Dulse alone – I visit nearby Cambo Country House and Estate. There I meet Gill Veal, whose café at Cambo uses foraged ingredients, and Kirsty Strachan, a Scout leader and Fife Council’s community education officer for Gaelic. The house is hosting several events in Foraging Fortnight, among them an evening dinner of foraged food to be held in the garden, and a natural syrup-making workshop using ingredients foraged from the estate.

As we walk through what’s known as the “Edible Garden”, an acre-and-a-half patch behind the café, Veal points out some of the ingredients she uses. I’m shown edible flowers such as Calendula, Borage and Nasturtium; something called Mountain Spinach; and Horsetail, whose shoots, Veal assures me, tastes a lot like Pea Shoots and which apparently does wonders for the hair and nails. I nibble a piece. All I can say is it tastes pleasantly grassy.

But as much as foraging relies on a knowledge of science – knowing your flavonols from your terpenoids, in other words – so does it repay a study of language. And here’s where Kirsty Strachan’s expertise comes in handy. As we wander Cambo’s famous two-and-a-half acre walled garden, she stops to grub around in lawns and verges and pulls up examples of plants such as Meadowsweet and American Plantain.

Little about their English names gives much clue to their medical or culinary uses. But dig into their Gaelic names and the folklore surrounding them and all that changes. Take Meadowsweet, a type of herb native to Europe. In Gaelic it’s called Crios-Cúchulainn, meaning the belt Cúchulainn, the mythological hero of ancient Irish folklore. The story goes that Cúchulainn lost his temper so badly one day that the only way to calm him down was to dunk him in a bath infused with Meadowsweet – a nod to its soothing properties, particularly on the stomach. Afterwards, Cúchulainn always carried a piece of Meadowsweet in his belt.

If that’s poetic, the Gaelic name for what in English is called American Plantain is just plain literal: Slàn-lus, meaning healing plant. As well as its properties as an antiseptic and antihistamine it’s a rich source of Vitamin C and in its tiny seed pod – Strachan holds one up so I can inspect it – is enough laxative power to floor the pair of us for a couple of days. Purgative or just poisonous? Make up your own mind but either way, handle that one with care.

But as well as turning out a generation of expert picklers and rosehip syrup maestros Foraging Fortnight has two other more serious aims. The first is to encourage people into Scotland’s rural spaces with an eye to promoting both physical and mental health. The second is to inculcate in those same people an understanding of the natural environment underpinned by ideas of sustainability. One of the festival’s stated “legacy” aims is to increase public awareness of the need for sustainable foraging. Anyone who has ever set out brambling only to find the bushes stripped bare of even the birds’ share will know how important that is.

From his vantage point on the Fife shore, Jayson Byles doesn’t think there will come a time soon when the coasts are over-foraged to the point where eco-systems collapse and crispy seaweed and fried eggs becomes a fond memory. But he knows it’s an important issue and, keen to play his own part in the conservation process, it’s one he always stresses in the groups he leads. “Part of the education is not just showing people what to take but also how, and teaching that sustainability ethos,” he says.

In other words you need to know what to leave and when to leave it. That aside, the world is your oyster – or, if you prefer, your seaweed ball sack.

Foraging Fortnight runs until September 15 (various venues). The Scottish Wild Food Festival is on September 14 at Cardross Eastate, Port of Menteith. Jayson Byles runs East Neuk Seaweed and foraging tours can be booked via the company website.