The ethnobotanist and best-selling author spoke about his Homegrown Revolution - inspiring people to grow more of the edible plant species that can thrive in the UK, from Inca Berries (physalis peruviana) to Chilean guava (myrtus ugni), which is likely to be in many Essex gardens as an ornamental plant. He said Edible Essex was doing a “great job” getting people interested and involved in growing their own and he was delighted to support the project.

He added: “It’s fantastic to return to Writtle College and to have such a big audience full of people who are very passionate about growing plants. When I have been doing this talk across the country, what I like is to learn what people have as questions.

In his lecture, James - who fronted the award-winning BBC TV series ‘Grow Your Own Drugs’ - argued that we no longer eat as we did 50 years ago – our diets are more exciting, varied and international.  However, we stick to growing the same crops, such as spuds, sprouts and swede.

He said on the night: “We can grow 2,500 crops in the UK but everyone, back over the last 60 years, always talks about 20, which is less than 1% that we could grow. I have a blog and a book and basically I want to talk about the 99% that no-one mentions. I’ve tested them all in my back garden in Croydon, which is not so different from the climate in Essex so I know that people can grow them successfully, with not much effort – even without a greenhouse.”

Edible Essex, which is managed by the RCCE and funded by the Big Lottery Fund and Essex County Council, was launched last year and is supporting the development, restoration and expansion of community allotments and orchards around Essex, as well as giving people practical, hands-on training through courses and events.