WHAT IS FORAGING?
Foraging is the gathering of foods found in the wild, many of which are delicious, fantastic sources of vitamins and nutrients and best of all they’re FREE! Many of us in the UK grow up having picked blackberries; they seem to grow absolutely everywhere from roadsides, school fields, woodlands, parks, gardens. Wherever you are, you can probably bet that blackberries are not too far away. However, there is so much more to be found and probably right on your doorstep!
HOW CAN I START FORAGING?
A lot of people are really nervous about eating found foods and for good reason. The fact is, there are lots of things growing wild in the UK that will kill you, if you eat them. However, there are plenty of things that are easily identifiable that won’t.
The best thing you can do to get started is book a foraging course with an experienced guide. These are usually around £40 for a group session but can cost as much as £190 depending on the content and length of the day. During most courses you will be educated on the laws that affect foraging, areas to avoid and the basic methods of identification. Your guide will usually take you for a walk and point out interesting edibles as well as things that are not edible. They may bring along samples for you to try and even get you cooking with some wild ingredients, so you can begin to see how wild food can compliment store cupboard staple favourites. You will also find that The Woodland Trust and other similar natural charitable organisations run cheap foraging walks that are around £15, or sometimes for free.
After you’ve done this, it’s good to buy a couple of books, making sure to get the latest editions with the most up to date info. Your guide will recommend the best authors and titles but Roger Phillips and Richard Mabey are considered to be experts in their field and are well respected authors of good foraging books.
Another thing that I have personally found quite helpful is to join some foraging related Facebook groups, where people regularly post pictures and crowd source identifications from other enthusiasts. It gets me seeing things daily and I slowly pick up snippets of info that come in useful when out in the field.
However, I cannot stress enough the importance of studying from good books and sources. You should cross reference every piece of information, to check for inconsistencies. Do not blindly trust someone on Facebook to tell you whether something is edible and there are books out there that have out of date information.
Once you’ve got a course under your belt and a couple of good field guides, the best thing to do is get out there and start looking at what you can find. It’s better to spend months observing, learning and practising identifying things correctly before you even consider eating something. But don’t worry, there are a few things that are really easy to identify, that don’t have any deadly poisonous dopplegangers to confuse you. These you can start to enjoy fairly early on, so you’ll soon feel like a forager!
WHAT DO I NEED?
All you really need to start foraging are your eyes, your brain and a good field guide. To identify some things, you may need a knife to cut them open, which you can do at home, by taking a small sample home with you. If you get really hooked then you might like to purchase a special legal-carry spec foraging knife to take out in the field with you.
As you start getting confident and want to collect small amounts of things to take home and use, a basket or pouch for your belt are rather nice to have, but you could easily use any bowl, bag, pocket or hat that you have handy. Some people find it useful to have a magnifying glass to help observe small details too.
WHERE CAN I FORAGE?
You can forage absolutely anywhere! Gardens, parks, roadsides, woodlands and industrial estates are all likely to harbour something edible. However you need to use your common sense and areas which are likely to be polluted by industry, pesticides, dog wee etc..
Graveyards for example are not ideal as they can have soil contaminated with embalming chemicals, parks and gardens can be prone to pesticide usage and weed killing chemicals. And, anything low enough for a dog to pee on in an area where dogs are often walked is likely to have been pee’d on.
Despite being able to find edible foods in surprising places, you need to make sure you are on the right side of the law. Read up on foraging laws a little more in depth before you get started. You also need to make sure you are foraging safely, responsibly and sustainably ie. observing leave no trace principles, not taking more than you can use and not causing damage to the plant or ground.
WHAT CAN YOU FORAGE FOR IN AUTUMN & WINTER?
Every season has its delights and for the most part there is a bit of everything to be found in every season depending on the particular cycle of the plant or tree. Of course spring is known for new shoots and buds, summer for flowers, autumn for fungi, fruits and seeds, winter is a little trickier but there’s still sap, berries, nuts available.
Here’s a quick guide for some easy things you can research, learn to identify and find in Autumn and Winter. Bear in mind that you cannot eat everything straight from the plant. Some things need to be processed or cooked before consuming to make them palatable.
- Beech Nuts – use in salads, make beechnut butter, liqueur
- Chestnuts – roasted whole, sweet chestnut paste, in pies, flour
- Cobnuts – in place of hazelnuts in anything
- Acorns – processed into flour to use in bread and cakes
- Hawthorn Berries – fruit leather, jelly, ketchup
- Sloes – GINNNNN!
Leanne is Chief Queen for the Kent Adventure Queen’s group. She loves nature, hiking, camping and foraging. She photographs and blogs about nature and the outdoors on her own blog and for her role as Outdoor Content Editor at Thryve.