How to enjoy wild food foraging
Collecting edible foods from woodland and forests is an age-old tradition in the UK – and in modern times it is making a comeback. Growing number of people are enjoying the benefits of gathering from nature.
But if you’ve never gone foraging before, the whole process can be intimidating. If the strange names don’t put you off, such as Danish scurvy grass, hogweed, hairy bittercress, the prospect of picking something poisonous might.
That is why it is important to learn a few basic tips – and then you can make the most of our country’s natural larder.
Tips for wild food foraging
Get advice and start local
One of the fantastic aspects of foraging is in getting to know the ins and outs of your local woodland area including what kind of plants and species grow here. But trying to get started on your own can be confusing. Many plants look extremely similar to the untrained eye and even with a helpful guidebook it’s easy to make mistakes.
Look on-line for local wild food foraging experts and guides. For example, experience day provider Into The Blue offers a range of foraging experiences in which skilled guides will take you through the woodland, introducing you to the basic concepts of foraging and the kinds of edibles that you can pick in the area.
Some areas have local foraging groups so you can learn from the experience of others.
Foraging is seasonal
It’s important to note that, just like crops, foraging edibles are seasonal. So that means you need to start to learn what is going to be around in each season.
In spring, you can find excellent quality oyster mushrooms and morels, while the summer is the time to pick fairy ring mushrooms and St George’s mushroom. It’s even possible to forage in winter, the chanterelle mushroom can withstand the cold temperature and is fantastic this time of year.
Identify wild food properly
Foraging for food comes with its risks, especially for the beginner. While this might seem like a fairly relaxed and stress-free activity, it’s worth remembering that many mushrooms and leaves commonly found in British woodlands are poisonous and some are fatal.
After a course in wild food foraging you need to get a high quality identification guide and study it very thoroughly. Many plants look extremely similar and there may be only one or two distinguishing features.
If in any doubt leave it alone and move on to something else. And, naturally, you should also be careful eating something for the first time, as some foods that are listed as edible can cause allergic reactions or upset stomachs in people.
Learn how to forage sustainably
A brilliant element of foraging your food is the feeling of being close to nature and making the most of the natural world around you. But to do so you need to ensure that you are foraging sustainably.
Never take any more than you need and ensure that when you forage, you do so without damaging the root. If foraging continues gaining popularity, it’s more important than ever to ensure that everyone is doing so sustainably.
Some of the best foods to forage
- Berries – berries are a great starter for anyone foraging. They are abundant and come in an enormous variety, from blackberries and raspberries to sloes and mulberries. They usually come into season late in the summer.
- Mushrooms – mushrooms are one of the most famous forms of foraged food. With different varieties coming into season throughout the year you will certainly be able to find something easily. Just make sure you identify wisely because there are at least 10 fatal species of wild mushroom growing in the UK.
- Hawthorn – hawthorn is extremely versatile. The berries can be turned into jam or added to a fruit loaf, the leaves can be used in salads or as tea, and you can even try roasting the seeds for an interesting coffee substitute.
- Nettles – famous for their unpleasant sting, nettles can be boiled to be made edible. Once this has been achieved they are a fantastic choice. They are high in minerals and vitamins and can be used to make soups and teas.
- Seaweed – simple to prepare and highly delicious, seaweed is abundant on UK shorelines. It is also highly versatile because you can boil or steam it, and cook into soups, stews, risottos and more.