As hunter-gatherers we were foraging for subsistence and today still in some areas of the world foraging for food is a normal way of life. Where I grew up this is just something people did. I remember my granddad picking mushrooms, berries, fruits, leaves, flowers and turning them into jams, drinks, meals and alcoholic concoctions. We also turn dandelions into salads which served the dual purpose of food and weed control.
From berries, nuts, flowers, fruits, fungi, leaves, seafood… wild food has been available on our doorsteps for centuries. Yet we are losing the ability to identify it (unless someone has labelled it first) or use it. Our diet has become restricted to food that is grown or cultivated for commercial use.
In the UK foraging has made a come back. Some are a bit critical and see it as a middle-class trend but to be frank who cares? I see foraging as a mean to help us reconnect with seasonal and local food. It is also a fun way to get the kids outside, learning about their environment, learning about food (realising food does not always come in coloured boxes) and how things grow. For them it is a bit like a treasure hunt and the excitement builds up when they find new things to pick. And of course it is food for free so foraging does certainly appeal to my thrifty side.
There is quite a bit out there hiding in the hedgerows, fields and woods. Blackberries, elderflowers, wild berries, mushrooms, dandelions, nettles, wild garlics, chestnuts, hazelnuts, walnuts (to name a few) waiting to be turned into jam, cordial, soup, salad etc .. Not to forget the seaside – we once made a great meal of wild mussels foraged from a loch in Scotland while hiking through the Knoydart peninsula.
Foraging has of course to be done in a sensible way and the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland rightly points out that “uprooting is harmful, but picking with care and in moderation usually does little damage and can foster the appreciation of wild plants, which in turn benefits their conservation. However, in some cases picking can be harmful and it may even be illegal”.
They publish a Code of Conduct with the following basic rules to guide foragers:
- Be careful not to trespass when picking plants and never take material from a nature reserve or protected site without permission.
- Untended road verges and public rights of way are often good sources of wild flowers, but look out for traffic!
- Take flowers and foliage only from large patches of the plant.
- Always pick in moderation so that plenty is left for others to enjoy.
- Do not pick flowers such as poppies as they will wilt before you get them home.
- Be careful not to damage other vegetation when picking flowers.
- If permission has been obtained from the landowner or occupier, gathering of mosses, liverworts, lichens or algae for decorative purpose, hanging baskets or model making should be restricted to the minimum needed for personal use.
- Don’t forage any endangered species as defined by the Wildlife and Countryside Act, the Wildlife Order (Northern Ireland) and the EU Habitats Directive. (see list here)
Also here a few other things to keep in mind before foraging:
- Always pick what you know, never pick a plant you cannot identify. If in doubt, leave it!
- Do not uproot plants. Instead carefully pick or cut leaves, flowers, fruits.
- Just pick what you need.
- Bear in mind that in areas where dogs, foxes or other animals roam it is best to pick away from the ground. Animal fouling can contain bacteria and parasites which can be dangerous to human health.
- Always wash and/or cook your pickings before eating them.
- Be respectful of the flora around you, don’t harm it.
- Look out for the signs! Certain areas are protected from foraging by the Habitat and Species Directive, the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Foraging is allowed for personal use only. If you had in mind to resell your pickings as jams and cordials at your local market, you probably need to think about a new business venture.
Below I have listed a few Foraging Courses which can be a helpful way to get started:
- Gourmet Wild Food Foraging Courses
- Taste The Wild
- Wild Food UK
- River Cottage Courses
- Wild Food School
- Food Safari
- London Foraging Groups
- Wild Food
- Wild Walks Southwest
- Fat Hen
- Woodland Ways
- Coastal Survival
- Hedgerow Harvest
Food Foraging Courses is a directory where you will find a wealth of information on foraging courses, books, apps etc…
You might also find the following books (including the excellent series of River Cottage Handbooks) helpful:
- Food For Free (Collins Gem)
- SAS Survival Guide: How to survive in the Wild, on Land or Sea (Collins Gem)
- Preserves: River Cottage Handbook No.2
- Hedgerow (River Cottage Handbook, No.7)
- Mushrooms: River Cottage Handbook No.1
- Edible Seashore: River Cottage Handbook No.5
- The Hedgerow Cookbook: 100 Delicious Recipes for Wild Food (Wild at Heart)
- The Forager’s Kitchen
Are you a fan of foraging or a forager-wannabe? We would love to hear from you? Share your recipes and tips with us in the comments box below.