FORAGING: A SEASONAL GUIDE

October 12 , 2022

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Foraging is the practice of searching, identifying and then collecting food resources in the wild. Writes Danielle Boyle. Our ancestors have foraged since the beginning of time, for food and medicine, but commercial food practices have meant that it has

Foraging is the practice of searching, identifying and then collecting food resources in the wild. Writes Danielle Boyle.

Our ancestors have foraged since the beginning of time, for food and medicine, but commercial food practices have meant that it has fallen out of practice.

Blackberries

Blackberries

The chances are, you’ve foraged at some point in your life, by picking a blackberry from a bush or pulling an apple down from a tree to eat it. However, the UK has a bounty of not so well-known edible plants, seaweeds and fruit ripe for picking.

In connecting with nature, foraging can be fun, sustainable and tasty as long as you remember some key golden rules. Read on for a season-by-season guide to foraging complete with some fun recipes to try!

Velvet Shank Mushrooms

Velvet Shank Mushrooms

Top Safety Tips

  1. Take only what you need: the best thing about foraging is that it’s from a shared source! Pick sustainably and leave plenty of plants and berries for other people, animals and for the plants to reseed. Don’t pick from one area and leave the roots of a plant or seaweed, if you can.
  2. Know what you’re picking: some plants and fruit are endangered, poisonous or illegal to pick. Make sure you’re confident in what you’re picking. If in doubt, leave it out! Try a reputable guidebook such as The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants by Samuel Thayer or the Concise Foraging Guide by Tiffany Francis-Baker to learn how to identify correctly. Websites such as the RNLI, the  Woodland Trust and Totally Wild UK also offer handy advice on what to look out for, and what to avoid. One of the best ways to learn though, is a guided tour or walk from a local forager! Go foraging runs some great costal, woodland and park walks!
  3. Follow the law: Foraging comes under a few pieces of Legislation.Section 4 (Property) of the Theft Act (1968) (England and Wales only, though similar in Scotland) which says that you can pick anything growing wild (the 4 f’s: fruit, flowers, fungi and foliage) on any land as long as it is for personal consumption. However, picking cultivated crops or collecting wild food for commercial purposes would be considered theft. This provision does not apply to seaweed or if the plant or mushroom in question is listed as endangered species. Some species are also specially protected. Schedule 8 of the  Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) has a list of these plants.

It is illegal to dig up or remove a plant (including algae, lichens and fungi) from the land on which it is growing without permission from the landowner or occupier.

Foraging is also covered under the Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act, 2000., local byelaws and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI’s) legislation. The laws are broken down by British Local Food here. Hedgerow (River Cottage Handbook No7), by John Wright, has some good legal and practical guidance on foraging. For seaweed harvesting, there’s a code of conduct here.

  1. Pick your spot carefully: Check that the area you are foraging in isn’t near a busy road, any sewage systems or where animals might be relieving themselves. This will make sure what you’re picking isn’t contaminated and, as always, wash everything thoroughly before eating!
  2. Check the tides and weather forecast: Make sure you don’t get caught out by the tides. You can use a service such as to Tide Times and Met Office to check before you go. Head out as the tide is receding to give yourself plenty of time before it turns and have more than one exit route planned.
  3. Forage with a buddy and keep a phone on you: As with all costal and wild activities, make sure you keep safe from the hazards by buddying up and making sure you can contact the coast guard in case of an emergency.
  4. Don’t get too close to cliffs. Focus your search on low banks and keep away from eroding cliff edges. Cliffs can be more unstable than they appear, and cliff falls/landslides can occur. Check warning signs, don’t climb fences to get to the edge and never climb a cliff. Find some clear information on costal safety .

What to collect, how to collect it and recipes to try!

SPRING

Remember: Invest in a good field guide to make sure you can identify everything correctly.

Picking Tips: Look in rockpools for algae and seaweeds. Sandy beaches are where dewberries and wild leeks thrive in sand dunes. The woods and hedgerows are bursting with early spring greens. Dandelions and nettles appear on the grass in abundance from February.

Sea Lettuce

Sea Lettuce

SPRING FORAGING BY MONTH

March – Goosegrass, Gorse, Hawthorn, Yarrow, garlic mustard, hairy bittercress, fat hen, meadowsweet, seaweed, Pepper Dulce

April – Seaweed, Laver, Sea lettuce, Pepper Dulce, Wild leeks, Alexanders, Bramble leaves, Cow parsley, Garlic mustard, Hairy bittercress, Mallow, Wild garlic

May – Seaweed, Laver, Sea lettuce, Pepper Dulce, Rock samphire, Wild leeks, Chickweed, Hawthorn, Lime, Mallow, Oxeye daisy, Red clover, Sorrel

SPRING RECIPIES

Chickweed Side Salad

• 2-3 chickweed leaves
• 1 garlic clove
• 3 tbsp of olive oil
• 2 tbsp lemon juice
• A handful of salad leaves
• 4 small cherry tomatoes
• A quarter of a diced cucumber
• A couple of tiny, white chickweed flowers for decoration

Method

1. Grate the garlic clove and mix in with the olive oil, lemon juice and chickweed leaves to make a dressing.
2. Chop the cucumber into cubes, shred the lettuce and halve the cherry tomatoes.
3. Toss your dressing with your cucumber, lettuce leaves and cherry tomatoes before adding some chickweed flowers as a garnish.

Nettle Tea Recipe

• Three cups of water
• One cup of nettle leaves
• 1 tbsp of Honey, cinnamon or sugar to taste

Method

1. Wash the nettles thoroughly. Use gloves!
2. Add the water to the leaves in a saucepan over a hob.
3. Bring the water to a simmer for about 15 minutes.
4. Turn off the stove and let the tea sit for five minutes.
5. Pour the mixture through a small strainer.
6. Add a small amount of honey, cinnamon, or sugar to taste.

SUMMER

Remember: Seek permission before foraging.

Picking Tips: Check the woodland for elder, bilberry, chanterelle and blackberries; hedgerows for ground elder, honeysuckle and mallow; and growing on trees, find lime, crab apples and elderberries.

Rock Samphire

Rock Samphire

SUMMER FORAGING BY MONTH

June – Dulse, Laver, Rock samphire, Wild leeks, Ash, Elder, Ground elder, Honeysuckle, Lime, Rose, Pineapple weed

July – Dulse, Laver, Rock Samphire, Bilberry, Chickweed, Chanterelle, Fat hen, Mallow, Meadowsweet, Strawberry, Yarrow

August – Laver, Rock Samphire, Blackberry, Crab apple, Elderberry, Greater plantain, Hazelnut, Rowan berries

SUMMER RECIPIES

Vegan Hebridean seaweed broth

  • 50g dulse, cooked and chopped
  • 1 medium potato, mashed (try creamy sea lettuce mash!
  • 25g vegetable spread
  • 1tsp lemon juice
  • salt and pepper
  • 750ml soy milk

Method

  1. Melt the spread and add the dulse, mashed potato, spread and lemon juice.
  2. Gradually stir in the milk and return to heat.
  3. Gently simmer for 20 minutes, stirring often.
  4. Season and serve.

Rowan Jelly recipe

• 1.5kg rowan berries
• 1.5kg crab apples (or Bramley apple cores)
• White sugar – 450g for every 600ml of strained liquid
• Juice of 1 lemon

Method

1. Chop crab apples (no need to peel or core) and put into a large, heavy saucepan or preserving pan with rowan berries.
2. Just cover the fruits with water and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down and simmer until the fruits are really soft and broken down. It takes about 20 minutes.
3. Lay a muslin cloth or any soft, clean cotton cloth, over a large bowl.
4. Tip the pulpy fruits and liquid into the cloth and gather the edges of the cloth up together.
5. Tie the cloth above the bowl. You can suspend from a chair on a table or a beam.
6. Allow the liquid to drip into the bowl for at least 4 hours or overnight. Don’t squeeze the cloth or the jelly will be cloudy.
7. Measure the juice in a jug, then pour into a pan. For every 600ml of fluid, add 450g sugar. Add the lemon juice and bring it all to the boil.
8. Boil rapidly for about 10 minutes and then test for setting point. Spoon a little jelly onto a fridge-cold plate, let it sit for a minute, then push the blob with your finger. If the surface of the jelly wrinkles then it has set. If not, boil for a few more minutes and test again.
9. Once your jelly has reached setting point take off the heat, pour into clean, sterilised jars and seal.

Elderflower Cordial

  • 1 litre (2 pints) elderflowers
  • Lemon zest
  • Granulated sugar
  • Water
  • Lemons

Method

  1. Gather enough elderflower sprays to fill a 1 litre (2 pint) measure when lightly packed.
  2. Shake the flowers to make sure there are no insects hiding inside, but don’t wash them as this can spoil the flavour
  3. Remove as much of the inflorescence stalk as you can – up to where the main stem meets the smaller stems attached to the flowers.
  4. Cover the elderflowers with water. Add lemon zest (as little or as much as you like). Simmer for 30 minutes. Top up the pan if necessary, to keep the liquid covering the flowers.
  5. Strain the flower-infused liquid through muslin or tea towel, gently squeezing it to extract all the juice. Measure the amount of juice.
  6. Add 350g (12 oz) granulated sugar, and the juice of half a lemon, to each 500ml (1 pint) of liquid. Heat gently to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a gentle simmer and skim off any scum. Let the cordial cool.
  7. Pour the liquid through a funnel into clean, sterilised bottles, up to about 1cm below the top. Seal the bottles with swing-top lids, sterilised screw-tops or corks.
  8. Once bottled, the cordial will keep for several weeks in the fridge.

AUTUMN

Remember: If what you’re collecting looks like are looking a little sparse or over-plucked leave it to nature.  

Picking Tips: Search the woods and hedgerows near you for rosehips, bullace, sloes and wild raspberries. Nuts like chesnuts, hazelnuts and beech nuts start to come into their own in Autumn.

Wild Raspberry

Wild Raspberry

AUTUMN FORAGING BY MONTH

September – Rock samphire, Beech nuts, Hawthorn berries, Rosehip, Sloes, Wild raspberry, Wild strawberry

October – Bullace, Beech nuts, Hazelnut, Rosehip, Sloes, Sweet chestnut, Walnut

November – Bullace, Hairy bittercress, Hop, Pine, Sweet chestnut

AUTUMN RECIPIES

Roasted Chestnuts

  • Roughly 16 chestnuts

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Put each chestnut flat-side down on a chopping board. Using a sharp knife, cut a long slit or a cross in the top into the shell.
  2. Placing the nuts onto a baking sheet, arrange them cut-side up. Roast for 30 minutes. The cuts should open up and the shell will start to peel back.
  3. Make sure you let the chestnuts cool down and peel them before eating.

WINTER

Remember: Check the location you are picking in. Is it likely that anything could have been contaminated? Avoid areas where storm overflows released sewage.

Picking Tips: Sea beet (also known as sea spinach) and samphire hide in rock banks along the water’s edge. Plenty of Nuts and seeds and some fresh, new leaves come out too, in Winter.

WINTER FORAGING BY MONTH

Dec – Pepper dulce, Sea beet (sea spinach), Bullace, Hairy bittercress, Hop, Pine, Sweet chestnut

Jan – Beech nuts, Chestnuts, Crab apples, Hawthorn berries, Hazelnuts, Pine nuts, Rosehips, Sloes, Whitebeam berries, Seaweed

Feb – Alexanders, Chickweed, Dandelion, Nettles, Sweet violet, Velvet shank mushroom, Wild garlic, Seaweed, Sea Lettuce, Pepper Dulce

WINTER RECIPIES

Wild Garlic

Wild Garlic

Wild Garlic pesto

• 100g Wild garlic leaves
• 50g parmesan cheese or 50g nutritional yeast for a vegan and veggie-friendly version
• 50g toasted pine nuts
• 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
• Lemon juice
• Salt and pepper

Method
1. Wash wild garlic leaves thoroughly.
2. Place the leaves, parmesan, olive oil and pine nuts into a food processor and blitz. You could do this with a pestle and mortar if you want to be more traditional.
3. Add more oil if you want to have a thinner pesto.
4. Add salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste.

For more information, head to the Woodland Trust’s website for tips on the best ways to pick each food or why not book a foraging course with a local guide and become a foraging expert?

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