This beginner’s guide to foraging can let you know how to safely forage for wild food – avoiding berries with traffic fumes, respect nature and wildlife – and knowing how not to eat mushrooms that may kill you! Foraging is simply a way to legally find free food. Ecological writer Satish Kumar notes that we are the only species on earth that has to pay for food. Some community orchards let you pick apples. Download Sheffield’s Abundance Handbook to legally scrump gardens for locals who can’t reach the fruit, then share the harvest.
- We have lost most of our hedgerows, so never forage without permission or where wildlife may be impacted if you took food. Dormice adore hazelnuts, and are endangered, due to deforestation.
- Woodland Trust has a monthly guide on what to forage. Don’t pick items you don’t know ((chervil is safe, hemlock can kill you – but look the same).
- Don’t pick mushrooms, unless you’ve taken a course. Although one edible mushroom tastes like chicken, it’s toxic to dogs (and liable to give some humans a bad tummy too). If you are an expert forager, pick mushrooms with opened caps (more likely dropped spores) and never collect button mushrooms. Keep dogs away from all mushrooms.
- Only pick common plants that easily re-grow and not impact wildlife. wildlife. Only pick leaves, never damage the roots.
- Don’t forage items that look like something has pooed on them. John Rensten of Forage London says to ensure that anything you pick is ‘out of the dog wee zone’ (see his foraging safety tips for more info).
- Leave foraging seaweed to experts. It grows on slippery rocks and experts just ‘give seaweed a haircut’. Buy sustainably harvested seaweed instead. Keep dogs away from seaweed, it expands in the stomach.
What to Forage!
Once you’re armed with the basics, it’s time to forage. Get a Bric Foraging Bag. Handmade in Bristol from durable cotton canvas, this has a beautiful retro design and handy loop to hang on your belt (you can wash the cotton liner, to remove berry stains). To close, hold the bag flat and pull the sides together, and tie shut.
- Wild garlic is often found on spring walks from late March. It’s milder than conventional garlic. Try this recipe for Creamy Wild Garlic Spring Pasta.
- Elderflowers flower late May to early July. Make your own cordial.
- Don’t pick berries near roadsides, as they are covered in fumes. They freeze well – try this simple blackberry cobbler (use vanilla rapeseed oil).
- If you don’t mind the odd sting (it goes when cooked), nettles are often used in tea and hair tonic). It also makes nice nettle soup. Don’t pick when in flower and check for ‘little alligators’ on the leaves (these are baby ladybirds – laid by mothers in nettles, for protection). Picking the tips should not harm (or return in a couple of weeks, when they’ve left).
- Forage London runs courses (Dorset coast & Hampshire). John has foraged for 20 years so learn lots here, or just be an ‘armchair forager’.
- Eat Weeds is a site by Robin Harford, a forager & food educator. He sells many books and his courses were voted best in England by BBC Countryfile.
- The Yorkshire Forager is a book by a woman who supplies foraged foods to local restaurants. She picked up skills from her grandfather (a Polish resistant fighter) who foraged after escaping a concentration camp.