A beginner’s guide to foraging is something I needed to read years ago. For me, foraging started with blackberry picking. They’ve always grown in abundance where I grew up, they’re easy to spot and they make a great crumble. We’re pretty lucky in the UK that we have a lot of seasonal fruits, vegetables and herbs growing wild, which is completely free to pick. And over the last few months, I have been looking into more serious foraging expeditions. So far I’ve foraged crab apples and acorns. And I plan on making my own Christmas wreath this year from foraged holly, conifers and pine cones. If you’re wondering how you can get started, I’ve put together this beginner’s guide to foraging in the UK.
Why go Foraging?
Before you read this beginners guide to foraging, let’s talk a little about why people go foraging. It varies from person to person, but it’s a great, sustainable past time to take up. By spending time outdoors, gathering wild foods, you discover more about where your food comes from. You learn more about what produce grows when, how to identify certain species and you have fun in the process. You get outdoors, keep active and connect with nature. All things that are amazing for your mental health. And if your foraging trip is successful you get local, fresh ingredients, totally for free.
Know the Foraging Rules
Not wanting to sound like a bore, but foraging in the UK does come with a few rules attached. Foraging is generally permitted in the majority of public spaces across the UK. This includes parks, woodlands, hedgerows and even beaches. But it’s illegal to dig up and remove a plant, without first gaining permission from the landowner. Also, it’s good to note that some wildlife areas are protected and foraging is not permitted. Oh and some species are protected too, so you are not allowed to pick these at all. You can find a list of these protected species here. When it comes to National Trust and Woodland Trust sites, they do allow foraging at most of their locations, as long as it’s for personal use only.
Join a Foraging Course
If you’re really feeling unsure of where to start when it comes to foraging, you may want to consider signing yourself up to a foraging course. These sessions are led by an experienced forager, who will let you into some of the tips and tricks when it comes to foraging. They’ll teach you some of the basic skills. so that when you head out into the great outdoors yourself, you’ll feel a lot more confident in your abilities to forage. Countryfile has produced a list of the best foraging courses in the UK, so take a look to see where your local course takes place.
When you go foraging, be sure to pick in a sustainable and responsible way. You don’t want to encroach on the native wildlife by picking their food sources. If you see a bush with a plentiful supply, start picking. If the bush or tree is a little sparse, or there are already people picking in that location, head to a different area. You want to save some for the native wildlife. And only ever pick what you know you will use. Don’t pick too much and end up wasting it. If you do forage too much share one of the produce with friends or neighbours. Or turn it into jams, chutneys or cordials.
Always be 100% Sure Before Foraging
Identifying herbs, fruits and vegetables on-site is a skill that will take years to develop. So whilst you’re still learning, it’s always best to check numerous sources when identifying wild produce. When trying to decipher what you’re foraging use your sight, smell and touch to do so. Never, ever, rely on your sense of taste when forging. And before you eat anything you’ve foraged, be sure that you know 100% what it is. Take mushrooms for example. There 15,000 species in the UK alone, some of which are poisonous and can cause harm or even death if consumed. If you do want to experiment with picking mushrooms be sure to take an experienced guide with you.
Know Your Seasons
To ensure a successful foraging trip, knowing what grows when will definitely help. Eating with the seasons has always been popular and foraged foods is no different to shop-bought produce. It will take time to learn what grows in what season, as it’s not always a clear cut summer, spring, autumn or winter grower. There will be a crossover, and some locations may exceed growing expectations for that season. And others will not. Do your research online about what you may be able to forage each month. And once you’re out in the countryside, try to make notes of what you find growing and where. This will help you with future foraging trips.
Helpful Foraging Resources
I’ve found some really helpful foraging resources online. From monthly foraging guides on Countryfile’s website to long-form pieces about foraging by National Geographic. I’ve watched countless videos on YouTube from Wild Food UK and Stephanie Wild. I’m trying out the PlantSnap app, which will help me identify plants whilst I’m out foraging. And I’m currently looking at what print foraging books to buy. So if you have any suggestions, I’m all ears.
I hope my beginner’s guide to foraging in the UK has been helpful. And hopefully, it’s inspired some of you to get out into nature and get picking. I’d love to know what your favourite thing to pick is. And if you’re not from the UK, what is it like to forage where you live?
Until next time.