We’re all by nature hunter-gatherers, but the ‘hunting’ we know today is popping to the local supermarket or browsing UberEats. Foraging has become hugely popular in recent years, for its wellness benefits, increased connection to nature and price point: it’s totally free. The best part? Forming a recipe around what you’ve foraged and reaping the rewards.
So, for a total foraging novice, how do I begin, and what do I need to know before I start picking?
Where can I forage?
Firstly, if you’ll need to choose a location. Places where green areas have been allowed to grow wilder and more freely. If you’re in London, move away from manicured areas and head for scrubland, marshland and the woods. Some great examples are Walthamstow Marshes, Hampstead Heath, Wimbledon Common, Springfield Park, Brockwell Park, Nunhead Cemetry and Syndnham Hill Forest.
So, can I forage anywhere?
If it’s public land: yes. If it’s private, the short answer is that you’ll need permission from the landowner to go onto their land. Technically according to law, if you’ve picked blackberries somewhere that you didn’t know was private land, the landowner can only move you on, and not take back the products which are now technically yours - so long as it’s for personal consumption, and not for resale. If you want more information on foraging law, head to British Local Food’s site.
What can I forage?
The great thing about foraging is how much it connects us to the seasons and to our local landscape. The beauty of foraging is discovering new plants and flowers that are edible, that we would never usually find in the supermarket. For the months of May and June, try Hawthorn flowers, a traditional May Day flower, which is perfectly edible, including their young leaves, flower buds and young flowers. They’re great for decorating salads. In late summer and early autumn, a childhood favourite, the blackberry, is one of the easiest ways to get into foraging. Plus, they freeze really well to take you through winter. The Woodland Trust has a brilliant section on their website dedicated to what to forage month-by-month.
What should I avoid foraging?
Of course, not everything is edible and even some plants; let’s take Elderflower, of which only the flowers and berries should ever be consumed after being cooked to remove the small amounts of toxic chemicals. Funghi is also a world-renowned plant that has so many varieties, some perfectly edible, and some deadly. Luckily, there’s loads of research available on what is and isn’t safe. We highly recommend either checking out a dedicated blog such as WildFoodUK or purchasing a book to identify different types of mushrooms.
Of course, there’s also endangered species that we need to avoid all together. It’s also worth considering the local environment and not over picking to allow for nature to continue unharmed. Check out British Local Food for some endangered species.
I’d love to be shown the ropes first! Can I join others who already forage?
There’s so many incredible workshops and foraging days out that are available to join around the country. We recommend Totally Wild UK’s courses where you’ll forage and then enjoy some delicious wild recipes. There’s also some really amazing walks and workshops dedicated to the plants of certain locations– such as Truffle Hunting in a secret location in Dorest with English Truffles, and the Healing Weeds of Bristol and Somerset.