Foraging DOs and DON’Ts

 

I love foraging – the sense of freedom you feel when you find a patch of some amazing wild edible, and can confidently collect delicious free food with ease, is just indescribable!

Here are some tips to get you started, if you are a foraging beginner.

DOs

  1. Buy some reference books – see my handy list below for my favourites. The internet is full of information on foraging, some reliable and some not so – best to be safe and consult a reliable guide.
  2. Take a foraging course! It’s so worth the money and time and you will learn so much more from an experienced forager in person than just from books. Plus, it’s a great way to learn local foraging spots and get recipe tips!
  3. Forage with friends! Share knowledge and foraging spots – it’s a fantastic way to learn especially when just starting.
  4. Start with things that are simple to identity. In the UK, try nettles, blackberries, wild garlic, damsons, sloes, and sweet chestnuts for starters.
  5. Always confidently identify everything before you pick. Many foraging guides contain terrible photos – if in any doubt, consult another book, a reliable internet source, or a foraging professional (see my list below). This especially applies to MUSHROOMS – many edible species have poisonous counterparts. I never pick them and wouldn’t unless I was with a highly experienced forager – it’s just not worth the risk. If you are ever in any doubt, do not eat! Better safe than sorry.
  6. Make sure you only pick the edible parts of the plant, and process them correctly. For instance, rosehips are delicious but require caution to remove to itchy seeds inside (which used to be used in itching powder in historical times!). Another example are elderberries, the fruit of which is edible but the seeds are considered toxic in large quantities and should be removed before using (for instance by straining the pulp after cooking the berries).
  7. Make sure you pick wild food in the correct season – consult field guides to know when the freshest time to pick a plant is. This is useful to ensure you are getting the best nutritional benefit from what you forage and aren’t picking plants past their prime.
  8. Study your surroundings to find foraging spots. A great way to get confident with plant identification is to observe the same plant through the seasons and over the years. By being able to correctly identify it throughout its stages of growth, you can gain confidence in your foraging ability.

DON’Ts

  1. Don’t pick on private land without permission. I once had a nasty altercation with a lady who insisted I was picking her sweet chestnuts, when I thought it was a tree on public land!
  2. Don’t dig up any plants by their roots – this is illegal except on your land.
  3. Avoid picking from roadsides and field margins, as the wild food could experience heavy road pollution and chemical run off from farming.
  4. Avoid picking in popular dog walking spots…!
  5. Unless you are highly experienced, avoid all members of the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae (carrot) family, that are distinguished by their “umbrellas” (umbels) of flowers. This plant family contains several edible species such as Cow Parsley, as well as some of the most poisonous plants in Britain (such as hemlock and hemlock water dropwort) and plants that can cause severe skin rashes such as wild parsnip. Avoid them all unless you are an extremely experienced forager!
  6. Pick in moderation – make sure you leave plenty for the birds and bees, and for the plant to regenerate. I never take more than about 5-10% of the fruits or leaves on a plant, or alternatively, more than 10% of the plants in a patch (for greens such as nettles and wild garlic).

My Favourite Foraging Books

Food For Free by Richard Mabey – the original and best.

Wild Food: A Complete Guide For Foragers by Roger Philips – better for in-depth ID tips and lots of recipes.

The Hedgerow Handbook: Recipes, Remedies and Rituals by Adele Nozedar – a lovely new book with beautiful illustrations and more information on herbal remedies too.

Useful Foraging Websites / Pages

Robin Harford is an absolute gem – tons of recipes and foraging courses / walks available on EatWeeds.co.uk

Wild Food and Hedgewitchery – a great Facebook page with lots of ID tips and advice for beginners and amateur foragers.