For most of us, stocking the kitchen cupboards involves a trip to the supermarket, but have you ever considered doing your food shop in the wild? There is plenty to be picked once you’ve learnt the basics, and all of it is free! Every season brings with it a fresh batch of tasty greens, seeds and fruit, so get outdoors and enhance your family meals with some interesting, new flavours!
Wild foraging is fun for kids who get to grow up surrounded by nature, exploring the different flavours which grow around them, and it’s also great for grown-ups who get to stock their cupboards for free. Your local library or bookstore will have plenty of books to help you get started, and, of course, the internet is bursting with information. Learn which parts of a plant are edible, which species to avoid and how to prepare and cook your ingredients, and you may find yourself with a new hobby!
Foraging & The Law
According to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, permission is required from the landowner before any plants can be picked. The Act also lists protected species which should never be picked.
Therefore, it’s usually considered theft to take something from another’s land, but there is an exception in the case of wild plants and mushrooms under the Theft Act 1968, as long as anything taken will not be exchanged for money or reward.
The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2001 gives people the right to roam on land defined as mountain, moor, heath or registered commons.
The Family Foraging Kitchen
The Family Foraging Kitchen is a social enterprise that provides wild food education through foraging walks, cookery classes and courses in traditional countryside craft. A percentage of profit made from their ticketed walks and courses allow them to provide the same service, for free, to those experiencing local food poverty in the community.
Based on the stunning Rame Peninsula, just across the Tamar, their walks and courses include seaweed hunts, hedgerow and woodland foraging, beach cook-ups and cookery demonstrations using the ingredients you’ve collected. Take the kids along – they usually go free!
What time of year is best for wild foraging?
This is one of the most popular questions I’m asked and people are always surprised by the answer: ALL YEAR ROUND.
Seriously. From the young tender, nutrient rich greens and wild garlics of spring, edible flowers of early summer that are followed by a hedgerow spice trail of wild seeds, to late summer fruits through to the nuts, roots and fungi of autumn. In the winter we see fresh new greens rising again. Oh – and I’ve yet to touch upon the times of year where one can enjoy the 800 varieties of edible seaweed that we have growing along our British coastline.
The more you learn about wild food, the greater it connects you to what is available and at its best seasonally. Get yourself a wild food diary and each month, record what you discover, the stage of its growth and appearance, and record what recipes you create in your kitchen using these new ingredients.
Invest money in some good botanical guides and the timeless classic wild food bible: Richard Mabey’s Food for Free (the hardback version). If you can and have one near you, source a reputable wild food teacher to take you through one full year of wild food in your area (we regularly run monthly sessions within our community). This is an educational investment that will allow you to access free food forever, for a lifetime.
Where are the best locations for foraging?
Look to public footpaths, common and park lands, coastal paths, beaches, nature trails, woodlands and even graveyards! Find out (if you can) that your strip of favourite hedgerow is untreated from herbicides or pesticides often used in farmers’ fields, ensuring a safe harvest.
Avoid areas beside really busy roads too (small country lanes are generally okay) and look out for dog faeces – the biggest curse to the wild foodie!.
Foragers rarely share their best gathering grounds, however for a few hints, the hedgerows, footpaths, woodlands and beaches upon the Rame Peninsula in SE Cornwall is our treasure trove of fabulous wild edibles. There are also a whole host of green spaces in Plymouth available to the urban forager.
The easiest food to find, pick and prepare for the beginner:
SPRING: Nettles, dock leaves and wild garlic. We believe that nettles and dock leaves should be the national foods of Britain. They grow abundantly EVERYWHERE and can be used in any recipe that calls for the use of spinach, chard or cabbage and allow you to be wonderfully creative. Nettle and blue cheese tortellini pasta is a must to try! They cannot be confused with anything potentially harmful and are one of the highest nutrient-rich wild foods, especially in iron and vitamin C (not to mention tasty too). All dock leaves are edible and are in the buckwheat family – even their seeds have their uses and are rich in omega oils. Layer the leaves under pasta sheets in a lasagne for a real treat!
SUMMER: Elderflowers and then elderberries! The flowers are fantastic dipped into a quick chickpea batter, lightly fried and then dusted in sugar and cinnamon. They make a nice wine, cordial and champagne too. The berries can be baked into pastries, cooked into syrup or dried for later use.
Rose petals add a fabulously sweet floral delicacy to summer salads and sweets. All roses are edible, even garden varieties, and can be mild to having a deep, sweet Turkish Delight flavour. Common hogweed seeds (when picked with care) are a wild summer spice that taste akin to cardamom and sweet orange – and are a fabulous addition to Asian-inspired dishes.
Blackberries are obvious but are so easily recognisable that they are not to miss a mention for those late days of summer.
AUTUMN: Chestnuts are our favourite treat, roasted after a long family walk and are such fun to squash carefully out of their prickly shells with a wellie boot. Rosehips are fat and juicy and can be made into jams, chutneys, sauces and even (from the large Rugsa rose) be used in place of cherry tomatoes! Hawthorn berries also make an amazing substitute for tomatoes in the use of homemade ketchup.
WINTER: Bright yellow gorse flowers are rich in protein, are a natural anti-depressant and lift up any salad on a winter’s day. They have a delicate coconut taste if picked on a sunny day – and taste like young pea pods if not. Hairy Bittercress is a small member of the cabbage family, but has a mild peppery taste that is similar to rocket and works well as a substitute for basil in home-made pesto, or as a simple salad or garnish.
Young alexander shoots are commonly found in coastal hedgerows in winter months, but were originally Mediterranean plants that the Romans used as a fore-runner of celery and asparagus. The stalks are great chopped-up and fried in a little butter and topped with parma ham (take care with Umbelifiers though and make sure you have 100% ID, as there are some deadly members in this family).
Contact Vix and her team to learn more –
Call: 01752 823424