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Discover the joys of foraging

If lockdown has taught us anything, it’s that it doesn’t hurt to be more self-sufficient when it comes to the foods we eat. The past few months have been challenging for a number of reasons. One of the most uncomfortable results was not being able to get hold of the ingredients we usually use in our kitchens.

Apart from the obvious loo roll shortage, flour was one mystical ingredient that was difficult to come by – try our flourless bakes if you still can’t find this essential. The availability of pasta, long life items, tinned goods, and fresh produce was also low.

Our supermarket shelves may be looking more and more bountiful by the week but exploring another source of fresh produce could provide a solution, as well as much joy and plenty of flavour.

Foraging – the perfect pastime

Britons have a long tradition of foraging for food, and it has made something of a comeback in recent years. With the weather warming and unlimited outdoor exercise now permitted, it’s the perfect time to get out there and source dinner from the great outdoors.

Unbeknown to most the UK is packed full of foraging hotspots that are brimming with fruits, vegetables, herbs, and other ingredients.

Foraging is a great idea for several reasons. It gets you outdoors, which is a healthy activity in itself, and is a fun, free and unforgettable experience for all the family.

Wild foods are also packed with nutrients as well as plenty of flavour. Even those living in urban areas can forage to their heart’s content, with the most delicious wild foods found in the most unsuspecting places.

Top foods to forage

The top foods that you should forage may not be what you expect. Wild garlic (leaves and flowers) is an ingredient that’s in abundance in the UK.

You’ll find it on the banks of streams and rivers, and it’s perfect in a salad. Discover more ways to use your foraged wild garlic here.

Those looking for something sweeter will want to keep an eye out for elderflowers, which are ripe for picking from late May until early July.

Harvesting elderflowers is super easy. You’ll find elder trees and shrubs in the city and countryside. To make sure they’re ripe for picking, give them a sniff. Those that have a strong, naturally occuring smell of urine tend to be past their best.

Elderflowers are frothy, fragrant, and particularly versatile. I’m currently making my own elderflower cordial – they make a mean elderflower granita too! You can even use them to make elderflower fritters.

Nettles are another foraged favourite, and can be used to create a wide range of drinks and recipes. The humble nettle is a top detox food too, but you should wait until next spring to pick your fill.

Nettles are best picked during early spring, and tend to be bitter, tough, stringy and generally unappetising at this time of year. You should also never forage nettles when they’re in bloom and must handle them carefully until they are cooked to remove the sting.

When finding wild ingredients to forage, take a hint from the season. Blackberries and sweet chestnuts are go-to crops during autumn, whilst June offers a smorgasbord of edible flowers, plants and herbs. As Woodland Trust describes, looking above the ground could help you discover a number of edible treats:

“The flowers (lime blossom) of lime trees have a sweet honey-like aroma and have been used as a food and medicine. The flowers have mild sedative and anti-anxiety properties and were administered in the field hospitals of the Second World War… gather lime flowers in full bloom in June and July. You can add fresh flowers to salads or dry them and bake them into cakes and breads or use to make herbal teas.”

What to avoid

Food safety is of the utmost importance when foraging, and as you can imagine there’s a long list of wild foods to avoid.

Being a rookie forager isn’t easy, and even the most experienced wild foodie has to refer to trusted resources consistently to guarantee that the foods they’ve picked are safe to eat.

You need to be 100% sure that the foods you’ll soon be eating are what you think they are. There are many wild foods that will test your judgement. Wild chervil for example is a delicious and much foraged ingredient but to the untrained eye it looks exactly like deadly plant species hemlock. Be especially careful when it comes to mushrooms – as there are some poisonous varities.

To ensure you have the knowledge you need to forage in safety, we recommend completing a foraging course. Alternatively, you can take along a handy foraging book to help identify the plants correctly. Check out these great foraging books for inspiration.

Where to forage

The UK is full of great foraging haunts, but there are some dos and don’ts when it comes to choosing your foraging location.

It’s free and completely legal to forage in public areas and footpaths, but foraging on private land requires permission from the landowner.

You don’t have to wander too far to forage however, your back garden may be an unexpected source of foraged goodness.

A word of warning about foraging along footpaths however – try to forage at a height that has not been ‘christened’ by our canine friends! You should also avoid foraging near busy roads as pollution can make foraged finds less tasty.