How to forage for seasonal foods

Close Up Of Woman Holding Basket Of Hand Picked Wild Garlic In Woodland

How to forage for seasonal food - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Here’s how to responsibly and safely forage for freshly grown seasonal produce in the heart of nature

In our contemporary world of supermarkets, deliveries and luxury organic veg boxes, the notion of foraging and gathering food from the wild may seem a strange, intimidating and arguably unnecessary activity to some; however when done safely and responsibly, foraged ingredients can really enhance homemade dishes, provide vital nutrients, and nurture a greater understanding and connection to our natural environment.

Many studies have noted the powerful connection between mental health and exposure to nature, and have also shown how great the positive impact of regular activities in nature can prove to be for people with mental health conditions. Among those activities in nature, gardening and foraging have been cited as excellent ways to commune with nature to improve mental health, productivity and confidence.

Foraging is an activity dictated by the seasons and different produce will be in abundance throughout the year. It is best to know what’s in season and what you are hoping to find before you set out. The golden rule of foraging safely is of course to be completely confident that you can correctly identify a plant before you pick or touch it; never select a plant you aren’t sure of.

Consider foraging with a group of experienced experts if you are new to it and take some time to research and read about the subject and learn about the ecosystem as well as the plants in and around your local environment. If you live in a city or a built-up area it’s advisable to travel to some nearby countryside to avoid pollution.

Additionally, if areas are commonly used by dog walkers, it may be best to avoid those specific spots. If you are foraging on the shore, always exercise caution with the sea and the weather and be sure you know the times to expect the tide to rise.

Once you have foraged, always thoroughly wash the produce or cook the plants if necessary. It is also vital to forage responsibly, being mindful of your impact on the surrounding environment. As such, always be sure you have permission to harvest produce from the land owners; pick carefully and avoid harming the plant or fungal network.

Only forage for plants that are in abundance and avoid anything rare. Don’t harvest more that 25% from one plant and instead source from multiple plants. Only take what you are sure you will use and be sure to leave enough for the birds and wildlife as well as others who may also forage in the same place. Finally avoid pulling, and instead use a knife or scissors to cut plants to minimise damage. You may also wish to consult the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) as all wild plants are protected under this act and some species are not to be picked or uprooted at all. Follow these simple steps and there’s no doubting the many benefits of foraging.

Here are some common fruits and plants to forage for in the UK by the seasons:

Spring

Wild garlic, nettles, dandelions, cow parsley, hairy bittercress, chickweed, sorrel, chervil.

Summer

Elderflowers, elderberries lime leaves, wild garlic, sorrel, garlic mustard, nettles, bilberries, chanterelle mushrooms, wild strawberries, blackberries, crab apples, hazelnuts

Autumn

Rosehips, sloes, damson, beech nuts, hazelnuts, sweet chestnuts, walnuts, field mushrooms, watercress.

Winter

Blackberries, chestnuts, beech nuts, pine nuts, hawthorn berries, rosehips, chervil

The coastline is also an excellent place to forage for seafood such as cockles and mussels, as well as seaweeds including sea beet and marsh samphire.

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