You will be amazed at the range of food that can be gathered when out foraging, depending on the time of year, such as blackberries, elderberries and fresh herbs for salads and flavouring. Also different parts of the same plant can be used in different seasons, such as flowers in spring and berries later in autumn.
For example, elderberries are available from late summer and are popular for making jam and wine, while elderberry flowers can be used for making cordial in spring. Nettle soup, dandelion and burdock, and sloe gin are all examples of traditional recipes that make the most of what the hedgerows have to offer in different seasons.
Just because one part of a plant is edible, however, doesn't mean that all parts are. Some plants also need cooking to destroy toxins. For example, cooking elderberries destroys toxins present in the raw berries, but leaves, barks or roots of elder should never be eaten.
Always make sure you know exactly what it is that you are picking - if you have any doubt, don't. Guide books to identify plants and mushrooms may be helpful or, even better, take someone with you who is experienced in identifying edible plants.
Here are some foraging do's and don'ts:
- Do make sure you can identify the fruit or leaves that you've found. Use several features to be sure (check leaf, flower, berry colour and shape, season, and so on). Most of us can spot a blackberry but some herbs and leaves are much more tricky. If you're unsure, don't eat it.
- Do wash your harvest well, wherever you have collected it.
- Don’t allow children to pick or eat wild food unsupervised.
- Don't eat an unhealthy looking plant or fruit – for example if it appears burnt, bruised or has any sign of mould.
- Don't eat plants and berries growing on old industrial sites, busy roadside verges or where the ground is visibly contaminated with oil or ash.
Remember, if you go foraging, only take what you need so that there is enough of the plant left to reproduce. Under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act, it is illegal to uproot any wild plant without the permission of the owner or occupier of the land. It is also illegal to pick, uproot, collect the seed from, or sell, any particularly rare or vulnerable species.