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A beginner’s guide to foraging in the UK

Foraging is very popular these days — what’s not to love about bringing home your own herbs and mushrooms from the great outdoors? However, there are definitely some basic foraging tips to follow before you go out with the intent of bringing home dinner. If you want to know where to forage this summer, what’s available in the warm months, and how to go foraging in ways that respect the land and make sure you don’t get a stomach ache, we’ve got you covered.

Pick wild berries on your next foraging trip

What you can forage in summer months

Summer in the UK is prime season for foraging wild berries. Blueberries and wild strawberries love hot weather, though the strawberries you’ll find in woods and hedgerows will be quite different from those in the shops: they’ll be small and intensely flavoured, and will be at their best towards the end of summer. Blackberries ripen later in summer too, at the end of July and August; don’t pick them from their homes in hedges and heaths unless they have a full, rich colour.

Elderberries, hawthorn berries and rowan berries are also great summer foraging fruits, while sloes — perfect for making your own sloe gin — and wild raspberries tend to ripen later, as the weather begins to cool. Crab apples are prime candidates for gorgeous crab apple jelly, and are available for picking in late August.

 

Yellow chanterelle mushrooms sprouting

Search for Chanterelle mushrooms

Beyond berries and fruits, there’s a lot to offer the enterprising summer forager. Chanterelle mushrooms, with their distinctive ochre-coloured trumpets, are found in woodlands and mossy areas from around July, though if you’ve never foraged for mushrooms before it’s wise to go with an experienced guide.

Beechnuts and hazelnuts ripen into tasty snacks in August and September, full of crunch. Mallow’s pink flowers and leaves are both edible and begin to show in full force in midsummer, while young nettles flourish in late spring and early summer; cook them properly or boil them in tea to get rid of the sting.

Several common summer flowers are great foraging material too. The cream flowers of meadowsweet are often used to flavour teas and wines, though they shouldn’t be consumed by anybody with an aspirin allergy as they contain an anticoagulant. Gorse flowers, with their pretty yellow tinge, can be used to make gorse wine, while the leaves of yarrow are tastily bitter addition to summer salads. The common dandelion is also edible, with summer foragers making the flowers into a sugar syrup for desserts or making dandelion wine with the petals.

Juicy red strawberries ready to be picked

You can find tasty strawberries whilst foraging

Where to forage this summer

If you’ve never foraged before, it’s a good idea to sign up for a course. Experts can teach you how to tell the difference between similar-looking plants, pick out things that wouldn’t be visible to the untrained eye, highlight the best timings for various species, and tell you the most suitable ways to prepare foraged foods.

Heaths, hedgerows, wild woodland and seaside hedges are often good places to look for foraging material. Depending on your location, you’ll get different varieties of ripe plants during the summer months, so be aware that you won’t have the same experience everywhere.

Wild Food UK operates summer courses all over Britain, from Glamis Castle in Scotland to Dartmoor and Suffolk, which will help you identify the best local flora to pick and also provide recipes for your haul. Foragers in London will love the course run by Robin Hartford, who also holds summer foraging courses in Devon, Dorset, Sussex and Oxford; in summer he identifies a minimum of 20 edible plants on every walk.

 

Pick tasty crabapples in the month of August

Pick some tasty crab apples in late August

In Cornwall, the Fat Hen takes foragers on a range of different journeys, including whole weekends devoted to foraging and one course devoted entirely to the Cornish coast’s rich supply of edible seaweeds. Foragers in Wales, meanwhile, can dip into the possibilities of plants along the rich Welsh coastline, and pair them with fish with Fishing And Foraging Wales, or introduce their kids to the wonders of food in the wild with Brecon Beacons Foraging’s specialist children’s course.

There’s a lot to delight families and adventurers in Scotland, too. Galloway Wild Foods runs day courses in the forests of Argyll and longer kayaking and foraging weekends around various Scottish lochs in the summer months.

If you’re setting out to forage on your own for the first time, remember to be completely certain of what you’re picking before you attempt to take it home; take a guidebook to help. Unrecognised or rare species should stay where they are, and don’t completely decimate a local population, even if it’s tasty – after all, wild plants and flowers are an important food source for native animals. Always make sure you’re foraging from a place which allows it, as picking or foraging on privately owned land without the owner’s permission is illegal.

Close up of beechnuts

Beechnuts are the perfect snack in early Autumn

If you’re setting out to forage on your own for the first time, remember to be completely certain of what you’re picking before you attempt to take it home; take a guidebook to help. Unrecognised or rare species should stay where they are, and don’t completely decimate a local population, even if it’s tasty – after all, wild plants and flowers are an important food source for native animals. Always make sure you’re foraging from a place which allows it, as picking or foraging on privately owned land without the owner’s permission is illegal.

 

Pitch up at one of over 50 campsites across the UK and see what you can discover.

 

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