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Foraging for beginners

 By Luke Seall

Some people say that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Well I beg to differ.  After partaking in a short 1 day foraging course, my eyes have been opened to the world of edible delights growing on my doorstep.  Next time you’re on your way to the supermarket, why not have a look in nature’s larder first.  Here are some tips to get you going.

Where to start

Start with something familiar.  I started by picking blackberries because they are easy to find and easy to eat.  When you find what you are looking for, take a look around at what kind of environment they are growing in, and what else is growing there.  You will start to recognize familiar plants and understand what conditions certain plants grow in.

Learn

Get yourself a good book, or indeed several on wild plant identification or foraging.  Find out about any local courses or wild food walks.  The best way to learn is to be shown by an expert.  Talk to the locals when you are foraging.  They may have valuable knowledge on where to find specific plants.  Take photo’s of plants that you are struggling to identify and seek help from online forums.  Make a map and take notes of what you’ve found and where you found it.  This will make it easier to find next year and help you develop an instinct for where to look for certain plants.

Urban Foraging

Living in a city is no excuse not to get your foraging basket out.  Many edibles thrive in urban areas.  Having spent weeks scouring the countryside for rocket, I found vast quantities of it growing out of the pavement one street away from my house.  In many cases, it’s easier to forage in the city than to go to the supermarket!

Cook

Get yourself a good collection of recipes.  You probably won’t find many recipe books that tell you how to cook something like Sea Purslane, but the Internet is a wonderful resource for learning how to prepare and eat your wild food.  There is no point in gathering a basket full of edibles if you don’t know what to do with them.  Be patient and open minded.  Many wild plants require careful preparation before they can be considered pleasant enough to eat!

Safety, the law and the environment

Never, under any circumstances risk eating a plant unless you are 100% sure you have identified it correctly.  Always consult a good book or speak to an expert before eating something you are unsure about.  Also be aware of where the plant is growing.  In towns and cities, many edible plants are considered weeds and may have been doused in herbicides. You must also respect the environment when foraging.  Only take what you need.  Don’t strip a plant bare, take a little from many plants to allow them to continue growing healthily.  In the UK there is a huge collection of laws and bi-laws that relate to foraging.  The best advice is to use your common sense.  One regulation to keep in mind is that it is illegal to uproot any wild plant in Great Britain.  It is advisable to contact your local authority to find full details on what you can and can’t do.

What to look for

Here is a selection of the most common plants to get you started.  They should be quite easy to find.

In the countryside

Blackberries, Damsons, Sloes, Plums, Crab Apples, Apples, Elderflowers, Gorse flowers, Mallow, Rose hips, Wild Garlic, Fennel, Horseradish, Hawthorn.

By the seashore

Sea Kale, Sea Beet, Rock samphire, Marsh samphire, Kelp, Fennel, Sea Purslane, Seaweed (Many edible species).

In the town

Perennial wall rocket, Blackberries, Elderflowers, Wild Mustard.

Foraging for your dinner may not always be as convenient as popping to the local shop, but it certainly makes up for it with the enjoyment and satisfaction you get from collecting and cooking your own food.  There is a forgotten world of delicious, unusual and exciting edibles out there waiting to be tasted.  Who cares about convenience when you are up to your waist in nature collecting crab apples!  So get your wellington boots on and get out there.

P.S. Dont forget to keep and eye out for fruit and nut trees as they can provide you with an easy quick snack.

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