To be honest I still see myself as a bit of a beginner. I have been learning and practicing foraging for just under a year now but in that time I have learnt a huge amount which I hope to share with you. From one beginner to another.
So, What is Foraging?
Foraging is the search and collection of plants and fungi, that are growing naturally in the wild, for food, medicine, clothing, shelter or other resources. This could include; plants, weeds, nuts, fruit, berries, seeds, flowers, mushrooms and shellfish.
You could say foraging is in our DNA. Our ancestors were scavengers, hunters and gatherers, they survived through foraging – a skill that would have been passed on through the generations. When I began foraging I felt this immense feeling of connection and belonging.
I find it a bit sad that most people, myself included not too long ago, know very little if anything about the wondrous plants that are all around us. There is useful food sources and remedies that are just on our door step. You just need to know how, where and when to look!
Where can I Forage?
The simple answer to this is anywhere! I have found edible and medicinal treats in my garden, fields, forest, at the coast, along riversides, hedgerows, roadsides, in the local park and even growing out the cracks of the pavements! Once you start looking you will realise there is free, wild and nutritious food growing all around you, in fact it’ll be hard not to find it!
Sustainable and Lawful Foraging
In the UK we have the ‘right to forage’. Yay! This is a common law right that permits foraging for fruit, flowers, foliage and fungi when picked for personal use and not for sale and if it is growing in the wild. So that makes foraging very easy. Be sure to stick to areas of public access or gain land owners permission if foraging on private land.
There are some locations covered by byelaws at which foraging is not permitted due to conservation and protection clauses. It is prohibitted to forage in a SSSI and also in recently designated CROW (Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000) land which is accessible to hikers but not foragers. If you are unsure, just to do a quick bit of research before your forage to give you peace of mind.
The right to forage states the right to ‘pick’, however should you want to forage or harvest roots such as dandelion, burdock or pignuts, you will have to gain the land owners permission. Luckily for you the plants in which the roots want harvesting are often weeds and people will be more than happy for you to take them away!
I strongly believe that foraging connects you more to the plants and ecosystems around you. You become more aware of their needs, learn more about them and hence care about protecting them. Of course you should take care when you’re out collecting to not trample over wildflowers and saplings. Also, only take small harvests, ensuring you take just what you need and leave enough to continue growing and feed other animals in the food chain.
Benefits of Foraging
Free and Nutritional Food
Free food! Need I say more. Foraging can be a very economical way of getting good nutritious food onto your plate. Of course it would be a little ambitious to try and get all your food from foraging, however there is plenty of free wild food to supplement your weekly shop available all through the year. If you are really looking to use foraging to help save you money, you should probably start at some of the ‘big ticket items’ like mushrooms and shellfish. Just take a basket or bag out with you on a short walk, and you will be surprised with what you will come back with!
When first setting out on my foraging journey the plants that I would come across most are the urban weeds. This includes things like chickweed, dandelions, nettles and plantain. These are all incredibly common and easy to identify and would also all be classed as ‘superfoods’ ranked with the likes of kale and spinach! How foolish I had been before to simply walk by, or often dig up and bin these tasty and nutritious treats.
Mental and Physical Well-being
One of the things I like most about foraging is the peace and tranquility that comes with it. Getting out into nature, somewhere peaceful, and being away from the distractions of normal life is so rewarding and rejuvenating. Not only are you getting physical exercise, breathing in fresh countryside air, you are also practicing being present and taking a moment to be free of any worries or stresses you might have.
Foraging is a powerful tool for mental well-being. Learning, improving and gaining knowledge strengthens the brain but also helps to increase confidence and self esteem. There’s no greater feeling than finding a new plant or fungi and being able to accurately identify it. Its a slow process but it’s this that makes it worth it. The rewards that you will gain are so much more than the plants themselves.
Staying safe when foraging
Although there are many varieties of edible plants and fungi, there are of course the inedible and sometimes deadly poisonous species too. You should always ensure you are 100% sure of the species identification before you pick and consume any plant or fungi. If you are unsure, don’t risk it.
There are plenty of resources online, in books or even better in person on foraging walks and courses.
For me it has been and still is such a joy getting to know the plants, trees and fungi in my local area. The more I do it, learn and succeed, the wilder I become.