A collection of foraged treats including chanterelle mushrooms and rowanberries

Wild, free, fantastic food – foraging for body and soul

For many people, the word ‘foraging’ brings up images of medieval medicine women picking herbs and nuts into their aprons. For others, berries and mushrooms are the natural go-to foraging examples. But now more than ever, foraging is an activity we could all benefit from getting into. Not only does learning the basics of foraging open a whole world of wild, free, fantastic food right on your doorstep, but it’s also inherently good. Good for your body, good for the planet, and good for your soul.

Foraging is a mindful experience

When you forage, you naturally have to slow down. You can’t march blindly down the path; you have to walk slowly to spot the ripe berries, budding mushrooms or patches of samphire. The act of picking itself keeps you in the moment, too – the gentle grasp around fragile stems, birds singing in nearby trees, juice against your fingers from an overripe berry, the smell of wild garlic filling the area – all your senses are engaged as you search to fill your basket.

Much more than mushrooms and berries

Although mushrooms and berries are absolute treasures, there may be many other seasonal goodies hidden in the landscape around you: fruits, nuts, herbs, leaves, tubers, roots, flowers and seeds. If you know what you’re looking for, nature can become a year-round source of free, delicious food.

Part of the trick is learning how to use what you can pick. Looking at the early red cones on a Norwegian spruce, you’d be forgiven for not knowing they’re delicious in sugar syrup. And if you haven’t tasted pickled young spruce shoots, you probably can’t imagine how high they can lift your Sunday roast.

Not without its challenges

Foraging is easy to get into, and there are many resources that will tell you how to use what you find. But foraging safely and legally takes a little bit of research. Depending on where you live, there may be different laws regarding foraging: where you can and can’t go, what you’re allowed to pick and how much.

It is also crucial that you learn what is safe to pick and eat in your area. When it comes to mushrooms, especially, you should never pick something you’re not 100% certain of, as many species are deadly – even in small doses.

So, how do you safely get into foraging?

There will most certainly be someone in your area that forages regularly and would be happy to teach you the ways. In many places, you can find foraging classes and seminars, interest groups and guides.

Look for month-by-month guides to what’s available in your area, invest in good guidebooks and find a mushroom-savvy friend if you want to start picking mushrooms. Look along hedgerows and paths with curiosity. What can you see? What can you smell?

Best practices

There are some general rules of foraging you should learn and adhere to:

  1. Never pick anything you’re not 100% sure is safe.
  2. Don’t pick everything that’s available – especially in spring before the plants have had time to flower/set seeds. Leave some for the birds, animals and plants themselves.
  3. Don’t pick something just because it’s there – pick it because you can and will use it.
  4. Don’t pick more than you need/can use unless it is to give away or store.
  5. Respect property laws and local rules.
  6. Be respectful and kind to others. Be understanding if someone doesn’t want to tell you where they find their chantarelles or samphire – some guard “their” picking areas closely, as if they were national secrets.
  7. Don’t be a person who guards their picking areas as if they’re national secrets, but share your knowledge and information with other foragers. Nature’s bounty is for everyone.

What now?

Check out some of our best foraging recipes:
Warming plum jam with a hint of spice
Chanterelle toast with melted cheese
Magical rowanberry liqueur