Autumn is a great time of year to get outside and enjoy all that nature has to offer, and is a particularly good time to enjoy some delicious foods which can be found growing around the UK in fields and woodlands. Gathering food, known as foraging, was once an important part of life, but has now become obsolete and been replaced with trips to supermarkets. But foraging your own food can be a great way to get outside, boosting our appreciation of nature and building a deeper connection with both our environment and our ancestors.
Foraging can be both fun and save you money, but should be approached with caution by beginners. It can be worryingly easy to mistake a deadly mushroom for an edible one, and other risks can also be present. Take advice from more experienced foragers or those who regularly practice bushcraft. Also, remember to check the land you are foraging is public, and if not, make sure you have permission from the owner before you take anything. It is also important to remember to respect the plants you forage from and always leave enough for the plant to regenerate easily and for local wildlife to still have enough to eat.
For an easy introduction to foraging, here are 5 of the best foods to forage which can be easily identified, found throughout the UK and used in a number of dishes when you bring them home to your kitchen.
Mushrooms can be found growing in abundance in woodlands across the UK and can be found in their highest quantities in September and October. When picking mushrooms, use a knife to cut their stalks, leaving their roots in tact, allowing them to regenerate more quickly. Collect them in breathable paper bags or a wicker basket to prevent them from becoming slimy. The mushrooms you collect can then be grilled, fried, used in soups, stews, pies or just about any dish! Just remember never to pick and eat a mushroom that you can’t 100% identify, to avoid deadly consequences.
Another versatile kitchen ingredient, garlic is perfect for foraging and can be found forming a carpet across the UK’s woodland floors. Garlic is easy to identify with its broad, flat leaves, white flowers and distinct scent. It can be used in plenty of dishes and for adding flavour to cooked meats and vegetables. Garlic leaves can also add flavour and a touch of colour to a salad. Wild garlic can be used in place of cultivated garlic, though the flavour is usually considered more delicate than its cultivated counterpart, so higher quantities may need to be used when cooking. However, all the health benefits associated with shop-bought garlic can be obtained just as easily from garlic foraged in the wild.
Berries are never too difficult to spot whilst out on a walk in late summer, and can often be seen amongst hedgerows and brambles, just calling out to be picked! Raspberries, blackberries and sloes are sweet, tasty fruits which are packed with vitamin C and are some of the best foods to forage. Use them in jams, making wine and gin, baking and other deserts. Just remember that birds and other wildlife rely on berries as their main food source, so only pick as many as you need and leave the rest for them!
Nuts are protein rich and packed with energy, making them a great find if you come across them on a long hike. Chestnuts, hazelnuts and walnuts are particularly popular in the UK and can be found growing on woodland trees. Pick nuts in autumn when they are at their most ripe, and use them to make nut butters, cakes or biscuits, nut roasts or even add to a stir fry to vary texture and add extra protein without meat.
If your foraging takes you to the coast, make sure you collect plenty of seaweed to use in your cooking. Seaweed is full of vitamins and nutrients, controlling cholesterol levels and thyroid function, and helps to detoxify the body and regenerate the skin. It also makes a delicious addition to a number of dishes. Seaweed can be stir fried, boiled or even smoked, and added to risotto, soups and even cakes and breads. Collect seaweed from rocky areas of beach at low tide and, as with mushrooms, use a knife or scissors to remove it, leaving the roots in tact and allowing it to regrow more quickly. Seaweed plays an important role in feeding sea life and keeping the water clean, so remember not to over harvest and only take what you need.
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