Walkshire

Foraging in the UK: Your essential guide

At TOG24, we’ve been doing a little digging. You know we love getting out in the great outdoors just as much as you do. And we also love foraging for wild food.

As well as doing our own foraging for mushrooms and other wild food, we wanted to dig a little deeper to find out if it’s something that the rest of the UK feels as passionate about as we do. We found that seven out of 10 of us in the UK would like to do it more, but we also found that what’s holding many of us back is a lack of knowledge on what we should be looking for, where and when. And then what to do with it when we get it home.

So, to help, we’ve put together the below guide to help you get to know wild foods across the UK. Season by season.

How to forage safely

Foraging is a fantastic family activity, but it must be done safely. Some mushrooms are so poisonous that eating them can prove fatal. It’s key to know what you’re looking for and to always proceed with caution.

The following 10 steps should assist:

  1. Never consume wild food until you are 100% what it is.
  2. Don’t take more than you need – only pick from abundant populations and leave some for others. Over-picking will also impact next years’ crop.
  3. Don’t pick endangered species – it’s both illegal and unethical.
  4. Never trespass – only access land that you have permission to enter and always leave it as it was.
  5. Leave no trace behind and respect nature.
  6. Don’t pick roots as this will limit the plant’s chance of reproducing.
  7. Never pick in places subjected to pollution.
  8. Bring the right tools with you to avoid unnecessary damage to the plant. This could include a knife or a pair of scissors.
  9. Consider your existing allergies when trying new food and always be cautious.
  10. Don’t forget to share your knowledge and teach others.

So get out there and have fun. Remember you’ll need a decent coat to keep you warm on your foraging expeditions, good quality hiking boots, and a bag to keep your goodies in.

What to wear

 

Spring Foraging

As plant life starts to grow again in spring, so do your options for foraging. Here’s what you should be looking for in spring.

St. George’s Mushroom

Where to find it: This delightful mushroom can be found in grasslands, beside woodland, lawns and roadsides growing in rings. Look out for a ring of grass that is darker and longer.

How common is it: It’s very common throughout the UK and is usually found growing several weeks either side of St George’s Day (April 23rd), hence the name.

How does it taste: You’ll enjoy a fantastic mushroom taste, and they go wonderfully well with a creamy sauce. Carbonara anyone?

How to use it: You must always cook this mushroom before you eat it. It’s ideal to be fried, cooked in stews, or as part of a creamy pasta sauce.

Prickly Wild Lettuce

Where to find it: You’ll find that this grows almost anywhere sunny with little competition. Common spots include between paving slabs, gaps in walls, flower beds and especially freshly disturbed soil around field edges.

How common is it? This is very common throughout the UK and has a growing season from April to September.

How does it taste? Prickly wild lettuce can be quite bitter, and you’ll need to remove the spines.

How to use it: It’s ideal as part of a mixed salad with a good amount of dressing.

Forsythia

Where to find it: You’ll find this beautiful yellow flowering plant in gardens, parks and hedges. It’s important to note that forsythia is a gardening plant and is unlikely to be found growing wild.

How common is it? It’s more likely to be found growing in gardens and urban areas than growing wild.

How does it taste? It has a very mild flavour.

How to use it: Remember to only use the flowers and ignore the leaves. It’s ideal to be used in a salad or to give a little colour to dishes as an edible garnish.

Asparagus

Where to find it: You might be used to asparagus, but not know that it grows wild. A few species grow wild in the UK and can be found in wood edges, gardens and waste ground. It usually does well in places with soil with a salt content. This can include coastal areas or alongside roads that are gritted.

How common is it? It has a short season from March to May and can be quite rare in the UK. It is also endangered so should be collected sparingly.

How does it taste? We all know how delicious asparagus tastes now don’t we.

How to use it: You can steam, bake or stir-fry asparagus to be used as a delicious accompaniment. Our favourite is to either fry it in butter as a side dish or wrap it in prosciutto ham.

Wild Mustard

Where to find it: You’ll most likely find wild mustard growing in field edges, on roadsides, in gardens, on waste ground and cultivated ground. Most often it will be growing in sunny spots.

How common is it? Wild mustard grows from March to August and is quite rare in the UK. You’ll do well to find it.

How does it taste? It has a sweet mustard flavour, while the leaves smell strongly of mustard when crushed.

How to use it: If the leaves are young, you can add them to a salad, while more mature plants can be cooked as greens.

Spring Foraging Gallery

 

Foraging in Summer

There’s nothing like getting out into nature during the summer. It’s also the best time to eat as fresh and as healthily as possible. By foraging the following wild plants, you can do exactly that.

Giant Puffball

Where to find it: This is one of the easiest mushrooms for new foragers to begin with. It looks like a football when spotted from afar and is about the size of a human head – you really can’t miss it. You’ll find it in grasslands, pasture, lawns, commons and on roadsides. It is usually found in rings, troops or individually. In and around open woodland is also a good hunting ground for giant puffballs – look for them hiding in amongst nettles and scrub.

How common is it? You’ll find these from July to September and they are fairly common throughout the UK.

How does it taste? They may look cloud-like, but giant puffballs have a good, meaty mushroom flavour.

How to use it: Giant puffballs really are delicious and can be sliced and fried like a steak. If you like a bit of texture you can also bread and fry them. 

Stinkhorn

Where to find it: This may not sound too appetising considering its name and the fact it’s found anywhere with rotting wood present.

How common is it? Stinkhorns grow from June to November and are quite common in the UK.

How does it taste? You can probably smell a stinkhorn before you see one. This mushroom is edible at the egg stage – with the tough cuticle in the egg tasting like radish. Not many people eat them however, due to the putrid smell. It the Victorian times, men used to go out and flatten these mushrooms as the phallic shape might embarrass women.

How to use it: It’s maybe best to steer clear of this one.

Wild Strawberry

Where to find it: You’ll find wild strawberries growing in mixed woodland or hedgerows, usually in partial shade. They make for a great sweet treat while out walking or the perfect morsel to save to use at home in a fruit salad.

How common is it? Wild strawberries grow from May to August and are quite common throughout the UK. 

How does it taste? Like one of the sweetest strawberries you’ve ever had.

How to use it: You can eat wild strawberries raw, cut them up into a fruit salad, cover them in cream, or make them into a tasty jam.

Rock Samphire

Where to find it: You’ll find this salty delight in coastal areas, most often on cliffs, sea defences, walls next to the sea and on the foreshore.

How common is it? Growing from May until October it is quite common, but you’ll most likely need to be near the sea to find it. The South and West coasts of England and Wales as well as South West Scotland are your best bets.

How does it taste? It really divides opinion this one. Some people love it, and others hate it. It has a flavour of fennel and salt.

How to use it: Give it a little bit of heat in a pan and serve it as a fresh side dish to some delicious seafood.

Wild Garlic

Where to find it: You’ll find wild garlic growing in damp, acidic, deciduous woodland. It is  particularly common near to streams and damp ditches.

How common is it? Wild Garlic grows up until June and is common throughout the UK.

How does it taste? It has a strong and hot garlic taste. This is lessened by age and can also be reduced by cooking. It you want to experience a super-hot garlic taste, go for the flower buds and young seeds. These have been described as ‘hot garlic bombs’.

How to use it: As with regular garlic, this is very versatile and can be used in sauces, stews, soups and plenty of other recipes.