What’s the best way to forage safely?
Luke Palmer - Head Chef at Hudsons, The Grand York, says that before you start foraging, educating yourself on how to do it properly is incredibly important – not just for protecting the habitat but also protecting yourself from picking up anything potentially harmful. “Before venturing into the wild, make sure to pick up a good book to have as a point of reference and if possible, find a mentor to guide the way. Do some research on the habitat that you are about to enter and learn the dangerous local species; make a mental note or write them down. Once prepared and ready to head out to forage, use all of your senses and if you have identified your desired wild plant, before eating it, make sure you are 100% confident it’s not poisonous.”
What kind of foods can you forage?
The types of foods you can forage are almost limitless – you’d never guess you could find so many culinary treasures right outside your front door. For Tommy Heaney, Chef Patron of Heaney’s in Cardiff, it’s all about the wild garlic: “I tend to forage wild garlic next to the restaurant at Pontcanna park – I love that it’s really accessible, grows in most woodland areas, and can be eaten at any stage through its growing process. At Heaney’s we use leaves to make oil which we then use to make an emulsion or mayonnaise, and serve with barbequed vegetables such as wye valley asparagus, jersey royals and purple sprouting broccoli. I also love making a wild garlic pesto which tastes amazing with lamb, fish, or tossed through pasta. You can even make fresh pasta pesto or dumplings by chopping your leaves and adding to your dough – the possibilities are endless.”
Tommy uses the wild garlic as it begins to flower – packed full of flavour, it’s great for tossing in a salad. “After the flowering stage comes the buds, we then salt and pickle these little crackers for about year and use as garlic capers. The unexpected pop of fresh pickled garlic is incredible.”
For Steven Ellis, Chef Proprietor of The Oxford Blue in Old Windsor, it’s the elderflower that’s having its moment: “I love the fact that it’s really accessible and can be found in most wooded areas. It’s really versatile – we make a homemade elderflower vinegar at The Oxford Blue, as well as a delicious elderflower cordial (best served with gin!).”
Steven also tends to forage for nettles, using them to create soups. While Luke also recommends foraging for mushrooms and wood sorrel which comes from wild shrubs and plants.
Where are the best places to go foraging?
Luckily, there are plenty of places in the UK to forage, but some places are more fruitful than others. Depending on what you’re on the hunt for, here are Luke’s recommendations of what and where to forage:
Weymouth, Dorset: Wild fennel
Brockwell Park, London: Elderflower
Ridgeway, Dorset: Wild garlic
Nunhead Cemetery, London: Leek
Camberwell, London: Mulberry
Falmouth, Cornwall: Seaweed
Goblin Combe, Somerset: Wood sorrel/mushrooms
Where shouldn’t you forage?
As previously stated, protecting yourself and the habitat is an important part of foraging and foraging well, which is why it’s always best to research the area and always keeping a good, knowledgeable book close to hand or heading out with an experienced mentor. As a rule of thumb, Tommy suggests avoiding dog paths, and always wash everything you collect. You should steer clear of motorways and busy roads, as the fumes can pollute the plants.
Are there any foods to avoid?
As you might have guessed, it’s always best to avoid mushrooms and berries if you’re foraging alone – just to be on the safe side. “With any guide or book, it will inform you of the certain plants and mushrooms, berries etc that must not be consumed, touched or are poisonous to you. Foraging is not recommended for pregnant women and it’s important to be wary of and look out for animals and parasites, pollution and heavy metals and poisonous plants and fungi. When venturing into the wild, forage in moderation, use your common sense – absolutely no nibbling the produce until it has been washed and you are 100% sure it is not poisonous.”
What can you forage seasonally?
Here, Luke gives us a rundown of what you can forage each month of the year:
January: Common sorrel, nettle and wild chervil.
February: Chickweed and wild garlic.
March: Clusters of green spears springing from the turf.
April: Garlic mustard, parsley.
May: Lime, sorrel and chickweed.
June: Elderflower, pineapple weed, honeysuckle.
July: Bilberries and wild strawberries.
August: Blackberries and elderberries
September: Hawthorn berries, rosehips and elderberries.
October: Hazelnuts, damsons and walnuts.
November: Oyster mushrooms, chickweed, navelwort, winter chanterelles.
December: Mussels, cockles, marsh samphire, sea beet.
Want to give it a try?
If you’d like to give foraging a go but aren’t quite confident enough, WildFoodUK.com have a number of courses available all over the UK, so you’ll be a master forager in no time. Find one in your area here.