Natures Larder

Nature is amazing. It offers us so much – shelter, fuel, medicines, health and of course, food amongst others. Today we’re going to explore just a few of the commonly found things in hedgerows and on verges that you can forage. 

Rules of Foraging:

1. Unless you are 100% sure of what you are picking – don’t pick it! There are some similar looking plants out there that are not suitable for human consumption. Be careful!

2. Check the laws where you are before you pick anything – you may need to seek permission from the landowner first.

3. Only pick enough for your own consumption – leave enough behind for others (people and wildlife) to enjoy too.

4. In the UK there is a common law right whereby you are able to collect “fruit, flowers, fungi and foliage” for personal consumption. It is though illegal to uproot any plant without the expressed permission of the landowner of where it is growing.

5. Some plants are rare and protected by law – if you’re unsure of what you are picking … don’t!

Throughout the year you’ll find different goodies out there in the hedgerows suitable for making into all kinds of tasty treats. Some edible plants, such as dandelions, are available all year round whereas others, such as blackberries for example have a more defined season. 

Let’s a look at some of the common things you may find when you’re out and about.

Blackberry

Watching the hedgerows close to where I live, I have noticed that the blackberries are starting to ripen. Usually you should expect the berries from early August through until October although the berries picked earlier in the season are said to be better. Across the United Kingdom they’re pretty easy to find (although some blackberry bushes offer better bounties than others!) – it may be hedgerows, scrubland, woodland, parks or you might be lucky enough to have them in your own garden. Blackberry picking is a great activity for the kids – just be careful of the brambles as you pick them. A top tip is to grab the stalk with a gloved hand and then pick the deep purple berries with your other, bare hand. The more experienced pickers have been known to use walking sticks, umbrellas and even golf clubs as a tool to help bring some of the fruit ladened stalks within reach.

What to do with the bounty you’ve collected? They won’t keep long after you’ve collected them so either freeze them away or get cooking. Some recipes you might want to try are:

Dandelion

A common sight all year round and across most of the country – even your urban garden is likely to have some growing. For the forager – this plant is a treat as its yellow flowers, green leaves and even its roots are all edible. Although the plant can be found all year round – there are certain times of the year when it is better to harvest than others. The flowers are best harvested in the early spring. The leaves should be collected before the flowers appear. The root is best harvested in the autumn time.

The leaves do have a bitter taste – but you can either mix them in with other green leaves or sautee them in butter (as you may with spinach). The flowers have limited use but can be added to a risotto, used to make a floral syrup. The roots are bitter and take some effort in the kitchen … but it is possible to make a coffee substitute with them. Some recipes you may want to try covering all three edible parts of the plant are: 

Ramsons

Also known as wild garlic, the chances are that you’ll smell this one before you see it. Usually found in woodland or shaded roadside verges from March until June. Ideally you’re looking to pick this earlier in the season before the flowers appear. Be on your guard when picking wild garlic as there are a number of other plants, including Lily of the valley, whose leaves bear a striking resemblance but are poisonous (read rule number 1 again!). Ramsons, being a member of the lily family, is poisonous to many animals including dogs and cats – so if you have pets please make sure you keep it away from them and their food.

Wild garlic is milder than the garlic you buy in the supermarket – but it’s uses can be quite similar. Once picked – the leaves will wilt fairly quickly if in a warm environment so as soon as you get it home you should either use it or put it in the fridge. If you’re driving to a spot to forage it – you may also want to be conscious that it can have quite an overpowering aroma – so a sealed container may be needed. Some recipes you may want to try are:

Rosehips

These are the fruit of the wild rose and although they have been used as a food source for hundreds of years – it was during the second world war when they became a popular source of vitamin C for many households across the country when supplies of citrus fruit were cut off. Rosehips can contain up to twenty times more vitamin C than an orange!

You will usually find rosehips on the bushes from late summer through to November. Most commonly they are made to make a syrup – but there are lots of other things you can make with them too. Here are some recipes you may want to try:

Stinging Nettle

As the name suggests – if you’re looking to forage this one, be careful you don’t get stung in the process! Stinging nettles are quite common place – I’m sure you’ll be aware of plenty of places near you where you can find some. It’s the fresher, newer leaves that you ideally want to be picking – the ones towards the top of the plant. If the plant is starting to flower – then leave it alone.

The leaves from the stinging nettles contain vitamin C and high levels of iron. Although there are nettle eating contests – eating the leaves without cooking them first isn’t recommended. Here are some recipes you may want to try:

Sweet Chestnuts

As a child I can remember being taken down to the local woods by my parents to forage a bounty of sweet chestnuts. Thick gloves were needed to get through the prickly cases – but once you had, a tasty treat was in store. The ripe nuts will start to fall in late autumn. Depending where you go – there may only be one or two trees in the woods that have good size sweet chestnuts – so have a good look around for the best trees.

Thanks to the song – we all have a picture in our minds of chestnuts roasting on an open fire – and that’s certainly one thing to do with them … but there are many more. Here are some recipes that you may want to try:

We’ve just gone through a small handful of tasty treats you can forage for free – what is your favourite foraged treat? 

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The Global Wildlife Rescue Project is a registered charity in England & Wales. Registered charity number 1188557.

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