As the cost of living crisis starts to bite it forces us to try and find good food at a reasonable price. But did you know that there’s fancy-pants organic food just growing, right there in our surroundings. That’s right – we’re on about foraging. Although please note that if you live in an urban area your options might be more limited and under no circumstances should not try foraging for used chewing gum a la Elf.
Why Would I Want to Try Foraging?
Aside from foraging being a useful skill and an engaging hobby, foraged food is inherently seasonal and varied, so it can have a positive influence on how we think about what we consume, and when. It can make you more conscious of how processed our modern diet can be, the impact modern farming can have on our environment and how convenience can ironically narrow the variety of what we eat.
What Do I Need To Know Before I Start Foraging?
The first thing to say is that we are by no means offering expert advice here – our role is simply to make you more aware of some of the easier opportunities out there, but let’s not beat around the bush (not a good foraging technique) – eating wild foods without knowing what you’re doing can kill you. It’s absolutely vital that you only eat food that has been properly identified. One advantage we have over some of our early ancestors is colour vision, which we evolved in order to identify which foods were ripe, or dangerous, but we also have books and YouTube, so study up!
Where Can I Forage?
If you’re lucky enough to live near streams or riverbanks, woodlands or coastal areas, these can be the best places to forage; however, you must of course be wary of foraging on any land that is privately owned and get express permission to forage from the landowner if that’s the case. Be conscious that anything growing low to the ground on a public footpath may fall within the dog urination zone.
What Can I Forage?
The holy grail is the mighty fungus. Mushrooms are low in calories and high in protein and fibre, often the preferred meat substitute for vegans and vegetarians. Mushrooms can also be deadly (or psychedelic), so don’t start picking and eating them until you can confidently and without doubt identify edible mushrooms correctly.
A big part of foraging is seasonality and that means at certain times of year, there will naturally be fewer foods available. You might assume that once winter hits that your five-a-day is going to be more veg-centric, but at the time of publishing (October), you’ll still find fruits like elderberry, hawthorn and rosehip in the woods. Elderberry needs to be cooked, and along with Rosehip can be used to make preserving syrups.
Nuts can also be found, such as hazelnuts – even acorns are edible, but need to have the bitter tannins leeched from them beforehand, otherwise they can be toxic. They can be ground and made into a sort of biscuit, if you don’t fancy gnawing on them like a squirrel.
While the chef from Ratatouille warned that “one can become too familiar with vegetables” we advise the forager become familiar with the carrot family – not just the familiar orange favourite of rabbits, but many varieties. Carrots have gone to seed now and Alexander and Sea Carrot, which can be found along the coast, can be used in lieu of peppercorn seeds for seasoning.
The easiest and most common stuff to forage includes stuff you’re more likely to be familiar with as food already, such as blackberries, nettles and a MAN v FAT favourite, wild garlic.
One great option is to book onto a foraging course which can take you through the sorts of things you’re able to find in your local area and walk you through the preparation that each item will need.
Where Can I Find Out More About Foraging?
We also really liked the Wild Food UK site which runs courses about foraging and also has alerts for what sort of foods are coming into season and what to look out for.
Would you like us to cover foraging in more detail? Want some healthy recipes? Let us know! And if you decide to try out foraging yourself, please stay safe and let us know how you get on.