Foraging is a wonderful thing: It gives you free, healthy food, an admirable knowledge of useful plants and how to identify them (as well as their poisonous look-alikes) and it connects you deeply with nature and the landscape around you.
I didn’t grow up with any foraging whatsoever, we didn’t even have a garden to grow our own veg. However, over the last couple of years I have developed an interest in gathering food and other plants which we use in our Forest School sessions. What I didn’t expect was how foraging changed my view of my local surroundings.
If it is elderflowers or blackberries, you start to actively look for certain plants while walking or driving, adding points of reference to your mind’s map of the local area so that you can return to the same spot year after year. Suddenly it is not only the road that connects A to B, it is the one that has abundant elder and a safe parking spot. Or it is not just the last stretch of your regular walk before you reach the houses, it is the hedgerow full of hawthorn where you can gather bags of haws in the autumn.
Foraging is not complicated nor requires any expensive equipment. A good field guide, however, is an absolute must and there are some excellent books out there to give you the knowledge and confidence to start you off, e.g.:
- John Wright: Hedgerow. River Cottage Handbook No.7
- Adele Nozedar: Foraging with kids
- Richard Maybe: Food for free
You can also find some great sources online, although you need to be sure that they are reputable and know their stuff. I can recommend Robin Harford’s Eat Weeds which is well researched and has an abundance of information on common plants and their uses including recipes.
There are some great local foraging experts as well who will show you plants in-situ during different times of the year and who might even show you how to process and cook your findings. Not suitable for times of lockdown and social distancing but maybe something to put on your to-do list for when we are allowed to roam and gather again.
So, here is our Useful Plants Spotter Sheet. It is intended as a very simple introduction to some common plants that you might currently find in your garden or on your daily walk. They are useful to us for food, as medicine or for some fun stuff. By no means is it intended as a guide in its on right, so please be sure you consult a reputable resource like the ones above to find out what part of the plant you can use for what, how and at what time of year. If you do go out foraging, always be 100% sure you know what you are picking and remember to only take a few where there is plenty.
What kind of things to you like to forage for? Have you got any favourite recipes? As always, we would love to hear from you!