“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.”
Frank Lloyd Wright
The art, or at least the idea of foraging for food, paints a romantic image of being out in nature, amongst trees and brambles, finding food, only taking what you need and so on. In life, things a rarely as beautiful as the imagination, however, there are exceptions, the art of foraging for food is one of them. It is still as natural and intrinsic, raw and fearless as it’s always been. With a little know-how, a few hints and tips plus a knowledge of local bylaws, one can step out of the city and back to nature to take from the earth with integrity.
The act or concept of foraging in the cases of some species is very much genetic. The honey bee, for example, the need to forage v the worker bee, is wired into their nature. With the case of many small herbivorous mammals also, the knowledge is there from birth and in many cases, this primal instinct is still present in us. However, life has been made too easy for us lucky humans existing in the western world, but we shouldn’t let us of these basic outdoor skills, not only to eat and be nourished but to understand that there is a life away from the city, our phones and the supermarket aisles of packaged food.
We haven’t even touched on the flavour experience of collecting food in its most natural state, let alone the health benefits but by joe is this an important point. After all, we have said it once and no doubt we will again, FOOD IS LIFE. To know that what you can forage for will provide you with a nourishing and delicious meal is incentive enough. With plant-based living on the rise, official data in the UK shows a 300% increase since 2010 this shows that people are more and more interested in what goes into our foods, how they are manufactured etc. Genetically modified crops, chemical pesticides and so on, all with the view of creating uniform lacklustre crops is no longer sexy. We want strawberries in funny shapes, apples that look like the face of pug and mushrooms that look like an actual mushroom as opposed to a cartoon toadstool. Plus, if we can have these incredible foods without any harmful chemicals added to them then that’s wonderful. It has become so important to shop for seasonal foods and we have grown to value the waiting for our favourite foods to come into season.
So what are the guidelines here in the UK? There are many things to note, details of which can be found on the WoodlandsTrust website however, we have broken it down into 3 important points.
- Be confident/certain of what you’re picking. There is no “winging” it when it comes to foraging. Do your research before heading out. There is a simply incredible public use EBook available online that goes into detail about all the readily available items to forage for. An example of how technology and nature can work together is to ensure you have data on your phone if you are in possession of a new Google Phone, Samsung or IPhone- you can take images and search the images online to ensure what you are looking at is indeed safe. If not, familiarise yourself first and be sure to wash everything thoroughly in warm water and edible, eco-friendly detergents.
- Only collect where ample amounts grow. This is a no-brainer, if you stumble upon a delicious bramble bush, sprouting blackberries that look irresistible, perhaps consider, how much is currently growing. If the leaves look sparse, perhaps leave this plant and move on to a more fruitful bush. We don’t want to disrupt nature’s course or pick anything to the point of leaving any planet barren. Be conscientious
- Minimise Damage. We want to protect nature and the natural ecosystem. This refers to leaving enough fruits etc for other wildlife, it refers to being sustainable with how much and how you pick. Try to minimise the disruption to other plant life and wildlife, take care not to trample on surrounding plants etc.
If you want to read more about the laws for foraging in the UK head to the Woodland Trust website.
At Urban Nomads, we have a few different foods that are officially our favourite to forage for.
Mushrooms– A firm favourite is the “Puffball” Mushroom, it has a 10/10 safety rating simply as its appearance is so unique, it can’t be mistaken as/for anything else. It’s name, a fitting label, it’s a large white inflated ball shape that can grow up to a foot in diameter. It is great in risotto due to its creamy texture.
We also adore “Scarlet Elf Cup” mushrooms for their unique and unmissable appearance. There are bright red and shaped like a little cup which makes identifying them rather easy. They also thrive in winter. Due to the colour, it’s a feast for the eyes and taste buds so they look great in salads or simply fried on buttered toast. Throw some garlic in there and a glass of vino and you have a slice of heaven! For more details on picking mushrooms the Wildfood UK website is an excellent resource.
The humble Blackberry– We have all at some point in our lives picked blackberries off the bramble bush and enjoyed the sweet, soft flavour plus that satisfying colour it leaves on your fingers. It’s arguably the easiest fruit to forage for as it’s unmissable and grows in such ample quantities in the UK. Best time to harvest in late Summer/ Early Autumn and if you pop them in a crumble, it’s THE perfect Sunday dinner dessert! More info can be found on the BBC website.
Nettle Leaves- An unsung hero of the vegetable world, the Nettle leaf is a secret superfood. Packed with all the amazing nutrients often found in dark leafy greens such as Iron, vitamin C, Calcium and a source of Fibre. Not only that but it’s peppery, fresh flavour is amazing in soups, salads or added to salsa verde or pesto. For more info on foraging for Nettle, head to the Vegetarian Living website.
There are so many incredible foods found in abundance in the UK so be sure to consult the Wildfood school guide.
There is something forage here in the UK during any season, year-round opportunities to eat from the land and enjoy being in nature. Foraging is good for your belly and good for your soul and for these reasons, we should spread the word where we can. Use the incredible foods to inspire your family and friends, cook something you foraged for a dinner party, use the flavours to encourage them to try foraging for themselves. You can even take a guilt-free Instagram pictures, knowing you are promoting something cool!
Like, comment and share, do you like to forage? What’s your favourite thing to forage for? Know any good spots?- Let us know!