With recent world events, foraging is having a surge in popularity with many people combing the hedgerows for tasty treats on their daily walks. We thought because we’ve seen so many of you taking up this wholesome skill, we’d share some expert advice. You may remember local foraging expert Alex Richards from Island Wild Food from when we interviewed her around this time last year, who has very kindly shared her tips on how to forage safely, responsibly and sustainably!
Invest in (or borrow) some good pictorial foraging guidebooks. Alex’s favourites are Wild Food by Roger Philips which is an absolute classic, The Foraging Calendar or Hedgerow by John Wright (beautiful presentation), The Edible City by John Rensten from Forage London and Food for Free by Richard Mabey – a great pocket-sized quick reference guide! Also, use reliable web guides – Wild Food UK offers a great online directory.
Always cross-reference against multiple sources and take lots of photos to build your own plant ID scrapbook.
Start with what you DO know. You’ll be surprised by how much you are familiar with, without realising. Nettles and dandelions are good places to start now. It will soon be time for elderflowers… Alex spotted her first one just the other day!
Work with the seasons. Understand their patterns. Follow plant growth and notice their changes. Some plants have different edible products throughout the year such as the Elder tree which has flowers and then berries.
Use your senses. Slow down, look closely, pick, smell, crush, and notice the small details.
Familiarise yourself with poisonous lookalikes associated with the plant you are picking. Never pick anything looking like parsley or celery – unless you really know what you are doing! Make sure you know the difference between wild garlic and lords and ladies for a start. This is SOOO important with the choice of picking the wrong plant could be potentially fatal. Hemlock Water Dropwort being one of the most deadly plants in the northern hemisphere and also happens to prolific on the Island! So please take care.
Go on a foraging walk with an expert (once it’s allowed again). When things get back to normal we highly recommend you book yourselves onto one of Alex’s fantastic local foraging walks where she goes into a lot more detail and often prepares something with foraged ingredients for you try at the end of the walk.
There is no rush to learn. Familiarise yourselves with one plant at a time and experiment in the kitchen. For example, turning nettles to tea, foraged flowers on cakes, making your own wild garlic pasta, elderflower cordial, beer, soup – the list is endless! Things will go wrong but that’s how you will learn.
Sustainability and conservation
You can pick what you like from your own garden (but it’s always a good idea to leave something for the other wildlife (and for yourself next year!)
You can legally forage on public land, for your own consumption; for fruit, foliage, flowers, and fungi, (unless it’s a protected species), not commercially, unless you have a special license. Be mindful of protected land – there is A LOT of it here on the Isle of Wight – and for good reason. Look up SSSIs (Site of Special Scientific Interest if you’re in the UK.
Unfortunately, there is no common law for seaweed foraging as it depends who owns the foreshore or sub-tidal zone – but harvesting a bit for yourself is probably ok – literature is very grey in this area! Around 80% of the coastline is a protected site (SSSI) so check before foraging.
Pick carefully (use scissors), take only what you need – a little from a few plants across a wide area, rather than one place and do not take anything if there is not much there. Never uproot the plant. You will want to return again next year and everyone wants to appreciate the plant’s beauty.
Consider where you are foraging. Consider pollutants. Get away from traffic and people as much as possible (perfect for these times!)
Try to keep a few spots a ‘secret’ – the fun is in discovering something yourself!
Remember only ever eat what you can ID with 100% certainty. You can find some of Alex’s forager recipes online here. Don’t forget to tag us in the pics of your finds #TasteIW – Happy foraging folks!