Food foraging: what lies beneath?
With the rise of organic and local produce, food foraging has become more and more popular. In the UK alone, foods that can be foraged range from vegetables and fruits to herbs and shellfish. Not only are these foods delicious but also they contain a wealth of vitamins and nutrients.
It's important for a novice forager to be equipped with not only the right equipment but also the right knowledge. To collect the food a sturdy container or basket is vital. The type of container will depend on how delicate the food in question is. It's also ideal to carry an illustrated guide book or at least a clear photograph of the food to be foraged: some fruits, for example, have similar looking poisonous cousins and so it's important for a forager to be absolutely sure that they're picking the correct version.
A forager must also be aware of the legalities surrounding foraging. In general, there's no need to have the permission of the landowner if only the above-ground body is picked as opposed to uprooting the whole plant. However, this doesn't apply to nearly 200 species listed in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
What can be foraged?
What can be foraged depends on the location and the season. A large number of useful edible plants are widespread throughout the UK. In the summer months, elderflower is a particularly versatile blossom: it can be eaten raw or dried for use in salads, cakes, jams, fritters, cordials or wine. However, an ideal way to enjoy it is outside whilst relaxing in your garden table and chairs
as elderflower 'champagne'. Berries are one of the easier foods to forage in late summer. Common berries include blackberries, mulberries and sloes, all of which can be made into an abundance of drinks and dishes, including jams, cakes, ice cream, wine and gin.
Dandelions are good picking as winter sets in as there are plenty of leaves, as opposed to flowers, that make for a delicious salad when mixed with lettuce. The roots can also be dug up, dried, and ground into coffee, which has an acquired chicory taste. This is also the time for rose hips, which have started to soften, as the weather gets colder. They can be cooked to make a range of sweet dishes, including syrup, jellies and puddings. For those who prefer to eat their pickings straight from the tree the medlar produces dull brown fruit that, around the months of October and November, becomes sweet and pulpy, similar to a stewed pear. The flesh can be eaten raw or used in puddings or pies.
There are also a wide variety of plants that can be foraged throughout the year. One that most avid gardeners label an evil weed is the resilient ground elder. However, although labelled a pest its leaves are very flavoursome. The young leaves can be used in salads and the older ones steamed gently, like cabbage. Another plant generally despised is the stinging nettle. The fresh growth springing up close to the base of a clump of this plant, however, can be stewed or used in soup. Gloves should be worn when both picking and preparing this plant.