Foraging in the UK: Your essential guide
At TOG24, we’ve been doing a little digging. You know we love getting out in the great outdoors just as much as you do. And we also love foraging for wild food.
As well as doing our own foraging for mushrooms and other wild food, we wanted to dig a little deeper to find out if it’s something that the rest of the UK feels as passionate about as we do. We found that seven out of 10 of us in the UK would like to do it more, but we also found that what’s holding many of us back is a lack of knowledge on what we should be looking for, where and when. And then what to do with it when we get it home.
So, to help, we’ve put together the below guide to help you get to know wild foods across the UK. Season by season.
How to forage safely
Foraging is a fantastic family activity, but it must be done safely. Some mushrooms are so poisonous that eating them can prove fatal. It’s key to know what you’re looking for and to always proceed with caution.
The following 10 steps should assist:
2. Don’t take more than you need – only pick from abundant populations and leave some for others. Over-picking will also impact next years’ crop.
3. Don’t pick endangered species – it’s both illegal and unethical.
4. Never trespass – only access land that you have permission to enter and always leave it as it was.
5. Leave no trace behind and respect nature.
6. Don’t pick roots as this will limit the plant’s chance of reproducing.
7. Never pick in places subjected to pollution.
8. Bring the right tools with you to avoid unnecessary damage to the plant. This could include a knife or a pair of scissors.
9. Consider your existing allergies when trying new food and always be cautious.
10. Don’t forget to share your knowledge and teach others.
Season by season guide to foraging in the UK
In winter, there are five key wild foods that are available for foraging. Some are common, other less so. Here’s where you should start.
Where to find it: Unsurprisingly, this is found in hedges. But you’ll also find hedge garlic in woodland, shady scrub and path edges.
How common is it? The season starts in January and ends in December, with it common throughout the UK.
How does it taste? It has a mild garlic taste, with a hint of mustard. Some people think it has an unpleasant aftertaste, while others quite enjoy it. You can easily slip it into a salad along with a tasty dressing.
How to use it: You can use it in your salad, while the seeds can also be used as a mustard.
Three cornered leak
Where to find it: It grows in hedgerows, verges, woodland edges, field edges, waste ground and peoples flower beds.
How common is it? It is fairly uncommon but prolific where established and spreading fast.
How does it taste? A bit like spring onion or baby leeks or chives.
How to use it: You can use the leaves and flowers in salads or the leaves in soups or stews. The more mature onion-like roots can also be used as onion or garlic.
Where to find it: The pleasantly-tasting Fools Watercress can be found in slow moving shallow water, ponds and wet ditches.
How common is it? The season starts in March and ends in December with it being common throughout the UK.
How does it taste: Nothing like cress! It both smells and tastes like carrot and it can actually be used as a cooked green vegetable.
How to use it: Cook it up just like you would your carrots and serve as a seasonal side dish.
Where to find it: You can find burdock on waste ground, meadow edges, gardens, roadsides, alongside footpaths, woodland edges and around the edges of most farmers’ fields. It’s the roots where you get all the taste and goodness – just remember to ask the farmer’s permission before you start digging them up.
How common is it? Burdock grows from September to December and is common throughout the UK.
How does it taste: The delicious roots taste just like a cross between parsnip and sweet chestnut. Sweet!
How to use it: Simply roast the roots for a delicious seasonal side or use them as part of a tasty stir-fry.
Velvet Shank Mushrooms
Where to find it: You’ll find these tasty mushrooms growing on decaying wood. Caps are 3-7cm in diameter with a caramel or orange colour. These must always be picked with care as they can look similar to Funeral Bell Mushrooms which can poison fatally.
How common is it? They are quite common throughout the UK in woodland and forests.
How does it taste? They are mushrooms, so of course they’ll bring some earthy flavours to the mix. You’ll also find that they have a delicious, sweet flavour too.
How to use it: These are ideal to use as part of a stew, soup or even in a mushroom risotto.
As plant life starts to grow again in spring, so do your options for foraging. Here’s what you should be looking for in spring.
St. George’s Mushroom
Where to find it: This delightful mushroom can be found in grasslands, beside woodland, lawns and roadsides growing in rings. Look out for a ring of grass that is darker and longer.
How common is it: It’s very common throughout the UK and is usually found growing several weeks either side of St George’s Day (April 23rd), hence the name.
How does it taste: You’ll enjoy a fantastic mushroom taste, and they go wonderfully well with a creamy sauce. Carbonara anyone?
How to use it: You must always cook this mushroom before you eat it. It’s ideal to be fried, cooked in stews, or as part of a creamy pasta sauce.
Prickly Wild Lettuce
Where to find it: You’ll find that this grows almost anywhere sunny with little competition. Common spots include between paving slabs, gaps in walls, flower beds and especially freshly disturbed soil around field edges.
How common is it? This is very common throughout the UK and has a growing season from April to September.
How does it taste? Prickly wild lettuce can be quite bitter, and you’ll need to remove the spines.
How to use it: It’s ideal as part of a mixed salad with a good amount of dressing.
Where to find it: You’ll find this beautiful yellow flowering plant in gardens, parks and hedges. It’s important to note that forsythia is a gardening plant and is unlikely to be found growing wild.
How common is it? It’s more likely to be found growing in gardens and urban areas than growing wild.
How does it taste? It has a very mild flavour.
How to use it: Remember to only use the flowers and ignore the leaves. It’s ideal to be used in a salad or to give a little colour to dishes as an edible garnish.
Where to find it: You might be used to asparagus, but not know that it grows wild. A few species grow wild in the UK and can be found in wood edges, gardens and waste ground. It usually does well in places with soil with a salt content. This can include coastal areas or alongside roads that are gritted.
How common is it? It has a short season from March to May and can be quite rare in the UK. It is also endangered so should be collected sparingly.
How does it taste? We all know how delicious asparagus tastes now don’t we.
How to use it: You can steam, bake or stir-fry asparagus to be used as a delicious accompaniment. Our favourite is to either fry it in butter as a side dish or wrap it in prosciutto ham.
Where to find it: You’ll most likely find wild mustard growing in field edges, on roadsides, in gardens, on waste ground and cultivated ground. Most often it will be growing in sunny spots.
How common is it? Wild mustard grows from March to August and is quite rare in the UK. You’ll do well to find it.
How does it taste? It has a sweet mustard flavour, while the leaves smell strongly of mustard when crushed.
How to use it: If the leaves are young, you can add them to a salad, while more mature plants can be cooked as greens.
There’s nothing like getting out into nature during the summer. It’s also the best time to eat as fresh and as healthily as possible. By foraging the following wild plants, you can do exactly that.
Where to find it: This is one of the easiest mushrooms for new foragers to begin with. It looks like a football when spotted from afar and is about the size of a human head – you really can’t miss it. You’ll find it in grasslands, pasture, lawns, commons and on roadsides. It is usually found in rings, troops or individually. In and around open woodland is also a good hunting ground for giant puffballs – look for them hiding in amongst nettles and scrub.
How common is it? You’ll find these from July to September and they are fairly common throughout the UK.
How does it taste? They may look cloud-like, but giant puffballs have a good, meaty mushroom flavour.
How to use it: Giant puffballs really are delicious and can be sliced and fried like a steak. If you like a bit of texture you can also bread and fry them.
Where to find it: This may not sound too appetising considering its name and the fact it’s found anywhere with rotting wood present.
How common is it? Stinkhorns grow from June to November and are quite common in the UK.
How does it taste? You can probably smell a stinkhorn before you see one. This mushroom is edible at the egg stage – with the tough cuticle in the egg tasting like radish. Not many people eat them however, due to the putrid smell. It the Victorian times, men used to go out and flatten these mushrooms as the phallic shape might embarrass women.
How to use it: It’s maybe best to steer clear of this one.
Where to find it: You’ll find wild strawberries growing in mixed woodland or hedgerows, usually in partial shade. They make for a great sweet treat while out walking or the perfect morsel to save to use at home in a fruit salad.
How common is it? Wild strawberries grow from May to August and are quite common throughout the UK.
How does it taste? Like one of the sweetest strawberries you’ve ever had.
How to use it: You can eat wild strawberries raw, cut them up into a fruit salad, cover them in cream, or make them into a tasty jam.
Where to find it: You’ll find this salty delight in coastal areas, most often on cliffs, sea defences, walls next to the sea and on the foreshore.
How common is it? Growing from May until October it is quite common, but you’ll most likely need to be near the sea to find it. The South and West coasts of England and Wales as well as South West Scotland are your best bets.
How does it taste? It really divides opinion this one. Some people love it, and others hate it. It has a flavour of fennel and salt.
How to use it: Give it a little bit of heat in a pan and serve it as a fresh side dish to some delicious seafood.
Where to find it: You’ll find wild garlic growing in damp, acidic, deciduous woodland. It is particularly common near to streams and damp ditches.
How common is it? Wild Garlic grows up until June and is common throughout the UK.
How does it taste? It has a strong and hot garlic taste. This is lessened by age and can also be reduced by cooking. It you want to experience a super-hot garlic taste, go for the flower buds and young seeds. These have been described as ‘hot garlic bombs’.
How to use it: As with regular garlic, this is very versatile and can be used in sauces, stews, soups and plenty of other recipes.
As the leaves begin to fall to the ground in autumn, there’s plenty of nature’s bounty to be found. Here’s what you could be feasting on come autumn.
Where to find it: This is one of the best autumn nuts and is well worth the effort foraging. You’ll find them along tree lined streets, parks and mixed woodland. Just don’t confuse them with conkers.
How common is it? With a season from September to November, these are common throughout the UK.
How does it taste? Sweet chestnuts have a delicious taste and can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes.
How to use it: The nuts can be eaten both raw and cooked – they are delicious when roasted. When collecting, make sure you roll them underfoot until they are released from their spiny case to avoid any painful accidents.
Where to find it: These delicious nuts are found in mixed woodland and hedgerows.
How common is it? Hazelnuts are common throughout the UK, with a growing season from January to December. The nuts are ideal for collecting from August/September onwards.
How does it taste? Beautiful and hazelnutty of course. They are also ideal eaten raw.
How to use it: You can eat hazelnuts raw as a lovely snack or use them to add some extra flavour to your baking, whether you’re making cookies, cakes, or tarts. You’ll also find that they go well with savoury dishes including fish, salads, and pesto.
Where to find it: Crab apples are found in hedgerows and mixed woodland. Often you’ll find them on their own.
How common is it? Crab apples are fairly common throughout the UK.
How does it taste? The clue is in the name with this one. Crab apples have a very sharp and bitter taste. They’re much better once they’ve been cooked.
How to use it: Crab apple cheese or even crab apple jelly are great ways to make use of your foraged crab apples.
Where to find it: Blackthorns can be found around the edges of fields and woodland. You might even see them just poking out of hedgerows.
How common is it? Blackthorns grow from September to November and are quite common throughout the UK. You should start collecting the fruit in October or November – ideally once exposed to a frost. When you collect them, remember to protect your arms from the thorns.
How does it taste? These small plum-like fruits will suck all the moisture from your mouth if you eat them raw. They’re definitely not for the faint-hearted.
How to use it: The main use of sloe is of course for Sloe Gin. You can also use the berries to make Sloe Cider if you’re more of a cider drinker than a gin afficionado.
Where to find it: You’ll find this brown scaley mushroom growing from the soil, usually under trees in mixed woodland and parks.
How common is it? Growing from July to October, these are rare and uncommon although their frequency has increased in recent years.
How does it taste? Medusa mushrooms should always be cooked before you eat them. They have a distinctive mushroom taste, but don’t forget to remove all the soil before you cook. No one enjoys a gritty meal.
How to use it: These are perfect fried or stewed.