Top 10 tips on becoming a wild food forager

Enjoy the thrill of the hunt and tastes you can't get in the supermarket with Sue Todd's top 4Food tips on becoming a wild food gourmet. As John Wright, River Cottage foraging expert, says, 'You can't beat catching your own lobster'. And it's free!

What's easy to find

Not sure where to start? John Wright recommends some easy-to-identify wild food for novices. "You can't go wrong with the hedgehog mushroom and the shaggy inkcap - both are tasty, common and distinctive. On the seashore mussels are abundant and, while they may be covered in barnacles, they taste just as good as shop-bought ones."

Where to look

Urban, seaside, pastures, hedgerows, woodland - look hard enough and you can forage anywhere. You'll soon get to know your best local spots. Beaches are generally clean and safe these days, though it's best to avoid murky estuaries.

How to identify what you can eat (and won't poison you)

Get yourself a good guide, with good pictures. And if in doubt - don't eat it.

Learn more first hand

Try a tutored walk or join a fungi foray to learn tips from the experts. River Cottage offer several courses, or you could try the Wild Food School in Cornwall or forage with Fergus Drennan.

Best foraging for taste

Lots of wild food is edible, but not all of it is particularly tasty. Invest in guide books that advise on taste and cooking as well as identification.

When to do it - times of the year

You'll find something at the seaside any time of year. Woodland, hedgerows and pastures are good in spring for wild garlic, elderflowers and delicious fungi, such as morels and St. George's mushrooms. Lots of edible greens, such as stinging nettles, are best eaten when plants are young, before they flower. Some mushrooms, such as ceps and chanterelles, start in the summer, but autumn is generally the best time for fungi, as well as nuts and berries.

Good to remember...

Avoid picking anything close to roads where there is heavy traffic. In urban areas, pick ground-level plants from the centre of clumps, as a dog may have been there before you...

Useful books

Richard Mabey's 1970s foraging classic 'Food for Free' is still one of the top sellers. John Wright's two River Cottage handbooks - 'Mushrooms' and 'Edible Seashore' - are packed with detailed photographs and tips on finding and enjoying a wild harvest.

Follow the forager's code

Over-harvesting isn't usually a foraging issue. But conservation should be your main concern. It's illegal to uproot a plant - take only the leaves and flowers. Fungi should be picked carefully, ensuring the underground root system isn't damaged.
Whatever you pick, do it with care - check carefully what it is and be respectful to the plant and its environment. If you find a bounty harvest, don't pick all of it and ruin the look of the place it grows for others.

Recipes

Picked your grub? Now try these preparation ideas for a selection of wild foods:

Rosehips
Sweet chestnuts
Blackberries
Sloes
Nettles
Wild garlic

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