Mushroom, Berry and Fruit Foraging: A Guide
01 April 2016
Food foraging in the UK is now somewhat of a ‘thing’. We don’t mean hunting for half priced quinoa in Waitrose, but taking to the hedgerows and sourcing fresh food from the abundance of nutritious and delicious produce that grows naturally in the UK. Not only can you source food for free, many of the plants and berries you can find in the hedgerows of the UK come with their own medicinal benefits, helping aid digestion to curing rashes or acting a an antiseptic. It’s well worth taking an afternoon to get some fresh air and a free lunch, bear in mind the laws that go with accessing private property or land, and the country side code.
The Law on Foraging
– It’s illegal in the UK to forage for commercial gain under the Theft Act of 1968. On most common lands, it’s legal to forage for wild food that isn’t protected and for your own consumption. Local bylaws may be in place though, so you should check these as well.
– If you’re foraging on private land (or even just on private land in the first place…) you’ll need implicit permission to be on the land, and to forage on it.
– “Conservation law is covered by the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act which states that ‘….if any person ….not being an authorised person, intentionally uproots any wild plant…he shall be guilty of an offence.’ This seems to say that as long as you do not uproot anything you can cut, hack and maim to your hearts content. Not very helpful. Certain plants mentioned in the 1981 act are on the ‘schedule 8’ list and it is illegal to damage them in any way.”
– “The fundamental law governing foraging is the common law right to collect the ‘four ‘f’s – fruit, flowers, fungi and foliage’. This applies with two provisos (1) that the material picked is for personal use, not commercial gain, and (2) that it is growing wild. This principle is enshrined in the 1968 Theft Act.”
Source: The Dartmoor Blog
Foraging for Fruit and Berries
You’d be surprised at how many fruits and berries we have in this country that are wonderful used in jams, cakes, desserts and whatever other clever recipes you may have up your sleeve. Alongside commonly known fruits such as apples and sloes, we have crab apples, damsons, rosehips and, should you wish to take your foraging one step beyond taking the kids blackberry picking, you’ll be able to dig around for some unusual and luscious fruits and berries to use in your everyday cooking.
- Crab apples (Malus Species)
A very tart, smaller kind of apple. They contain a large amount of pectin – the setting agent needed to make jam and jelly! – for this reason, they make brilliant jams, especially when paired with other fruits with a low pectin content (such as blackberries). They tend to ripen around October time, so making Crab Apple Jam for foodie Christmas presents is ideal!
- Damsons (Prunus insititia)
Damsons are very similar to plums, just slightly smaller. They tend to be ripe enough to eat from Mid-August until October and are found commonly in hedgerows. They’re more sour than plums and make great chutneys to go with cheese, tarts and go very well in a white spirit or made into wine.
- Rose Hips (Rosa Species)
Rose Hips have pretty, delicate flowers in the summer and turn into bright red hips full of vitamin C in the Autumn. You’ll probably recognise them from your childhood, as they have irritating hairs on them which make great itching powder! Itching powder aside, they’re sweeter after a frost and therefore make wonderful syrup or jelly. Rose pairs beautifully with almond, pistachio, ginger and is used heavily in Middle Eastern Cuisine!
- Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)
A beautiful tree with vivid red berries, found commonly all over the UK – in hedgerows, parks, at the side of the road…. The berries are traditionally used to make jam, but because of their sharp taste, they work well with game meat and cheese. Rowan wine takes around a year to mature and develop, but is well worth the wait.
Other fruits and berries that are commonly foraged for in the UK are:
– Wild Strawberries
– Hawthorne Berries
Mushroom foraging needs to be proceeded with caution – some wild mushrooms in this country can make you very ill or worse, can lead to fatality. As well as accidentally picking mushrooms that will make you poorly, some mushrooms are becoming endangered due to people being overzealous during picking season.
There are over 500 edible species of mushroom in the UK, and more than 2500 varieties that will cause problems, not to mention that Magic Mushrooms grow wild in open spaces across the UK – obviously consuming them is illegal! With a quick Google search, you can locate a mushroom foraging course if you’re serious about foraging for mushrooms.
The deadliest and poisonous types are:
Deathcap (Amanita phalloides)
Destroying Angel (A. virosa)
Funeral Bell (Galerina marginata)
Fool’s Funnel (Clitocybe rivulosa)
The whole genera of Cortinarius (webcaps), Inocybe (fibrecaps) and Lepiota (dapperlings).
Mushroom Foraging Tips
– Buy a decent book on mushrooms. It’s a resource you take out with you on country walks and when you’re foraging.
– Choose to forage for mushrooms types are so distinctive you won’t get them mixed up with something deadly.
Here are some more comprehensive resources including food foraging courses and also a guide to mushrooms from Wild Food UK.
REMEMBER: Don’t eat any mushrooms until you are sure it won’t cause harm.
Foraging for food can be a free and fun activity for the whole family to enjoy: fresh air and sunshine do the world of good for everyone, and if you can get dinner out of it, then why not! Make sure you follow local bylaws and countryside codes, and of course, if foraging will disturb wildlife or any rare species of plant then leave it where it is. Why not try and set your self a challenge of cooking a two course meal with ingredients that have been foraged! Good Luck!
The Foraging Law and Common Sense
Images by Roberto Arias and Annie Spratt