A Quick Guide to Foraging in the UK: What Wild Ingredients to Forage this Spring

MrPlantGeek
Published on February 18th 2021
7
A man doing a trick in the forest
It might be chilly outside, but having a walk on a crisp winters day is just what your soul needs. But how about really connecting with nature, and harvesting some wild crops?
Ever since I was young, I have been interested in wild foods and would spend a lot of time making up weird concoctions in my Mum’s kitchen.
Even now, when I’m wandering around the countryside, I’m always waxing lyrical about all the plants and how they can be used, driving my friends a bit crazy sometimes!
A tree in a forest
A forest filled with Wild Garlic

Important Things to Note Before Foraging:

  • Always harvest lightly from the plants that you find, and never harvest from private land, unless you have permission.
  • You should not harvest for commercial gain either, so only pick what you need for personal use.
  • It goes without saying that you should wash anything before you use it!
  • Do not forage protected and rare species. Only forage when plants are in abundance.
  • Make sure you know what you’re picking. I recommend foraging with someone experienced or study the information in-depth online or in books before picking anything.
All that aside, I hope that you enjoy picking a few wild foods, and experimenting with their fun flavours! Here is my guide to the wild foods you might find over the next three months.

February

At this time of the year, it still feels like winter, but there will often be some hints of spring too. You can still find plenty of nuts, perhaps some berries (if the birds haven’t got there first), and the first of the fresh leafy shoots.
Acorns
Acorns are nutrient-dense, and much overlooked! The perfect paleo food.
Harvest good quality acorns, avoiding any with holes and blemishes. You’ll then need to shell them and then leach them.
This is to remove harmful tannins. Do this by soaking the acorns in hot water, draining and refilling, until the water is clear.
To roast them, sprinkle with salt and toast for 20 minutes on high heat, when they darken in colour, they are ready.
Beech Nuts
Historically, Beech nuts were a popular food source in Europe and America, but sadly long forgotten. They are difficult to harvest mechanically and aren’t as big as the nuts we are used to seeing on our tables.
They ideally need to be cooked before eating them, to remove the tannins.
Remove the outer husks, and allow the nuts to dry for three weeks. The next part is fiddly, I make no apologies, you need to remove the inner leathery shell. And inside, you will find the single beech nut!
You can now roast your beech nuts in a pan for about 5 minutes until they are fragrant, and the flavour is superb, too!
You can find a few good recipes online for Beech-Nut oil, popular in France, and Beech-Nut butter.
Rosehips
Whilst it might be a little bit late in February for rosehips, it doesn’t hurt to track down the bushes, ready for harvesting the new crop later in the year. If you do find some rosehips, then I would really recommend making rosehip syrup, it is amazingly healthy and the flavour is so special.
It’s really quite easy, to make. Start off with the same amount of rosehips as sugar. Trim the rose hips, and remove some of the seeds. I often leave them whole, I don’t like the fiddly bit and you’ll sieve the pulp anyway. Mash them up, or put in a food processor, and then place in the pan with 100ml of water to 100g of fruit. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes, then strain through a muslin cloth, preserving the liquid.
Return the pulp to the pan and repeat the process, with more water. Combine both batches, and now add the sugar, and boil for 5 minutes. Allow it to cool, and jar it up!
Hawthorn
A very common sight in the wild, or even in suburban areas. Did you know that the leaves taste nutty when they’re young, and you can add them to salads?
However, hawthorn berries have a myriad of uses. My favourite has to be Hawthorn Berry Ketchup, which is great served with pork belly!

March

In March, things are really starting to happen in the wild now, and there will be plenty of leafy shoots for you to harvest! The days are warmer too, so you may well be walking in the wilds more often.
Nettles
They may be scary to some, but these are a nutritional powerhouse. Nettle leaves have also been a staple in herbal medicine since ancient times.
Don’t be scared, once leaves are cooked or dried, they no longer hurt to touch!
Depending on how adventurous you’re feeling, you can add them to a herbal tea, whack them in a stirfry, or even mix them up in a smoothie.
Make sure you blanch the leaves in hot water first, to remove the harmful barbs.
Alexanders
This is quite an imposing wildflower, but do make sure you accurately identify it, there are a few lookalikes.
The stems taste similar to celery, but the flowers can also be used, as a spice or decoration in salads. Furthermore, the buds are often pickled or fried. A rich source of protein, carbohydrates and fatty acids.
Chickweed
You may not need to go far into the wild to harvest chickweed, as it's a common weed found in back gardens often.
However, look beyond that fact, and you have a green plant full of vitamins and more!
When foraging the raw leaves, harvest the tips which are the most tender. The leaves can be added to soups and pasta, or steamed very lightly to serve as a vegetable.
Sweet Violet
These little lovelies have edible leaves and flowers! Sweet Violet leaves are perfect for a wild spring salad, and the flowers are excellent for decorating cakes.
There are many uses for the lovely mauve flowers of Sweet Violet plants. Add them to vinegar for a lovely aroma and colour or surprise people with a few sprinkled in a sandwich!

April

Ah, now we're talking! The days are warmer and the growth of plants is in full swing! April is the perfect time for wild garlic, as well as forest foraging activities, too!
Wild Garlic
Wild Garlic has become effortlessly trendy over the last few years. Wild Garlic is a frequent choice of the top chefs and a favourite of many home-cooks too!
My tip would be to pick the leaves when they’re young and add directly to salads for a garlicky flavour - without the pungent breath afterwards!
Wild garlic liquid is said to repel cats and predators from the garden. Boil the leaves, and use the resulting liquid for this purpose, spraying your plants liberally. Do not mistake wild garlic for Lily Of The Valley though, which has a similar leaf shape.
Dandelion
Here is another plant that you'll find in your backyard too, the humble Dandelion! Dandelions have a bad reputation, but who knows, rather than a weed, maybe it’s just a plant growing in the wrong place?
There are tonnes of documented health benefits, and in the kitchen, there’s a fun set of recipes to try! How about sautéed dandelion greens with eggs; or why not grind down the roots to make coffee (tried-and-tested by myself!). Other ideas include Dandelion wine made with the flowers or deep-fried Dandelion blooms using a light batter
Cleavers
Cleaver is a plant that goes by a few different names, including Sticky Willy! Don’t be fooled though, it's a plant packed with goodness.
Cleaver should be harvested when it's young. Use Cleaver to make a hot or cold tea infusion, pesto, or simply add it to a smoothie!
Gorse
You may need gloves to pick this one, as Gorse is covered in spiny stems. However, it’s worth being brave, because Gorse flowers have many uses.
I’m mostly fascinated by the idea of Gorse Syrup made using the flowers. Gorse syrup is made in a similar way to the rosehip syrup, and boy is it an amazing colour!
Gorse is said to have a fragrance similar to coconut, and it also lends itself well to ice cream when you use it as a flavouring!

I hope this guide has inspired you to get out on a few local country walks. Don’t forget to take a little bag for those impromptu harvests though!

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