Foraging in England for Beginners

Now is an excellent time of year to try a little foraging in England. If you’ve never done it before and aren’t really sure where to start, we can help. Here, we’ll help you identify the best time of year for beginner foragers, the easiest to identify wild foods in England, the foraging books and guides we personally recommend, as well as our eco friendly tips for foraging sustainably.

Foraging is a really enjoyable activity that gets you outside in nature. It’s also great for your body to receive local food during the season in which it naturally blooms or fruits. O, and did we mention, foraging is also free!

Why September is a great beginner month for foraging in England

Many people LOVE Spring and Summer for foraging in England, but for me, September is my favourite month to forage in the South of England. At this time of year, I go hunting for wild blackberries, rosehips, hawthorn berries, elderflower berries and sloes.

If you are completely new to foraging, I find this month, September, the best one to start. Here’s some reasons why:

  • It’s really easy to find edible plants and berries in September on any countryside walk in the South of England, without needing to venture too far off the beaten track.
  • September is the perfect time of year for wild food that is easy to identify, making it a great month for foraging for beginners because it’s harder to confuse items that are safe with ones that aren’t.
  • The wild food available in September is also easy and simple to turn into sweet treats and teas at home. This immediate gratification is important for beginner foragers and acts as an incentive to forage again.
  • September often brings two seasons in one. If it’s warm at the start of the month, you’ll still find the last of the summer berries and fruits, like blackberries and plums. If a frost occurs before September ends, sloes are ideal to pick for sloe gin.
  • The onset of Autumn is a natural time to hunt and gather; collecting things and storing them for the winter months ahead, just like squirrels, moles and foxes all do.

If you’re keen to learn more about foraging in other months in the UK, here is a great, detailed breakdown and guide from the Woodland Trust.

Read on to discover our 5 simple and easy foods to forage in England for beginners and some traditional recipes to try them in.

Foraging for berries

Why Forage?

Foraging is literally in our DNA. All of us. And it has been for a very long time.

“Hunter-gatherer culture developed among the early hominins of Africa, with evidence of their activities dating as far back as 2 million years ago.”

Source: 5 Jan 2018 Hunter-Gatherers – HISTORYwww.history.com

Foraging might seem a little old fashioned or out dated but there’s no denying that foraging is a simple and effective way to get food, eat seasonally and enjoy better health.

“Modern humans lived as nomads for 99 per cent of our history.”

State of Nature

At a time when the environmental impacts of our food are under intense scrutiny (and quite rightly so), we argue it’s a crucial point in our shared history to relearn simple foraging for beginners.

Top Foraging Tips for Beginners

Being new to foraging might feel a little intimidating. It’s really quite simple and it won’t take you long to see and feel the multiple benefits. Here are our top tips for beginner foragers:

  • Seek out hedgerows away from pollution – the hedgerows along a road, for example, are unlikely to produce the big, juicy blackberries that are found in rural fields and remote bridleways.
  • Pay attention to the health of the berries – do they look tasty? Are there lots of flies on them? If the berry is still in tact (whole), it’s probably good. You can be sure by cutting your berry open.
  • Cleaning your wild food – to remove surface pollutants, simply rinse your berries under water before you eat them. This isn’t 100% necessary; I personally eat unwashed berries all the time. Your confidence for healthy and clean wild food grows the more you forage.
  • Take a reusable pot or basket – if you want to bring wild food home, you will need small containers. Ones with lids help seal what you’ve picked from wasps or flies and you can store more than one type of food with multiple containers and a bag.
  • Take only what you will use – whilst wild food is free food, don’t take more than you will use. Other foragers and wild animals also enjoy wild food. As a general rule of thumb, don’t ever clear a whole hedgerow.
  • Leave only footprints – when you take berries and food from the wild, do so responsibly. Don’t drop containers, bags, gloves, tissues or any other item that should not be there. Take rubbish home with you or bin it.

5 Easy to Forage Foods in England

There are more things to enjoy foraging in England than you might realise. These include edible flowers, ripe berries, wild mushrooms and fragrant herbs.

Some items are not overly useful in modern recipes, whilst others can be easily turned into delicious and popular items. Some wild foods are not that easy to locate, whilst others appear everywhere at certain times of year.

Read on for our 5 favourite things to forage in England for beginners and how to use them.

1. English Blackberries

Blackberries begin to appear on hedgerows in mid to late Sumer in England. They first appear green, gradually turning from red to black. Avoid picking premature blackberries, which will be firmer and taste bitter.

You literally know blackberries are ready because when you give them a tug, they come away more easily than those that are unripe. If you want to pick the sweetest, most delicious blackberries, listen to the plant.

One of our favourite recipes for foraged blackberries is Vegan Apple and Blackberry Crumble with hot vegan custard and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

We also recently made this delicious Vegan Chocolate Fudge with blackberries from @foodmatters. Another great use for blackberries, is in jam.

2. Hawthorn Berries

Hawthorn berries are everywhere in September in large numbers. They are easily identifiable by their toothed leaves, their bright red colour and the way they grow in clusters.

Whilst you can eat them raw similarly to many other berries, we forage and bring them home for our Red Berry Tea (see also rosehips below).

This new recipe is coming soon to The Natural Essex Girl – subscribe today at the bottom of this page and we’ll send the Red Berry Tea recipe straight to your inbox as soon as its published.

3. Rosehips in England

Rosehips are the fruit of the rose plant and are packed full of vitamin C. They once had multiple uses, during WW2 especially, when more exotic vitamin C rich fruits were much more difficult to import. Learn more with our 7 Tips to Stay Healthy.

Rosehips contain an itchy seed so we don’t recommend eating them like a fruit. Instead, forage rosehips to make a rosehip syrup or rosehip tea.

Whilst rosehip tea alone is delicious, we prefer a mixed red berry tea in combination with other red berries, including hawthorn berries. The full Red Berry Tea recipe is coming soon – don’t forget to subscribe!

4. Foraging in England for Apples

Apples are a hardy, healthy and useful fruit. There are 2,500 varieties in England! They are used in all sorts of traditional recipes, including apple juice, apple pie and apple cider, just to name a few.

Probably the most common variety found growing wild in England is the crab apple, also known as the wild apple.

“A symbol of fertility and a forager’s delight. Crab apple trees are associated with love and marriage and its small, hard fruits make an exquisite, jewel-coloured jelly.”

Crap Apple – Woodland Trust

Whilst apples are great in recipes alone, they are also ideal for pairing with many other fruits. Their flavour is not overpowering and compliments blackberries, plums, pears and more. We love to use foraged apples in our sloe jam recipe (see below).

5. Picking Sloes for Beginners

Sloes, also called blackthorn, are blue, round berries, not to be confused with blueberries. They are best picked when they are dark in colour and after the first frost. They have a bitter taste so are often prepared in recipes instead of eaten from the tree.

One excellent recipe for using sloes is sloe gin, a traditional flavoured spirit that dates back to the 17th century in England. We also enjoy pairing our sloes with apples to make a delicious sloe jam.

You may also like these 5 easy to grow indoor herbs and plants.

Recommended Foraging Books and Courses

Foraging for beginners can be a little daunting. We can’t recommend highly enough the use of a good wild food book with drawings to help you identify the foods you wish to forage safely.

Foraging in England Books

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Foraging in England Courses

We also participate in foraging in England courses which are an excellent investment for beginner foragers too. Foraging courses are run by local people with expert wild food knowledge and they are a great place to ask questions. We personally recommend this foraging course in London.

Foraging in England for Beginners

Start enjoying the multiple benefits of foraging in England. As a beginner forager you’ll be spending your time time walking in nature, learning new things and experimenting with traditional recipes in the kitchen. Far from being something we used to do, foraging is a sustainable and healthy way to enjoy food today.

Please Note:
The opinions given here are based on personal experience, research and practise. 
Foraging for wild food should be undertaken with some prior knowledge of what you are picking.
For beginners, The Natural Essex Girl highly recommends the use of a wild food identification book.

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