The wonderful thing about foraging for wild plants is there is no specific location that you will find them. Be it in towns, parks, the open countryside or even your own back garden wild plants really do get everywhere- I've found Morels, a highly sought after spring mushroom growing in the mulch at my local Tesco. Keep your eyes peeled and you never know what you might come across! In terms of good places to begin a hunt, I tend to gravitate towards water courses - streams, lakes and rivers make for excellent habitats for many wild foods. Keep an eye on the hedgerows too - all sorts of flowers, leaves, blossoms and fruit can be found lining our country lanes.
As with any crop that grows in Britain, what you can find foraging is, of course a seasonal thing. But there are so many different stages that you can use a wild plant - some might be flowering, some will have run to seed, others will have leaves available all year round, and some with roots that are best picked after a couple of winter frosts. Here then are my top foraging finds in the hedgerows, forests and fields of Britain throughout the year...
Top foraged foods in the UK
Found on banks or in open fields, this shield shaped glossy leaf often has slight 'rust' spots on it. They have a sharp citrusy, tangy flavour due to the oxalic acid present. It's excellent used raw, great with fish and cuts nicely through red meats. Don't eat large quantities as too much oxalic acid is toxic.
This is one of the first things I foraged as a feral kid. The leaves make a nice addition to any kind of salad - the smaller ones being less bitter. It works well in a Lyonnais salad, with a bacon fat dressing. The flowers can be eaten raw, fried or breaded and in the winter you can dig up and eat the roots.
Very common all year round, this is our go to herb. It grows on the ground as the name suggests and has tiny purple orchid-like flowers (great for garnish!). The leaves are a deep green and hoof shaped - hence its other name, alehoof - as it used to be used as 'gruit' to flavour beer before the introduction of hops. It has notes of sage, rosemary, mint and thyme. Do not eat as is but in the same way you would a sprig of rosemary.
Found in woodlands and on verges, Wild Garlic is tailing off at the end of May but after that the seed heads are quite good pickled. The leaves are great to use as they present garlic flavouring in a different form to a bulb. Use sparingly as it is punchy!
We all know this one! Bursts of fragrant spring flowers, which are mainly used for cordial making, syrups or infusing directly into spirits. Pick it in the morning in full sun, as the pollen is where all the flavour is.
Always found in damp areas, later in June - once the Elderflower goes the Meadowsweet appears. Creamy white 'candy floss' style flower heads with a sweet vanilla essence. Makes an excellent cordial, spirit infusion and syrup. This is the plant that gave us Aspirin - very high levels of salycylic acid, so good for aches and pains and even hangovers...
Again, always found in damp areas, we have four dominant mints found in the UK with lots of crossbreeds: water mint, spear mint, peppermint and apple mint. if it looks like mint and smells like mint....then it's probably mint. Best picked in summer, the flavour will peak just before it starts to flower but it can be dried and frozen
This is one of my favourites, and it's often found on roadsides throughout the UK. Look for large 'donkey ear' like leaves, slightly wavy along the edges, often mistaken for dock leaves. It's the roots you're after and they are extremely hot. Sinigrin, the volatile oil found means the plant is ferocious once sliced or grated, so do it outside!
Three wild recipes for foraged food:
1. Wild Salsa Verde
Salsa Verde is in essence is a sharp or piquant sauce, green in colour and designed to accompany meat or fish, it also works well with potatoes. In fact it is so good, I've even had it on toast.
1 handful of Ground ivy
1 handful of sorrel
1 handful of three cornered leek
1 handful of Alexanders
(All finely chopped)
2 TBSP red wine vinegar
6 TBSP Olive oil
4 Anchovies (finely chopped)
A few strong twists of black pepper
ZEST of 1 lemon
1 TBSP of Dijon Mustard
(Makes 1 small jam jar)
Take the time to chop the ingredients you've gathered up and mix them by hand - the consistency will be much better than blending and the colour darker. You shouldn't need to add any salt, as the anchovies will have taken care of that for you.
2. Elderflower Fritters
A ludicrously easy recipe, this consists of making a batter, heating up some vegetable oil on a stove or barbeque, dipping elderflowers in batter and chucking them in the oil till golden. Done.
4oz plain white flour
1 egg (beaten)
½ pint of milk
A pinch of salt
½ tsp of vanilla essence
Sift the flour and salt and make a well in the centre to drop in the beaten egg. Mix the egg and flour then slowly add the milk, whisk until there are no lumps! Add vanilla essence at the end and mix well.
Heat up 500ml of vegetable oil in a small saucepan, test to see if it is hot enough by dripping a splodge of batter off a spoon, if it turn golden brown in under a minute, you are good to go. Dip the flower heads in the batter and twirl the stalk between the fingers to remove any excess batter. Drop into oil and remove with a fork when golden, onto a plate topped with kitchen towel. Douse liberally with caster sugar and a dash of cinnamon. Eat.
3. 'Wild herb and bacon omelette with cheese
Eggs are an excellent convenience food for a protein-packed breakfast, lunch or trailside snack. Making them into an omelette is a fuss-free way of combining and cooking them with other ingredients and easily foraged finds from the natural larder, such as sorrel, wild garlic and dandelion.
100 ml wild herbs such as sorrel, wild garlic, dandelion
Salt & pepper
8 slices of bacon
2-3 tbsp oil
50 g cheese
Grill the bacon until crispy. Remove and place on kitchen paper while you cook the omelette. Place a frying pan on the cooking grate and add oil. Preheat. Crack and whisk eggs in bowl with herbs and seasoning. Pour egg mixture into frying pan. Stir gently to begin with. When the egg mixture starts to set, scatter the cheese on top. Put the lid on the grill and cook until the egg mixture is nearly set. If necessary, turn the omelette a couple of times until cooked through. Garnish with the crispy bacon and a few foraged herbs.
Top tips for wild cooking
It is a myth that you can't make a fully foraged meal and make it taste good. Flavour pairing is a different matter, but there are always going to be some basic ingredients that are well worth taking out in the field to make culinary life more enjoyable.
Don't think you have to take a whole bottle of Olive oil or anything with you. There are ways of downsizing for your trip: Muji and Boots both do a great line in 'travel' bottles, soap boxes and vitamin boxes. These are excellent for storing oils, vinegars and herbs and spices. Even Tic Tac boxes are useful for this too. My go to culinary survival mainly revolves around hunting and fishing. As to what I take I am quite particular, but here are some that I would highly recommend:
Olive oil, Cider vinegar, Salt, Pepper, Stock cubes- beef, chicken and veg, Cumin, Coriander seed, Nigella seeds, Sesame seeds, Chilli flakes, Herbs de provence, Curry powder, Rice, Limes, Lemons, Garlic
But you can only take one thing for cooking in the wild, don't leave out the butter - everything tastes better with butter!
Nick Weston's Hunter Gather Cook
For more foraging ideas, recipes, and outdoorsman knowledge, as well as courses at Nick's Hunter Gather Cook foraging school, see Nick's blog at huntergathercook.com