AS WE MOVE THROUGH THE SEASON, HERE'S HOW IT MOVES US...
Foraging for wild food is how we add flavour and fun to our winter walks.
These are top of our list to find this season.
“Foraging is such a simple thing to do and sets off a series of feel-good hormones and brain connections that we share with our vital, hand-to-mouth, alive and kicking ancestors. Foraging also helps to foster a nurturing bond between people and plants, people and people and people and the natural world,”
wild food tutor, forager and award-winning author
We live in an edible landscape, if you know what to look for, and foraging is a great way to find wild and seasonal food without plastic packaging or air miles. All you need to do is follow responsible foraging guidelines to ensure you don’t harm woodland, wildlife, or yourself, when gathering from nature’s larder.
TOP FORAGING TIPS:
Always know what you are picking. Never consume a wild plant or fungus unless you are certain of its identification. Do not collect rare species.
Leave plenty behind. Forage carefully to ensure there is enough left for birds and other wildlife to consume, and for the plants and fungi to reproduce. In Denmark, where there’s a long tradition of foraging, the law only permits people to harvest as much food from public land as they can fit inside a hat!
At Ecco, we always take a good foraging guide or download one of the many foraging apps available to help confirm species when out collecting. It’s also important to keep in mind that some species are protected by law, so do not collect them. Ancient woods in particular can contain many rare species, so take special care when gathering in these environments.
Uncertain about something? Leave it where it is.
Now, to forage ...
The fruit of the rose flower can be found in gardens, towns, and all over the countryside. Rose hips start to emerge in autumn, but as the blooms can still cling on through early winter, the hips endure throughout the season, surviving snow and ice. Rose hips are high in vitamin C, and make a lovely tea, jelly, or syrup. Fun Fact: You can make itching powder from rose hips; school kids used to slip them into classmates’ school jumpers. Caution:Wear gloves when you are collecting to avoid any irritation.
Teardrop shape of a nut, the sweet chestnut is secreted in a very prickly green case. Harvest from the ground as the nuts are not ripe until they have fallen from the tree. The bigger and bulkier the nut, the better - and if it is white at the tip, it’s still not ripe so leave it for the squirrels.
You can cook chestnuts on a shovel. Score the skins so they don’t explode, place on the shovel then hold over an open fire.
Wear gardening gloves, sweet chestnut cases can be tricky and very prickly.
Look for the grey oyster mushroom on tree stumps - especially beech trees - and fallen wood. This edible fungus grows in bunched up groups and has a convex cap and white gills running down its stem. Always take a mushroom guidebook with you to avoid mistakenly picking poisonous fungi.
Extraordinarily, the oyster mushroom is carnivorous. It entraps and ingests nematodes, tiny little worms, for their nitrogen and other chemicals that’ll nourish it.
A possible lookalike is the Angel‘s Wings mushroom, however these are more white coloured. Always forage with caution and only harvest if you are 100% certain about what it is - ensure the oyster mushrooms you gather are grey and keep the number one rule of foraging at the forefront of your mind: ‘if in doubt, leave well alone.'
FAVOURITE OUTDOOR SHOES FOR FORAGING
Growing ubiquitously all over the world yet are overlooked as an edible plant. They are easily found, identified and can be a tasty and nutritionally valuable part of your culinary repertoire. Drop in boiling water to wipe out the sting, then the leaf can be treated like spinach and added to omelets, curries, and stews. The plant is a perennial and can be foraged in every season. Fun fact: Stinging nettles were used to make cloth in some north European countries until the emergence of flax. Caution: Do not treat the nettle like a salad leaf; it must be cooked to divest it of its sting.
You can find sloe berries burgeoning on blackthorn bushes until the end of December. The number of sloes and quality of the fruit depends on the weather conditions through spring and summer. A bumper crop of plump, well-ripened sloes require the perfect balance of warmth and water. Fun Fact: Sloe berries make a good face mask as well as a good gin. Squidge the vitamin C rich pulp out of the berries and rub into your skin. Caution: The blackthorn bush is very spiky. Use gloves when you are foraging.
WOOD BLEWITT MUSHROOMS
You can find this fleshy mushroom through winter, at the edge of woodlands and out from under hedgerows. The Wood Blewitt is a fleshy lilac/grey fungus that is good for cooking. It has a meaty texture when cooked fresh but is also good for drying and using later if your foraging is fruitful.
This species sometimes grows in circles overnight; they used to be called ‘fairy rings’ as they were thought to indicate magic was ‘at work’.
Wood Blewitt Mushrooms must be cooked thoroughly as they can cause an allergic reaction.
The wild ancestors of our commercial apples, crab apples ripen in autumn, but winter is the optimum time to forage for these miniature fruits after cold nights and sharp frosts. Freezing temperatures soften and sweeten the flesh of the crab apple. Crab apple jams and jellies are delicious and easy to make at home by boiling, then simmering, in water and caster sugar.
Because of their wonderful blossom and small-sized fruit, crab apples are popular to ‘bonsai,’ the Japanese art of miniaturizing trees.
Do a taste test as you forage, apple varieties can vary dramatically, and you don’t want to waste time collecting disappointing-tasting fruit.