When I tell people in the UK that I forage, the typical response tends to be a mixture of surprise and shock.
But how do you know what’s safe to eat and what isn’t?
It’s not a skill you can pick up in a day – I have been foraging since childhood – but with a little patience and a reliable source of knowledge, almost anyone can learn.
The thing is, I’ve found that ‘foraging’ is often perceived as outdated, slightly eccentric, or even socially radical. Moreover, children in the UK tend to be taught from a young age not to touch wild mushrooms or plants for their own safety.
Although caution is important, this fearful attitude towards nature seems worlds away from the summers I spent in Slovakia with my granny, crawling under every other tree to check for mushrooms or running home with the tell-tale signs of having snacked on bilberries all over my purple fingers and lips.
To be taught to fear nature is to stifle curiosity. Foraging redefines relationships between humans and the natural world, helping to instil a caring, mindful, and tangible bond between us and our food. Through learning to forage, I have also learned to pay attention to the living plants around me and to appreciate all that they provide for humans and other animals.
Foraging for Sustainability
Thankfully, interest in gathering wild foods alongside medicines and crafts materials is gaining momentum in the UK, especially as people are becoming more interested in living sustainably. Done correctly, foraging can be truly economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable.
For starters, foraged food is free! Although you are unlikely to gather all the food you need for a meal, wild berries, herbs, flowers, nuts and mushrooms can all be delicious and nutritious supplements to a meal that can’t be matched by products in a supermarket aisle.
Edible wild plants and fungi are also great for your health. For example, young stinging nettle leaves are rich in protein alongside other essential vitamins and minerals.
More generally, foraged food is free from pesticides and other chemicals used in agriculture (though be wary of other types of indirect forms of pollution, such as at roadsides and near polluted waters). Foraging is also a great form of exercise and an additional excuse to get out for a walk to keep your physical and mental health in check.
Lastly, foraged food is eco-friendly as it is always seasonal and - when sourced locally - emissions free! Foraging can also help to foster a deeper connection between ourselves and the rest of nature which is crucial for environmental sustainability. Some worry that foraging endangers plants and fungi; however, so long as foragers avoid pulling up roots and gather in moderation, foragers’ respect for nature is likely to help rather than hinder biodiversity conservation.
Tips for Safe & Sustainable Foraging
Be curious, but be cautious: only ever pick and eat foraged foods when you are 100% sure of their identification, as well as the correct way to gather and prepare them safely: St Andrews Foraging Club is a great place to ask for second opinions!
Seek out knowledge and cross-reference: foraging guide books, Facebook groups, experienced foragers’ Instagram accounts (e.g. @wildfoodstory) and blogs (e.g. gallowaywildfoods.com) are just a handful of resources where you can find reliable information and inspiration for foraging in both urban and rural areas!
Be prepared: gardening gloves, protective clothing, scissors, and a woven basket or net bag (to let your plants breathe) are your best friends on foraging expeditions.
Practice moderation: only gather what you need, and always leave plenty behind for other animals to feed on.
Show respect to plants and landowners by not pulling up roots, and always asking for permission to gather where it seems that a particular tree or flower patch is a part of someone else's garden.
Be generous! Share the joy of your foraged finds and recipes with your family and friends, and with us at @ecoeatsdelivery ! We’d love to see them.