Foraging is a great way to reconnect with nature. It teaches us about our local environment while instilling in us a sense of stewardship. I’m lucky enough to have the countryside on my doorstep, but city parks and urban spaces can be excellent foraging grounds too. Here are my notes on responsible and safe foraging. It this isn’t an exhaustive list so if there’s anything you think I should add, please do let me know in the comments section at the end of the post.
Generally speaking, it’s legal to collect flowers, leaves, fruits and fungi for your own consumption on common land. There are exceptions you should be aware of though. You can find out more about the legalities of foraging here.
- Never eat any plant or fungi unless you are absolutely certain of its identification.
- Only collect flowers, leaves, fruits and seeds where they are in abundance, leaving plenty for other foragers and, more importantly, for wildlife.
- To avoid wastage, plan in advance what you wish to collect and how you are going to use it.
- Do not collect rare species that may be protected by law. You need to know what not to collect.
- Do not forage in nature reserves without checking whether it is permitted in the local bylaws. Never forage in Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
- Never damage a plant or uproot a plant. Pick with care to avoid this happening by accident. Scissors or sheers may help here.
- Only take mushrooms that have opened their caps and are likely to have already dropped their spores.
The National Trust and the Woodland Trust both promote responsible foraging on land they govern but please be aware of their guidelines. Read more about foraging on Woodland Trust and National Trust sites.
above: Using scissors or sheers to avoid uprooting any samphire plants by mistake.
Cross check and double-check
Always cross-check your sources and be 100% certain of what you are foraging. If you have any doubt in your mind, don’t risk it. Be aware that photographs found on the internet are sometimes labelled incorrectly.
Check for similar species
Always check if there are any similar-looking species that you could mistake as the species you are looking for.
Check for cautionary notes
Always check whether there are any precautions you should be aware of. For example, some berries are only edible once cooked, some nuts so should only be eaten sparingly as they contain toxins that build up and some plants can cause allergic reactions. Plantain leaves, for example, can be eaten raw or cooked and are said to have certain medicinal benefits, however, some people are allergic to them and can go into anaphylactic shock.
Be cautious when eating something for the first time
Following on from the previous point, when eating a plant that you have never eaten before, remember everyone’s tolerance levels are different. First, taste the plant but don’t eat any. Assuming you have no adverse reactions, eat just a little. If there are still no adverse reactions eat a little more.
Never forage by roadsides
Plants, and especially fungi, can absorb pollutants from road traffic so I never forage beside roads.
Never forage in places that may have been sprayed with pesticide so avoid edges of agricultural fields.
Avoid landfill and industrial sites
Never forage on land previously used as landfill or industrial purposes.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Please be extra cautious when pregnant or breastfeeding and take advise from experts before eating any wild foods.
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