How to Get Your Family Started With Foraging – Safely
Welcome to DIY Gardening and our guide to getting your family started with foraging.
Are we losing touch with nature?
I think so.
Study after study has shown that children eat less fruit than in the past, and almost all of what they consume is packaged, dried, riddled with preservatives or other chemicals and about as far away from nature and health as one can get.
With our busy lifestyles, it’s no wonder children are getting fatter, and many are struggling with health issues from a worryingly young age.
My mission in this guide, is to help parents and families get back in touch with nature by getting you started with foraging – safely.
6 Reasons Why Parents Should Start Foraging With Their Children:
1) It’s Fun
Foraging is a great way to enjoy the great outdoors, hunt down new plants and taste them. Why go for a boring walk when you can do so much more? Foraging is a fun way for parents to bond with their children while exploring nature.
2) Free Food
Who would say no to free food? I certainly wouldn’t! You might be surprised at how much fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds one can find on a foraging trip. You could come back with enough for several delicious meals and all for free.
3) It’s Educational
The skills you’ll teach your family will last a lifetime – children are like sponges, and once they learn which plants are safe to eat and which are dangerous, they’ll put it to memory and could be picking, cooking and preparing wild foods for decades to come.
4) Tastes Better
“Fresh” food from supermarkets is often cooked under artificial lights or grown out of season, and as such, it tastes bland and dull. You might be surprised at how juicy or punchy wild food tastes, and it’s packed with more nutrients as well.
5) No Waste
I find it difficult to buy any plant-based food from my local supermarket that isn’t wrapped in copious amounts of plastic – it’s wasteful and sets a bad example. With foraging, there is zero waste, and absolutely nothing goes to landfill.
6) New Recipes
Many parents struggle to get their children to eat fruits and vegetables. Foraging is an exciting way to introduce new tastes and textures, and parents can explore fun recipes cooked from 100% natural, healthy foods taken from the wild.
The 5 Rules of Foraging You Must Follow
Before you go out and start picking plants, there are 5 rules to consider first:
1) Never put something in your mouth unless you know what it is.
There are many thousands of unedible plants, and while some have mild side effects, some are extremely dangerous. Also, some safe plants look similar to others that are unsafe. I’ve listed resources at the end of this guide to help you identify which plants that are okay to eat and which aren’t.
2) Always get the landowners permission
If you intend to forage on private lands, such as farmland, you’ll need to get the owners permission. Foraging is generally permitted on public land and from rights of way paths, but some restrictions might apply, such as byelaws. On sites of special scientific interest (SSSI), you’ll probably need to get permission first. This website has a guide to UK local and national laws and explains your right to forage.
3) Minimise damage
One should try to minimise damage to the ecosystem as much as possible by keeping to paths, avoiding crushing plants underfoot and not snapping or cutting down branches, etc.
4) Only take from plentiful populations
The forager should only take from areas with abundant plants rather than stripping an area bare. Unfortunately, some public parks are so popular with foragers that mushrooms and some rare plants are in decline there due to overharvesting and excess foot traffic.
5) Only pick for yourself, not for commercial gain
UK laws allow citizens to forage for food in many public areas but only for their own consumption and not for commercial gain. If you want to make foodstuffs to sell, for example, jams or juices, you’ll need the landowners permission.
In France, rose hips are called gratte-cul which translates as “butt scratchers”.
Because they have irritating hairs on the seeds and the human digestive system doesn’t fully break them down, meaning they tickle and itch the digestive system, all the way down to the butt!
Where to Start? Try The One-a-Week Challenge
The one-a-week challenge is a fun and educational way to get started with foraging.
Here’s how it works:
- Start by researching online which plants are in season, safe to consume and are ready for harvesting (or use our introductory guide below).
- Choose just one plant.
- Download a few photos to your phone/use an app (see below)
- Go hunting in your local park, forest or public area.
- Collect the plants and bag them.
- Take the plants home, and double-check they are safe to consume (more about that later).
- Research recipes online or add them to your favourite dishes or drinks.
The one-a-week challenge is designed to start you off with just one new plant each week, but as you progress, your knowledge of plants will increase, and in no time, you’ll coming back with bags of different plants to eat.
The purpose of the one-a-week challenge is to introduce you and your family to one new edible wild plant each week – that’s 52 per year.
Are you up for the challenge?
Choosing Your First Plants to Forage
When selecting your first plants to forage, it’s best to start with something simple such as blackberries or wild garlic.
However, which plants you’ll find will depend on the season and the location.
Below, you’ll see a selection of wild plants listed by season (tap to open):
Dandelions – earthy and bitter, versatile, so add to salads or casseroles.
Goosegrass – chopped leaves and stems can be added to stews and soups, best cooked and tastes like many leaf vegetables.
Stinging Nettles – wear gloves to collect, soak in water or gently boil to remove the chemicals that sting, tastes like punchy spinach.
Wild Garlic – leaves and flowers are edible and taste milder than cultivated garlic.
Hawthorn – young tender leaves can be infused into water to make a fruity tea.
Garlic Mustard – tastes like peppery garlic, add to salads, soups, dressings and sandwiches.
Blackcurrent Leaves – young leaves make a tasty tea.
Chickweed – swap lettuce for chickweed.
Lime – young leaves can be eaten raw or added to salads.
Red Clover – the leaves have a grassy taste, but the flowers taste sweet, add to salads or as a garmish.
Elder – rinse the flowers in cold water and add to desserts, water, cordials and teas.
Honeysuckle – infuse the flowers into jelly, jams, sorbets or add to teas and cordials.
Pineapple weed (wild chamomile) – add fresh leaves and flowers to salads or add fresh or dried flowers to teas.
Bilberry – very similar to blueberries, but they don’t transport as well, hence why they are rarely seen in shops.
Chanterelle – a unusual mushroom, yolk-coloured and peppery.
Raw strawberries – while somewhat rare, they taste far better than cultivated strawberries.
Blackberry – the most popular fruit for foragers, found in abundance.
Crab apples – popular and found in abundance.
Elderberries – packed with vitamins and super tasty, add to pies and jams.
Rosehips – the hairy seeds are irritants, but the fleshy outer layer can be added to wines, jellies and jams.
Wild Raspberries – often confused with cultivated raspberries that have escaped, the wild variety have a much stronger and sharper taste.
Hawthorn Berries – a slightly sweet, tasty, on-the-go snack, often eaten with cheese. Avoid the seeds; they are similar to apple seeds.
Sweet Chestnut – not to be confused with horse chestnuts. Can be boiled, cooked, or roasted – sweet chestnuts are versatile, add to poultry nut roasts, cakes and more.
Walnuts – not technically wild, this tree can be found in some parks, farms and gardens.
Sloes – perfect for making a sloe gin, can be added to pies and crumbles but can taste sharp.
Hairy Bittercress – peppery leaves can be added to salads, mixed with cheese or added to soups or sauces for extra punch.
Oyster Mushrooms – often found growing on dead wood. Taste mild and savoury.
Chickweed – tough enough to withstand cold autumn weather, add chickweed to salads, soups, stews and sandwiches.
Crow Garlic – tastes better in winter and spring but can be found all year round.
Bay Leaves – not technically wild but is common. Add to curries and soups.
Garlic Mustard – another toughy that can survive harsh winters. Tastes like garlic and mustard, add to winter salads.
Conifer Needles – pine needles are edible, sometimes used as a seasoning, can also be made into a tea.
Blackberries – still could be a few lingering around in sheltered spots.
Black Mustard – found in meadows, add to salads where it adds a peppery flavour.
Sweet Violet – the flowers are edible and can be added to desserts.
Gorse Flowers – comes into bloom in February in the south of the UK. Smells and tastes of coconut, add to salads or drinks.
Primrose Flowers – mild and sweet-scented, eat raw in salads or cook and mix with vegetables.
How to Tell What You’re Eating is Safe
The purpose of the one-a-week challenge is to gradually introduce new fruits, nuts, roots, mushrooms and leaves to the forager, but with so many poisonous plants out there, one must be careful.
I suggest thoroughly researching each plant before foraging for it, and you can use these resources to help with identification:
Woodland Trust Free Finder App – well-rated and available on Android and Apple.
PlantNet – a top-rated plant-identifying app on Apple and Android. There’s also an online version for desktop.
PlantSnap – similar to PlantNet.
Gardener’s World Forum – part of the very popular website, this is a popular UK forum where gardeners and horticulturists ask and answer questions. You can upload photos and invite others to identify it for you.
Courses and Guided Walks
There are hundreds of guided walks and courses one can join in the UK, and they can include:
- Coastal walks.
- Riverside foraging.
- Mushroom collecting.
- Urban foraging.
- + many more, often based on the season.
A guided group walk isn’t just educational; it’s a great way to enjoy the outdoors and make new friends with similar interests.
While most people will use the internet to identify plants, there are some excellent books available that also offer helpful tips and advice:
Foraging With Kids Book
Lists 52 plants that are safe for parents and children to forage and consume – a great beginner’s book.
Foraging Pocket Guide Book
The most highly rated foraging book in the UK with well over 1000 positive reviews online.
Forager’s Kitchen Handbook
Over 190 pages containing 100 tasty recipes, all from food you and your family can forage for free.
I do love to forage berries much
Those fruits appear before my berry eyes
Join me if you wish but make sure you always respect your elder-berries
Wild Food Recipe Websites
Being able to cook and taste the food you’ve foraged is all part of the fun, and below I’ve listed a selection of websites that provide recipes that include wild plants, nuts, seeds, roots etc.
These sites also provide more detailed and up-to-date information about foraging in general, so they are worth exploring:
1) Wild Food UK
Wild Food UK is an excellent website with a ton of information on a variety of related topics. They have guides to mushrooms, hedgerow foraging, courses and more. My favourite part of the website is their wild food recipe section. I recommend the Baked Bilberry Cheesecake!
2) Edible Wild Foods
Edible Wild Foods is a great website with dozens and dozens of easy-to-understand recipes, including many dressings and sauces you can add to your existing dishes. They are also active on Facebook and have a decent following. I recommend the Nettle Mustard Pesto!
3) Totally Wild UK
Another site worth checking out is Totally Wild UK. They have tons of recipes, lots of info about mushrooms, an online learning section, and an active, regulary updated foragers blog that’s worth a read. I recommend the Dandelion Root and Meadowsweet Cheesecake!
A Final Point
I hope you found this guide to getting your family started with foraging insightful.
There are so many benefits to picking your own food from the wild:
- It usually tastes more potent than store-purchased foods.
- It’s fun, and if you already enjoy outdoor walks, it will add an extra dimension to your trips.
- It’s educational, and the skills learnt will last a lifetime.
- You’ll find new tastes and textures to add to your existing dishes
- Many people find getting in touch with nature to be enlightening.
- It will make camping trips more exciting, and the wild camper can travel light and eat off the land.
I have just a final point to make; never put anything in your mouth unless you’re 100% sure what it is.
I feel that the one-a-week challenge is an excellent way for complete beginners to get started with foraging and cooking wild plants. Don’t forget to get a second opinion on any plants you come across, the list of apps and websites provided above would be a great starting point, and if you can go on a guided walk/course, you’ll meet local like-minded people who can help you out.
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Author: Hannah Miller
This guide to getting your family started with foraging was created by Hannah Miller and published by DIY Gardening on the 3rd of February 2023.
Discover more content from Hannah at Hannah’s Corner.
Hannah is a keen amateur gardener, mother and a former NHS administrator.
She enjoys gardening as much as she cares about the environment and likes to share her knowledge with others.
Our Experience: Backed by a Qualified Horticulturist
This guide to foraging was created by Hannah Miller, who has been growing her own food for over ten years and is a keen gardener.
Hannah has experience of foraging mushrooms and nuts and has recently started seeking out other foodstuffs.
We asked qualified horticulturist Elizabeth Smith to review the content for accuracy and safety before publication.
If you see an error, please get in touch with us and let us know.
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