How to Forage Responsibly

Hello friends!
Foraging is a fantastic way to get good, healthy, nutritious food into your diet. It's also a great way to bulk up your winter preserve stocks. Everyone has been blackberry picking up and down the late summer hedgerows. But there is a whole world of other things out there that you can add to salads, sauces, cakes, crumbles, juices and it's all free!

However with picking food out of the wild comes risks. If you are a first time forager, there are a few things you should be aware of before you pick up your basket and your walking stick and go out plucking things willy nilly.

Here I have put together my top tips for staying safe and responsible in the countryside when you're searching for wild food!

Only forage where you have permission

Now I don't mean that you need to ask permission to go foraging wherever you go. There are millions of miles of public footpaths, permissive footpaths and rights of way throughout the UK where you can legally forage with no trouble. The law states... 

"A person who picks mushrooms growing wild on any land, or who picks flowers, fruit or foliage from a plant growing wild on any land, does not (although not in possession of the land) steal what he picks, unless he does it for reward or for sale or other commercial purpose."

So this means that if you intend to sell or profit from your foraging then you do have to have gained specific permission from the land-owner. However if it's just for your own use, then you're good. 
Don't trespass onto private land with no footpaths running through it. Always look out for signs that state you're on a proper footpath.
Wherever you may be, it is illegal to uproot a wild plant without the landowners explicit permission. So picking wild garlic leaves is fine, but you can't dig up the whole plant and take it home with you. 
Some organisations have local policies regarding foraging certain species. So for example on some National Trust signs they will have signs up forbidding you from foraging certain species because they are scarce in that area. Always obey these signs so that you don't give all foragers a bad name!

Be sure of what you're picking...

We all know what a blackberry looks like. It would be very difficult to mix up a blackberry with anything else. Like seriously, there is nothing else that looks even remotely like a blackberry. However there are plenty of plants/fruits/mushrooms out there that are delicious and safe to eat but look very similar to something else. 
Use a really good identification guide if it's your first time and triple check everything before you eat it. If you're really not sure then you can join foraging clubs or you can book yourself onto a foraging course which are really quite informative and reasonably priced. And if it stops you from poisoning yourself with a mushroom, then it's worth every penny!
I really don't like mushrooms so I am in no danger of poisoning myself with a random piece of fungus but there is always a danger of mixing up berries and leaves.
As a side note, be sure to wash everything thoroughly before you use it in cooking. Remember that animals may have weed on it, pesticides may have been sprayed, vehicles may have spread exhaust etc so better safe than sorry!

Leave some for everybody else

If you are in a hot spot for foraging, there may be lots of people who are excited about coming out and gathering a basket of berries. If you are there first, do not be selfish and strip all the trees/bushes/plants of all their fruits. In order to get more and more people into eating wild harvest, it's important that there's always enough for everyone. If you take loads and loads, what can happen is you don't end up using it all and it goes to waste anyway. And there really is nothing worse than wastage.
It's also very important to leave some for the wildlife. Many birds and small mammals depend on berries to survive the winter so always be sure to leave some. 

Follow the Countryside Code

And by this, I mean be sensible. Always leave gates as you find them, don't leave any litter, don't let your dog run riot among livestock etc...It's not okay to go trampling over a patch of really beautiful rare flowers in order to get to the last patch of blackberries. It is not okay to leave gates open and allow livestock to escape. But these are rules that you should always follow in the countryside anyway.
If you need a little reminder on the Countryside Code, click here.

Stay Safe

Be aware of where it is you're foraging. Perhaps a busy main road is not the best place to park your pram and lean into the hedge to grab blackberries. Do not put yourself at unnecessary risk just to pick a few extra garlic leaves. Be aware of livestock in fields, working farm machinery, cliffs and sheer drops etc etc. It all sounds quite silly, but when you're concentrating on something else, it's very easy to forget just basic safety. 

Anyone can forage and it really is very simple if you do a little bit of research. I wish you all the best of luck on your future foraging endeavours and I'd love to see pictures and blog posts.
Link me, tag me etc so I can be nosey!

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  1. I was always taught to never pick more than 50% of the crop so you always leave something for the next person

  2. That's a good rule of thumb Angela; I'll remember that one. I always have a plan for using goodies before I go out foraging because it's very easy to get carried away and pick stuff that you cannot use.

  3. I made some delicious wild garlic pesto last year which I did a post on, but I'm on my phone so no link right now! Actually, Wild Garlic can be muddled up with Lords and Ladies which is poisonous so I'd suggest sniffing what you perceive to be Wild Garlic leaves to check for that idiosycratic smell!

    1. Sniffing is also a very good test! Good point!


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