Foraging is a brilliant way to connect with nature and enjoy some quality time with loved ones in the fresh air. It’s an activity that engages all the senses. What’s more, the wild ingredients you gather make a wholesome and nutrition-packed addition to any meal.
With searches for ‘foraging’ in the UK having increased by 16% in the last 12 months, it’s an activity that continues to see a growth in interest. TikTok content using the hashtag #foraging amassed in excess of 64 million views in 12 months.
In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the top five easily accessible foraged foods in the UK, share top tips for foraging and treading carefully courtesy of TotallyWild, and reveal three easy-to-make recipes using foraged foods in the kitchen, compiled in collaboration with Hannah Thomas of Herbs & Wild.
Top 5 easily accessible foraged foods in the UK
Our friends and foraging experts at Totally Wild have kindly provided us with the top five easily accessible foraged foods in the UK. Totally Wild is a network of wild food foragers who work together and run foraging walks and foraging courses across the whole of the UK – as far south as Cornwall and as far north as the Lake District.
Their mission is to make foraging accessible to as many people as possible. The UK is teeming with edible plants and berries, offering many flavours and health benefits. In fact, about 90% of what we can see as ‘wild’ is either edible or has medicinal use, so it’s well worth making the most of what comes naturally.
Please remember to always forage responsibly, respecting private land and leaving enough for wildlife to thrive. You can read our top tips for foraging responsibly later in this guide.
1. Sweet chestnuts
As autumn sets in, sweet chestnuts (Castanea sativa) arrive! While other nuts may be harder to come by, sweet chestnuts are abundant and perfect for both savoury and sweet dishes. Roasted, pureed, or incorporated into stuffings, the possibilities are endless.
Some popular recipes with sweet chestnuts include sweet chestnut, chocolate and bay pots (scroll down and see how to make these for yourself!), Italian sausage and chestnut pasta and chocolate and chestnut truffle torte – yum!
2. Stinging nettles
Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) are one of the easiest wild greens to identify. Be sure to wear thick gloves though to avoid the sting. Once cooked, the sting is neutralised, and you can enjoy the versatility of nettles in various dishes.
Early spring is the best time to pick them, although they can used throughout the year, choosing young, pale green nettle tops is best. Some popular stinging nettle dishes include nettle risotto (more on this one later!), nettle gnocchi, nettle soup, nettle ravioli and more!
We often think of dandelions as ‘just another little weed’ and spend a good portion of our time gardening to eradicate them from our lawns and flower beds. However, these hardy plants also have huge edible possibilities, so let’s put down our weed killer and pick up our baskets to forage this one.
Dandelions are perfect for roasted dandelion root coffee, dandelion flower honey and dandelion leaf salad.
From late May to early July, the delicate blossoms of elderflowers (Sambucus) grace the countryside. The most popular use is to create a refreshing elderflower cordial, but the adventurous can try their hand at elderflower fritters, elderflower vodka, elderflower jam, or elderflower frozen yoghurt to name a few!
Blackberries, the nostalgic fruits of childhood memories; cast your mind back to picking blackberries down Devonshire lanes with granny! Blackberries are abundant in the autumn months, usually found in hedgerows, woodlands and parks, and easy to identify. Their versatility makes them perfect for juices, jams, pies, and even ice cream.
Some of our favourite recipes include blackberry and apple pie, frozen blackberry yoghurt and blackberry gin.
Top tips for foraging in the UK
Before heading out into the wilderness, it is essential to equip yourself with the necessary tools and equipment to ensure a successful foraging trip. A good pair of sturdy hiking boots will provide support and protect your feet from any potential hazards, such as thorns or uneven terrain. Take whatever you would for a normal day outdoors: water, a flask of tea, some snacks and a couple of field guides.
James Wood from Totally Wild said: “Mastering the art of foraging is a journey that requires patience, practice, and a deep respect for the natural world. By following the essential tips outlined in this article, you will be well on your way to becoming a successful forager.”
Here are Totally Wild’s five top tips for foraging in the UK:
1. Research and plan: Before heading out, research the species that are in season and likely to be found in your area. Look for specific habitats where they thrive and plan your foraging trips accordingly.
2. Practise patience: Foraging is a skill that takes time to develop. Be patient and observant as you explore the wilderness. Take the time to study the things you encounter, and don't be afraid to consult field guides or seek guidance from experienced foragers.
3. Leave no trace: When foraging, it is crucial to respect the environment and leave it as you found it. Only take what you need and be mindful of the impact you have on the ecosystem. Avoid trampling on plants or disturbing wildlife habitats and don’t pick everything from one plant (picking little and often is a much better approach to foraging).
4. Keep a journal: Maintain a foraging journal to record your findings, including the location, date, and any relevant notes about the things you harvest. This will not only help you track your progress but also serve as a valuable resource for future foraging trips.
5. Share your knowledge: Foraging is a communal activity. Consider joining local foraging groups or online communities to connect with like-minded individuals, exchange knowledge, and learn from each other.
While foraging can be a rewarding and enjoyable activity, it is essential to approach it with caution and respect for both the environment and our own safety. First and foremost, it is crucial to learn how to correctly identify edible plants, as there may be poisonous species that can have severe consequences if consumed.
James added: "Remember to approach foraging with caution, always prioritise safety and ethics, and never stop learning. So, grab your basket and venture into the wilderness – a world of delicious and nutritious treasures awaits you.”
Three recipes you can make for yourself
We’ve teamed up with Hannah Thomas, founder of Herbs & Wild, who helped us create these three delicious, yet simple recipes for you to try for yourself using some of these popular foraged foods. We wanted relevantly easy recipes so that you, our holidaymakers, can make these recipes for yourselves in the kitchen of one of our holiday cottages.
Herbs & Wild aims to deepen the connection between people and the food on their plate.
Hannah said: “The traceability of ingredients is at the heart of Herbs & Wild. Sourcing what is available in the UK, grown by local farmers and foraged from nature’s pantry enables us to appreciate the changing seasons, work with ingredients at their peak in flavour and nutrient density, and cultivate a more sustainable food system and local food economy.”
Hannah runs a wide variety of foraging workshops and 'wild events' throughout Devon, Wiltshire and beyond. Check out her current events calendar to find out what’s coming up.
Rosehip syrup cocktail
Ingredients (makes about 600ml/1 pint of syrup)
- 1.5l boiling water
- 500g rosehips
- 500g granulated sugar
- ½ lemon, juiced
- Take the rosehips off their stalks and wash them in cold water
- Chop the rosehips roughly in half
- Cover them with 750ml boiling water in a pan, bring to boil and simmer for 10 minutes
- Strain the rosehip liquor into another pan, then repeat the above process with another 750ml boiling water
- Add the sugar to the total rosehip liquor, let the sugar dissolve, then bring to boil and reduce by almost half so you have about 600ml of thick syrup. Add the lemon juice.
- Decant into a sterilised bottle
- For the cocktail, combine 25ml syrup with 50ml gin in a glass with ice. Top up with local apple juice and soda water and garnish with a rosehip and slice of lemon
Sweet chestnut, chocolate and bay pots
Ingredients (fills 4-6 ramekins)
- 120g sweet chestnuts
- 110g golden caster sugar
- 110ml caster sugar
- Squeeze of lemon juice
- 300ml double cream
- 2 bay leaves
- 90g 70% dark chocolate
- 100g creme fraiche, to serve
- With a knife, score down the length of your sweet chestnuts, just through the skin
- Place in a pan, cover with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for seven minutes, then strain
- While they're still warm peel off their skins, roughly chop, and set aside
- Stir the wine, sugar and lemon juice together in a pan over a gentle heat to dissolve the sugar
- Add the cream and bay leaves and bring to the boil, then add the chocolate and stir vigorously until melted and glossy
- Turn down the heat to low and cook for a further 10 minutes to thicken. Taste, and when the bay flavour is intense enough for your liking, remove the leaves
- Stir through your chestnuts, reserving a few, then pour the mixture into the ramekins and place in the fridge for at least four hours to set
- To serve, top with creme fraiche and the remaining chestnuts
Ingredients (serves 4)
- 1 small white onion
- 1 small stick celery
- 2 cloves garlic
- 5 tbsp olive oil
- 300g risotto rice
- 100ml dry white wine
- 1l chicken/vegetable stock
- 120g nettle tops
- Squeeze of lemon juice
- 30g salted butter
- 75g Pecorino/ other hard sheep's cheese
- 4 sprigs rosemary, finely chopped
- Salt and pepper
- Finely chop the onion, celery and garlic
- Add the onion and celery to a pan with two tablespoons of the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Soften over a medium heat for five minutes, then add the garlic and cook for a further minute
- Stir through the rice then add the wine
- Gradually add the stock until all is absorbed. The rice should just have a tiny bit of bite - add a little more boiling water if need be
- Meanwhile, steam nettles for five minutes, then bash them into a paste in a pestle and mortar with a pinch of salt, squeeze of lemon juice and two tablespoons of olive oil
- Add the nettle paste, butter and pecorino and beat the rice vigorously to bring it all together
- Divide between four plates and garnish with finely chopped rosemary, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of pecorino
It’s time to get foraging!
We hope that this guide has inspired you to give foraging a go while on holiday in Devon. It’s the perfect excuse to head outdoors and explore your surroundings. See how many of the five foods mentioned above you can find and perhaps try out one or more of the recipes suggested when you get back to your cottage.
It’s worth noting that foraging should always be done with caution. Be sure to accurately identify plants and berries before consumption, and when in doubt, seek guidance from experienced foragers or experts in the field. For further guidance, you might also want to sign up for a foraging workshop through the Herbs & Wild website.
Forage through our collection of Devon cottages to find the perfect base for your adventure in nature.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing,
please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.