Foraging for food in the UK

With the price of pretty much everything soaring at present, many Brits are looking for ways to save money. If you have grown tired of paying a premium for food flown in from every corner of the globe, it might be time to look to our own green and pleasant land.

foraging for food UK
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Britain is alive with edible plant life - from nettles and dandelions to mushrooms and garlic, if you know what you are looking for it is possible to rustle up some surprisingly tasty meals from plants provided free by the great outdoors.

Here are just a few examples of the edible goodies found in the UK.

Wild garlic
As winter begins to fade, many British woodlands are thick with the scent of wild garlic. Often found growing in moist shaded areas, your nose will likely lead you to the plant - learn to recognise the long leaves and tiny white flowers and you may be surprised just how much wild garlic is around.

Slightly milder than the garlic you find in the supermarket, the wild variety has fewer bulbs and the leaves provide a wonderful flavour for salads and soups.

Wild mushrooms can be found throughout the year but the best are usually found in the autumn. From penny buns and puffballs to chicken of the woods and chanterelles, they are a fabulous source of wild food but foraging for fungi can be a dangerous business.

Many of the poisonous varieties bear a striking resemblance to edible types and some are deadly so it is essential to know exactly what you are looking for. If possible go foraging with an expert until you are certain of which are safe. Alternatively do your homework - the Association of British Fungus Groups can provide a guide to the good, the bad and the ugly.

We might spend hours removing them from our garden but the weeds that grow in abundance in the British countryside can be used for a whole host of recipes.

Dandelion leaves, for example, make a great salad ingredient (not a million miles from chicory) while nettles (stalks removed) make a wonderful soup when combined with stock, onion and a hint of nutmeg. Chickweed is a similarly free-growing plant here in the UK but its strong flavour makes a tasty salad.

Horseradish is also extremely common and can be found along roadsides, beside streams and even in waste ground (it's difficult to get rid of!). The leaves look not unlike dock leaves but if you break off a leaf and rub it between your hands, the unmistakable mustardy smell should give it away. Of course, it is the root that you require for cooking and the best time to harvest is mid autumn.

Those who live on the coast may also find seaweed provides a handy source of free food. Samphire, commonly found on muddy or sandy flats around estuaries and such, is a tasty specimen that is becoming increasingly popular with chefs but there are a number of edible seaweeds in the UK.

Nuts and berries
Great care should be taken with berries - of course, most will know blackberries when they see them and enjoy their natural sweetness come autumn but others such as sloes, damsons and hawthorn berries can make excellent conserves. However, many UK wild berries are extremely toxic so it's important to know your stuff.

Britain is also home to a host of edible nuts - most of us will recognise sweet chestnuts as they fall in the autumn but hazelnuts can also be found in hedgerows.

Here in the UK there are laws relating to foraging so it is worth checking out the Wildlife and Countryside Act if you are unsure, and forage only for what you need.

Foraging for food can provide you with a number of hearty meals but it is also easy to make mistakes and end up eating something harmful. Always do your homework when considering wild food and remember, if you can't identify it without a doubt in your mind, don't eat it.