At this time of year nature’s bounty is vast! And you don’t have to be green fingered to enjoy the spoils of a Summer’s worth of growth. If you’re eagle-eyed and enjoy heading out for a walk; you can easily find plenty of edible and medicinal plants. I wrote before on our sister site about finding and cooking with wild garlic in Spring. Now Autumn is here, nature is bursting with interesting plants and I thought I should put together a little guide of what to look out for and what to do with it at this time of year.
A note on Foraging:
Foraging has been a way for people to gather food from nature for hundreds of thousands of years. Nowadays it is still perfectly legal to forage for food, there are some rules and points you should be aware of before you begin.
The law states that a person can pick mushrooms, flowers, fruit or foliage from a plant growing wild on any land and it will not constitute theft as long as they do not do it for any sale or commercial purpose. This includes privately owned land too. Although I would always advise you to seek the land owners permission. You can technically forage on ‘any land’ but it would still count as trespassing to be found foraging on private land.
It’s also important to understand that foraging extends to taking parts of the plant, not digging up the whole thing. The only distinction being that you may pick mushrooms….but not pull or dig up a whole plant or tree.
As a lover of nature, too, I also think it’s important to forage responsibly. Minimise damage to the surrounding area, leave plenty behind to sustain wildlife, know exactly what you’re picking and don’t pick anything rare or endangered.
What to look out for in Autumn
Sloes and blackberries are one of the most popular options at this time of year. They’re easy to spot in hedgerows and can be used to make alcohol infusions, jam or desserts.
In fact, picking sloes and blackberries is a well-kept countryside tradition so it’s always worth keeping a little bag or tub handy whilst out walking to make sure you don’t lose your chance. Sloes and blackberries are packed full of nutrients and are a great source of vitamins C & E as well as potassium and antioxidants.
Making fruit leather looks fun and a great way to use up all the blackberries before they disappear.
Hawthorn berries are aplenty at the moment, and I’d love to try making Hawthorn Berry Ketchup. When I make mine, I’m tempted to add a bit of oak smoked water (made by local heroes Hodmedod’s) to give the sauce a slight smokey/BBQ taste.
Rosehips are an amazing source of vitamin C and can be made into all sorts of things including jam, cordial, syrup or liqueurs
Of course, mushroom foraging comes with a unique set of risks so it goes without saying that if you’re in any doubt; leave well enough alone! But if you do know what you’re doing, this is the best time of year to look out for edible fungi, especially in damp grass or woodlands. If you’re interested in expanding your foraging skills; Forage Cookery School near Bury St Edmunds have a range of foraging courses worth taking a look at.
At this time of year nettle seeds are readily available and most people don’t know just how good for you they are. Foraging and using nettle seeds comes with all sorts of health benefits and surprising uses, as a stimulant (think caffeine without headaches or crashing) and anti-inflammatory properties.
Use rubber gloves when harvesting and dry your nettle bunches by hanging in a warm dry place or in a dehydrator until they are crispy & dry. Nettle seeds can be used as they are, similar to how you would use poppy seeds, or they make a great tea or vodka tincture.
There’s a great blog here on further uses for nettle seeds. Personally I have struggled to successfully identify the female plants – so haven’t been able to try this yet, despite having a very good crop of nettles here in the garden. I’d love to know how you all get on – and any identification tips!