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Everything you need to start food foraging, according to experts

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<p>Here’s how to dip your toes into the world of gathering food</p> (iStock/The Independent)

Here’s how to dip your toes into the world of gathering food

(iStock/The Independent)

According to Waitrose & Partners, there are some big food and drink trends to look out for in 2021. In 2020, we saw TikTok making whipped coffee become a thing and plant-based foods du jour, but this year we’ll be seeing a continued shift towards buying British and low and no alcohol options.

Best of all though, the supermarket chain noted an 89 per cent increase in social media interest in foraging. The act of foraging is defined at the act of gathering wild food for free, including herbs, plants, fruits and nuts.

As a desire to eat local produce and shop sustainably has risen, there’s been a revival of foraging, something Helen Keating, content manager at the Woodland Trust, credits to the likes of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, who is known for promoting eating with the seasons and sourcing food from the wild.

While James Wood, foraging and wild food expert at Totally Wild UK, associates the increased popularity to the change in circumstances we find ourselves in, with only being allowed to go for walks, as well as the news headlines identifying potential food shortages.

“I think the mixture of all of this has made most of us re-evaluate our source of food, often thinking ‘wouldn’t it be great if I could just grab my food whilst on my daily walk’. Well, it actually turns out you can and this is where foraging comes in,” Wood tells The Independent.

He adds that he has seen an increase in people becoming more engaged in their local green space and with nature more generally.

If you’re looking to get into foraging, it’s important to stay safe and never pick or consume anything you’re uncertain of, notes Keating.

“Make sure you have permission to forage on the land before you do so and only forage where produce is in plentiful supply for people and wildlife,” she says, adding that you should adhere to British foraging laws, as picking wild edible foliage or mushrooms may be prohibited in some areas – you can find more on sustainable foraging on the Woodland Trust website.

With the rules and laws in mind, Wood suggests starting off with the “quick wins, items that are everywhere, easy to identify and can be cooked easily, such as nettles, dandelions and elderflowers”. Then get to know your local green place and spend time learning about every edible plant or mushroom around you.

To help you on your quest, we’ve curated a beginner’s guide to everything you need, asking the experts how you can learn more about the wild produce around you and the tools you need to dip your toes into foraging. After all, we might as well use our daily exercise to discover more about our green spaces.

You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

Books

“When foraging, you should never consume a wild plant or fungus unless you are absolutely certain of its identification. There are many reasons for this and it is one of the most important rules when it comes to foraging,” notes Keating.

“There are a number of rare and protected species as well as produce that are inedible. Some can even be deadly poisonous, so it is vital you are careful with what you consume.”

As such, she advises the use of reference books to identify them. Wood credits Edible Mushrooms: A Forager’s Guide to the Wild Fungi of Britain by Geoff Dan (Waterstones, £24.99) as the best guide he’s found or mushrooms from a foragers perspective thanks to the fact it highlights all the necessary information you need to look for when foraging for fungi.

Green Books
Green Books

Covering every known edible species and the poisonous groups, as well as common species and a handful of mushrooms with unusual characteristics, it’s suitable for beginners and experienced foragers alike.

Similarly, Wood suggests The Forager’s Cookbook by James Wood (Totally Wild UK, £14.99) owing to its useful identification guide. It aims to equip you with the knowledge to explore your surrounding green spaces and safely pick wild plants.

Totally Wild UK
Totally Wild UK

Best of all though, it offers a handful of recipes for each plant – since, “quite often people know how to identify forageable items but don’t know how to cook with them”, notes Wood.

For more great recipes, Wildcrafted Fermentation by Pascal Baudar (WHSmith, £20) featured in our guide to the best fermentation cookbooks, in which our writer praised it for being “perfect for readers who are interested in foraging”.

Chelsea Green Publishing Co
Chelsea Green Publishing Co

With details on getting to know one’s own local landscape or garden, as well as the delicious gems that could be hiding within, it’s “a delight”, noted our reviewer.

If you’re looking for a more holistic approach to foraging, Wood recommends The Handmade Apothecary: Healing Herbal Remedies, by Kim Walker and Vicky Chown (Amazon, £14.21), which he notes as being a “great book for looking at edible species while keeping in mind their herbal uses”.

Octopus Publishing Group
Octopus Publishing Group

Combining advice on growing and foraging plants with a modern scientific understanding, this is said to be a beginner’s guide which is full of advice, tips and tried and tested recipes.

Tools

When you’re equipped with the knowledge, it’s time to think about the tools you need to assist you during your adventures, since after all, “it is important to be prepared when you are foraging,” advises Keating.

A good starting point is with gloves since they “should always be used when picking produce such as nettles and fruits which grow on spikey hedgerows”, Keating says. Wood tells The Independent that he wears ones that have a slight stretch to the fabric with a plastic coating on the palms.

The HexArmor thorn armour glove (Safety Gloves, £36.27) took the top spot in our guide to the best gardening gloves thanks to their ability to provide pierce-free protection when ripping out brambles.

HexArmour
HexArmour

“It can be quite disconcerting the first time you grasp a spiky plant, half expecting to experience tear-inducing pain, but the triple layer of near impenetrable “super fabric” (a material infused with hard guard plates) ensures your hands remain unsullied,” our writer said.

Similarly, Wood suggests having a pair of Marigold style gloves on hand for “picking nettles or things growing among nettles to stop your hands from being stung”. In our guide to the best gardening gloves, the Marigold extra tough outdoor gloves (Just Gloves, £4.70) were heralded.

Marigold
Marigold

The “extra thick, double layer latex means they are completely waterproof while remaining grippy and durable”, noted our reviewer. A great pair to add to your collection of foraging essentials.

When it comes to picking wild food, John the Poacher, real name Jonathon Cook, who spends his days foraging in east London for herbs and salad leaves, advises having a set of secateurs on hand when cutting plants.

This is particularly important in order to make sure the cuts are clean resulting in less chance of plants getting diseases. The Felco model two original secateurs (World of Felco, £47.98) received rave reviews in our guide to the best secateurs.

Felco
Felco

“This pair danced through stubborn shrubbery and bramble bushes in a flash, with the non-slip handles performing as advertised on a damp morning,” praised our writer. Ideal then for getting through tougher stems likes seaweeds and stronger shoots.

In a similar vein, Wood also recommends having a pair of scissors (Lakeland, £16.99) on hand since they’re great for cutting delicate greens and salads. While a curved knife, such as this Burgon & Ball National Trust budding knife (Farrar & Tanner, £17), is great for picking mushrooms.

Farrar & Tanner
Farrar & Tanner

Designed in partnership with the National Trust, the stainless steel blade aims to deliver a clean cut in one motion in order to maintain better plant health.

Once you’ve cut and collated your plants, you’ll need a place in which to store your wild food while you forage more – John the Poacher suggests using a basket, so air can get to what has been picked. We’d suggest opting for this vintage style wicker basket (Not On The High Street, £40).

Not On The High Street
Not On The High Street

If foraging for mushrooms, then “spore can spread as you walk, allowing for further reproduction of the fungi”, notes John the Poacher. While this “nails the look and lets everyone know you mean business,” says Wood, he also adds that a canvas bag works just as well. We love the look of this Enono canvas large tote bag (Amazon, £14.95).

Amazon
Amazon

Made from a blend of jute and cotton, it’s easily washable and has a handy zip to make sure your foraging finds don’t fall out.

Looking to get creative in the kitchen? Read our guide to the best fermentation cookbooks and prepare to perfect the preserving process

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