The hedgerows, woodlands, shorelines and grasslands of Great Britain yield hundreds of edible delights that are all too easy to pass by. Foraging wild foods like mushrooms, berries, herbs and vegetables can make for wonderful additions to you everyday cooking, and they’re free! Armed with a little information including what to look for and when, you can easily find some tasty treats to help liven up your meals and snacks.
The Tours suggested here take you to some areas that are well-known to yield these wild foods, but of course you’ll find many of these all over the UK. I hope these provide some inspiration for your foraging rides, wherever you’re based! You’ll need a gravel, mountain, or sturdy hybrid bike for these Tours, as they often use off-road tracks such as forest roads and bridleways.
From the forest floor covering of wild garlic to rampant stinging nettles, autumn’s sweet blackberries to coastal marsh samphire and festive sweet chestnuts, there’s a real variety of rich pickings to be had, and nutritious foods to be enjoyed.
There are a few things to remember when it comes to foraging. It’s a wonderfully sustainable way to acquire food, but to keep it that way it’s important that you only take what you need, and are careful not to cause any damage to the plant or surrounding area that you are foraging in. Make sure that you do not harvest from private property unless you have prior permission from the landowner, and never pick from a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). A full guide to the foraging code can be found here: wildfooduk.com/foraging-code.
Unless you’ll be feasting in situ, it’s worth remembering to pack a reusable container on your bike for harvesting your goodies.
I’d strongly suggest investing in a pocket identification book (such as Food for Free), or using an app (such as Wild Edibles Forage) or online resources (like wildfooduk) to help give more in-depth information about these wonderful wild foods.
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Not to be confused with it’s conker-bearing cousin the horse chestnut, the sweet chestnut tree is the source of a well loved christmas treat. ‘Chestnuts roasting on an open fire’ …
Often the reserve of fine restaurants, Marsh Samphire is a delicious green that grows, as the name would suggest, in coastal salt marshes throughout Europe. They love tidal mudflats, so you’ll need to get a little mucky to forage this one! Perhaps best to kick off your cycling shoes and socks as you wade out at low tide. The little succulents are best enjoyed when they are young and not too woody, typically in late June and early July. Remember to only take what you need, and avoid harvesting from nature reserves; for small quantities you don’t need a licence to pick Marsh Samphire. Although you can enjoy Samphire raw (although washed) in salads, I think that it’s best cooked, and makes a great accompaniment to fish dishes. Boil for a few minutes and serve with a dollop of butter, but hold off on the salt, they’re salty enough!
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If there’s any one wild food that most people know about, it’s blackberries. From the hedgerow on the way back from school or plucking a little hit of sugar from the side of the road on a bike ride, these abundant little gems are a well-loved free food each August to October in the UK. Mind the spiky brambles as you reach for those plumpest and juiciest fruits (why are they always just out of reach)? You’ll find them easily in hedgerows, woodlands, wastelands and heath. The berry at the end of each stalk ripens first; look for a plump and dark coloured fruit. You’ll soon know about it if you’ve picked one that’s not ripe yet! With over 400 different microspecies in the UK with differing flavours and levels of sweetness, appreciate these differences as you move from plant to plant.