The autumn glory of dazzling-coloured leaves and branches ladened with bright crimson berries is a sure sign of nature’s larder preparing for the winter months ahead, stocking up on the much-needed food for birds and other creatures to survive. Which is why when it comes to gathering food from nature, we must forage responsibly.
There is so much that can be gathered from countryside to coast and hedgerow to woodland, including nuts, seeds, fruits, leaves and fungi. It’s a great way to get outdoors, connect with nature and create some wonderful dishes, drinks and preserves.
November is one of the best months for foraging in the UK, for fungi in particular, oyster mushrooms and winter chanterelles can be available in woodland areas, if we have a mild month. Oyster mushrooms can be found growing on deciduous, hardwood trees, such as beech and winter chanterelles amongst conifer and pine. Always identify with a good field guide before picking and eating.
The leaves of chickweed and dandelions are great in salads and sandwiches and dandelion contributes to the beverage dandelion and burdock, a drink consumed in the UK since the Middle Ages. Hawthorn berries can be seen in abundance and are at their ripest in early November, if you can withstand the thorny façade and get to the fruit then you’ll be rewarded with the berries to make a tart, slightly sweet jelly.
That Old Chestnut
Chestnuts can be harvested from as early as September through to November and if you’re lucky enough to have beaten the squirrels to them, then you may still find some of the rich brown, shiny nuts associated with ‘roasting on an open fire’. Chestnuts don’t keep so either freeze them straight away to enjoy at Christmas or better still, roast, candy or purée them while they’re still fresh.
Foraging code of conduct
- Always check that you’re allowed to forage in the area before you start picking.
- Know your stuff! There are plenty of guides and courses on the market for the novice forager. Make sure you can identify the plant. Never consume a plant if you’re uncertain.
- Think of the impact you are making on wildlife, only pick what you intend to eat, in an area where there is ample. Be careful not to damage wildlife habitats and plants in the process.
This is just a small example of the bountiful supply nature has to offer and we can all give something back to wildlife by planting our own native hedge. Now is the best time of year to plant bare-root hedging ready for it to establish its roots and spring into life as a source of food for years to come.
Happy foraging for a fruitful return!