To get started, here are three basic rules for foraging wild foods:
This one’s a given really. Sustainability is key to allowing further enjoyment for years to come as well as allowing birds, insects and other animals to continue using the food source for survival. As a general rule, it is advised to only take what you can personally consume over a period of several days. Anymore is a waste. Besides, freshly picked produce always tastes best, right? As a maximum limit it is advised take no more than a third of the food available, leaving a third for the insects, birds and animals and a third for the plant, tree, root or other to have a chance to rebuild. Remember that if you pick an entire root, it will not grow back. Be particularly careful with wild ginger, for example.
Research your area:
It’s important to understand what grows in your area and when you are able to forage it. Research what grows wild in your region and when the best times to find it are as well as which places that are more abundant. It may be possible to find a local guide or class who can help you.
As with anything in life, there is an element of risk involved. Particularly if like me, you are just starting out, it could be all too easy to mistake an edible mushroom or berry for a toxic one. Nature can be extremely unforgiving so if you don’t fancy an upset stomach or something more serious, you should take great care and caution when picking unknown articles. Always be sure you have identified correctly and if you have any doubt at all, ask for help or leave it. Try to identify mushrooms and berries before you pick them, so nothing is wasted. Detailed mushroom and berry guides are readily available in book form or as an app that you can download to a phone or tablet.
There’s already tonnes of great resources out there on the web regarding foraged foods so I won’t just regurgitate information I know little about. I will however list everything I have found so far on our adventure along with any uses and recipes. I’ll update this page as often as I find new things to write about so if you’d like to keep updated, please subscribe by scrolling to the bottom of the page.
The notes below are tailored to our own findings. Whilst these foods are likely available in many more countries, we have only written about our own experiences because otherwise it would get pretty complicated. Different climates and environments will inevitably change picking seasons.
We first picked chestnuts along the north coast of Spain in September. We are still coming across them now in late November and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of slowing just yet as we approach the south of Portugal. A trip in to any large town or city on our travels often bears the sight of street vendors clouding the area with thick white smoke and the sweet smell of chestnuts roasting has become a familiar and welcome aroma when out wandering.
Wear gloves when foraging, or use the heel of your shoe to open them against the ground. Ensure they are large enough to be able to score and enjoy on an open fire.
I was so excited when Lucy first found a walnut tree. It’d never occurred to me to look for them before and being my favourite nut, I got stuck in straight away as soon as Lucy pointed it out. We actually found our first haul in one of the remotest villages Northern Spain has to offer, 650 metres above sea level in the Picos de Europa. Walnuts are actually pretty expensive to buy, so we were happy to have found so many. We have subsequently managed to find them twice more without looking for them, both times in Spain.
Wild Garlic is probably my favourite foraging food so far. Between March and July, my hometown is laced with the stuff. There really isn’t a need to buy garlic in the shops when this tasty replica is sitting on my doorstep, asking to be picked. You don’t eat the bulb with this one. The leaves are the good stuff, the flavour, the scent. The most popular use is probably in pesto, substituting the basil for this seasonal wild food. Be sure to pick away from roads with frequent use and away from where animals are likely to graze. For my wild garlic pesto recipe, click here.
Another completely unexpected treat. We found a few fig trees growing out of a steep rock face on the descent to a small cove beach in the North of Spain back in October. You can tell whether the fig is ready to be picked by checking that the neck of the fruit has wilted and the fig is hanging down. An unripe fig will taste unpleasant whereas a ripe fig will taste sweet. They go great on an open fire. Simply slice the fig through the centre and drop a little goat’s cheese in. Wrap the fig in foil and cook for a few minutes until the cheese has melted.
Everyone knows about blackberries. These little beauties grow all over Europe just about anywhere. They’re great in a fruit salad, with yogurt, in a smoothie, in a pie or just on their own! I usually soak them in salt water for a while to kill of any insects that may be lurking.
Mint is an extremely invasive and resilient herb that will be found growing just about anywhere, anytime. My mint patch in the UK survived all year round with no help whatsoever. You can usually smell it in the air so there shouldn’t be any trouble recognising it. It’s nice freshly picked and added to ice green tea.
What's your favourite wild food? Comment below:
Over the last few months I’ve been trying to teach myself more about what the great outdoors can offer me for free. Surrounded by ever changing countryside, I’ve had no short supply of free forage-able food. A few months in and I’m still intimidated by the sheer scale and variety of what’s on offer, not to mention picking the wrong thing and making myself ill…or worse.
Fear not, however, as a complete novice I have managed to successfully forage a fair bit using various guides and rules that I will talk through with you.
The European continent has an abundance of edible wild food ranging from fruits, berries and vegetables to mushrooms, plants and leaves. Knowing what to pick and when is not only really satisfying, it also serves as a great survival tool.