Written for us by Julia Russell, a local Herbalist and Forager, who is well worth following on Instagram (@juliarussellherbalist) for her lyrical exploration of flora you can find in nearby hedgerows, along paths and estuary’s edge. 

This week we present you with an introduction to foraging from Julia’s point of view. If you want the full story, find it on our blog at foodfutures.org.uk/news. More can be found in our upcoming magazine, released at the end of July. Or contact Julia directly via her website: www.JuliaRussellHerbalist.co.uk

Foraging gives a trip outside a focus and purpose. It is a great way of connecting with nature around you and the seasons, getting to know the plants and their uses, and learning to read your local environment. In the forager’s calendar, summer is the season of fragrant flowers – elder, dog rose, yarrow, meadowsweet, wild honeysuckle, to name a few – and of aromatic native herbs such as water mint, wild thyme and marjoram. 

New to foraging? The first step is identification, so arm yourself with a good plant identification book or better still two and cross-refer, considering location, growth, soils and season. 

Don’t rely solely on identification apps, whilst helping narrow down possibilities they can lack accuracy. 

The golden rule is unless you are 100% certain of identification, DO NOT PICK IT OR EAT IT.

Be cautious if you have any food allergies, many of our common wild foods come from the Apiaceae family (like celery) or Brassicaceae family (like mustard). A little basic botany to learn plant families can help with this.

Try starting your forays into foraging with easily recognisable wild foods which you may already know, such as nettle or elder. Experimentation with these plants builds confidence to branch out, broadening your knowledge to identify and introduce plants that are new to you. Visiting your local foraging spots throughout the year helps with recognition of plants at all stages of growth.

Is it actually “food for free”? Naturally there’s excitement on realising you can supplement your diet with flavoursome nutrient-dense wild foods, without adding to supermarket profits or mountains of packaging. However, picking can be labour-intensive and processing can be incredibly time-consuming. Consider your plans for the plants, picking only what you have time to prepare on returning home, as unprocessed foraged food rotting in your fridge is still food waste.

Plants form part of an ecosystem, providing food, nutrients and homes for others, such as bees, butterflies, moths, birds, rodents, etc. Overharvesting can destroy communities of plants and be detrimental to wildlife and their habitat. Pick with this in mind, only harvesting where a particular plant is abundant, taking small amounts from each plant. Give thanks before harvesting and as a rule of thumb never take more than 25% of a plant, leaving plenty of flowerheads to go to seed and regenerate the community. 

Most plants can be collected for personal use on public land (except in protected areas like SSSIs), although you need the landowner’s permission to uproot anything. Using scissors rather than tugging helps protect delicate roots when harvesting.

Do you forage in North Lancashire? If so, let us know what you find and what you make with it! Email foodfutures@lessuk.org

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