The excitement of foraging lies in not knowing what you’re going to stumble across. You can have an idea of what you’re going to pick but invariably you will come across lots of other wild and wonderful things on your journey.
What are you legally allowed to forage in the UK?
Basically all you need to remember is the Four Fs – flowers, foliage, fruit and fungi. However you do have to be careful that you’re not foraging on land that you do not have rights or permission to be on. There are sometimes local bye laws in place prohibiting foraging in certain areas, which can be passed by the council or the National Trust for example, if this is the case there will be notices on display. If you are foraging for your own personal use rather than for commercial purposes you are much more likely to looked upon favourably.
Make sure you only take from where there is an abundance of what you’re harvesting, leave scarce and rare things well alone, and only take what you’re actually going to use. It’s easy to get carried away on forays and come home laden with armfuls of wonderful things that you’re not actually going to get round to using, with the result that it ends up on the compost heap.
If in doubt leave it out!
Be very careful with identification too as mistakes can be serious, if in doubt leave it out! Also be aware that just because edible plants and fungi are natural this does not automatically make them safe and suitable for everyone. Some people are allergic to the Asteraceae family for instance, which may mean that even the humble dandelion can produce an unpleasant reaction. I would suggest that if you’ve not tried a plant or fungus before it is advisable to have just a little bit to start off with. Also some plants should be used with caution in certain medical conditions, during pregnancy or if you are on particular medications from your doctor. If you’re not sure whether you should be ingesting a particular plant then don’t!
In terms of where you should forage there are a few guidelines which are really just common-sense. Avoid busy roadsides where pollution from passing traffic will undoubtedly contaminate the plant life and areas which are dog walking favourites are definitely best avoided. Armed with all this knowledge you are now ready to go out and explore!
Remember the golden rules of foraging: only take what you need and know you will actually use, don’t pick from areas where the plant is scarce or you don’t have permission and be very, very careful to identify correctly – “if in doubt leave it out”. Be aware that just because it’s natural does not mean it’s safe and suitable for everyone. Do consult your GP or medical herbalist if you are taking other medications as adverse interactions can occur. If pregnant, or if you have a medical condition, be very cautious and seek medical advice if you have any doubts. Finally, if you haven’t tried something before, try only a little to start with in case you should have an allergic reaction.