Foraging: Eat your way closer to nature
We can’t all be the next Masterchef or future Mary Berry, but there’s plenty of food in the forest that anyone can whip up into a tasty treat! From mushrooms to berries, you can find all sorts of fresh and organic edibles growing all across Scotland.
Foraging involves directly picking plants found outdoors, such as in woodlands, rather than buying them from a shop. Different foods are ready to eat depending on what season it is, but there’s usually something delicious to pick, no matter what month it is. Here are some of our favourite foods to forage throughout the year.
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Mushrooms are magic
Autumn is the perfect time to harvest wild mushrooms, with UK Fungus Day even being celebrated in October. There are around 15,000 types of wild fungi across the UK of all shapes, sizes and flavours. Commonly found types include the brightly coloured yellow chanterelle, chunky-stemmed cep and pastel pink wood hedgehog.
Take a look at the Scottish Wild Mushroom Code before you go foraging. It gives some key information for landowners and those wanting to collect sustainably and safely. Be careful to identify any fungus picked as 100% safe to eat before doing so.
Mushrooms are great for your diet too: they contain vitamin D, can help lower cholesterol levels and are a rich source of calcium. There are more mushroom recipes than you can shake a stick at, so get cooking!
If you haven’t tried a blaeberry before, you’re missing out. This delicious berry, also know as a bilberry, is a common feature of Scottish pine forests. It’s a deciduous plant, with leaves that turn bright shades of yellow and red in autumn.
Blaeberries are softer and easier to damage than blueberries, so you won’t see them in many shops. They’re also juicier than blueberries, and can be used in all sorts of recipes including jams, cordials and crumbles.
Be careful not to pick too many as the berries are a food source for lots of woodland animals, including little capercaillie chicks and grouse.
You’ll most likely smell wild garlic before you see it – the leafy plant produces a fragrant smell when it grows from late winter through to the end of spring. You won’t be warding off any vampires with it though as it’s far milder than store-bought bulb garlic.
The flowers and leaves can be eaten both raw and cooked, and are great in homemade pestos, soups and salads.
Always make sure you’re positive what you’re picking: wild garlic looks similar to lily of the valley, which is poisonous. You can tell which is which by crushing the garlic leaves in your hands to release the garlic-y scent.
Before you go
Make sure to remember a few key things before you head out:
- Don’t pick or eat anything you can’t 100% positively identify
- Try to avoid picking rare species
- Only take what you need - leave plenty for the wildlife
- Try a foraging course or guided walk if you want that extra bit of guidance
- Avoid plants on busy roads which may have absorbed exhaust fumes
A breath of fresh air
Foraging, if done sustainably and safely, is a great way to eat organic, fresh food. You get to spend time outdoors and get closer to nature, learning more about different plant species as you go. It’s fun, free and you get to eat things you might never even have heard of before.