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How to Forage, and Why Foraging Is Good for Your Health

Steve, aka Green Beard, is an expert on nature and loves to write about wildlife and conservation.

Wild Foods for Free

Many more people are becoming interested in foraging and are going out looking for free wild foods. This puts them in touch with nature and with ways of the hunter-gatherer our ancestors were long, long ago.

The eating of raw foods is another very healthy practice that many people are taking up and collecting edible wild plants, fruits, nuts and fungi is a great way of getting plenty to eat just as Mother Nature made it! Many common wildflowers and weeds can be eaten raw in salads and others can be cooked as greens. Many plants are also medicinal herbs, and we can find them growing in the areas we live in. This is the case all over the world.

Many people today are wisely demanding organic fruit and vegetables because they know they should be grown naturally and are free of harmful pesticides, or at least they should be. Edible wild plants and herbs gathered from the wild are guaranteed organic! There is also a lot of pleasure to be gained by finding and gathering them yourself.

Milk Thistle

Milk Thistle. Photo by Steve Andrews

Milk Thistle. Photo by Steve Andrews

Markus Rothkranz

Markus Rothkranz is an expert on raw foods and restoring bodily health by eating weeds and other edible plants, as well as using herbal medicines. His youthful appearance, boundless energy and positivity are all due to him being a raw food vegan, and Markus refers to many common weeds as “super-foods.” The Dandelion is an excellent example of one of his favourite edible wild plants. The leaves are good as a salad but you can eat the whole plant and make a coffee substitute from the roasted and ground up roots.

Markus points out that the edible weeds are full of the vitamins and minerals we need, and because they often grow in difficult conditions they send down their roots deep into the ground to take up as many of the nutrients as they can. If we eat the plants raw then we get all these healthy substances too. You can eat many plants in salads or use a blender or juicer.

Markus believes that God wants us all to be healthy and happy and so has given us free foods and medicines all over the planet. As he points out, there will be wild plants we can eat and others that will make us well, growing outside where we live and in our neighbourhoods.

Of course, it is best to eat plants that are not grown by roads where they can get polluted by traffic fumes or sprayed with herbicides, so you need to use a bit of common sense when gathering wild foods that can be foraged for. But you will find them out there and a country ramble is the best way of getting the best quality free foods from nature. If you have a garden you can eat the weeds that grow in it, if they are edible ones, and many are.

Dandelion and Burdock foraging with Bard of Ely

Dandelion

dandelion flowers. Photo by Steve Andrews

dandelion flowers. Photo by Steve Andrews

Edible Weeds

Besides the Dandelion there are plenty of other nutritious edible weeds. many are cosmopolitan and can be found in most parts of the world.

The Chickweed (Stellaria media) is one that often grows in gardens and on cultivated ground. It can be found in winter when other plants are scare. It is wonderful eaten fresh in salads. It is very good for you too and can be used as herb to make creams to treat skin complaints.

Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) is another common weed. It can be recognised by the little heart-shaped seed-pods like minute purses. Like Chickweed, it can be found all year round and is so popular in China that it is sold in markets.

The Common Mallow (Malva sylvestris) is yet another weed that is found in many places in the world. You can eat the flowers and the little round seeds raw. The leaves are better cooked as greens. All the other species of Mallow are edible too.

Bladder Campion (Silene vulgaris) is a common wildflower that grows along paths and in grassy places. It is good eaten raw but can also be cooked. The leaves and flowers are edible and nutritious.

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Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) cannot be eaten raw for obvious reasons but cooked they lose their ability to sting and make a very healthy addition to your diet. The leaves and young tops cooked as greens have plenty of iron and other minerals and eating Nettles helps purify the blood and body. Stinging Nettles can be made into an herbal tea too. You will need gloves to collect this plant unless you are brave enough to "grasp the Nettle."

St. John's Wort

St John's Wort flowers. Photo by Steve Andrews

St John's Wort flowers. Photo by Steve Andrews

Herbs

Many edible plants and weeds you can find growing wild are also medicinal herbs. If you buy them from the health store they will cost you a lot of money but you can often get the same herbs for free if they grow near where you live.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) grows in waste places, along roads and by the sea in the UK and many other parts of the world. The ferny foliage that smells of Anise-seed can be eaten raw in salad or as a garnish but the seeds make a herbal tea that is good for the digestion an many other conditions. Fennel is both an edible plant and a medicinal herb and can be found by foragers.

The Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) is in the same category. The leaves stripped of their prickles can be eaten in salad but the seeds made into an herbal tea have medicinal properties and are very good got liver complaints and for purifying the blood. Milk Thistle is easy to recognise with its creamy white marbled foliage and magenta-purple flowers.

St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is not an edible plant but is a widely used medicinal herb that is used to treat depression. It has golden-yellow starry flowers that bloom in summer and grows in grassy places and on waste ground.

Elderflower

Eldeflower. Photo by Steve Andrews

Eldeflower. Photo by Steve Andrews

Dog Rose (Rosa canina)

Dog Rose. Photo by Steve Andrews

Dog Rose. Photo by Steve Andrews

Flowers

There are edible flowers that can be found whilst foraging too, and flowers that can be used in other ways. The Elderflower (Sambucus nigra) , for example, can be collected and dried to make herb teas, used as the basis for Elderflower wine or champagne, and, using the whole flower-head, coated in batter and fried as an Elderflower fritter.

Later in the year, the berries can be collected and used to make Elderberry wine or added to jams, jellies and pies. Foraging can be done throughout the seasons, and besides enjoying the changes that can be observed in the natural world, you will find that there are foods for free right throughout the year, even in the depths of winter, if you know what to look out for.

The flower petals of the Dog Rose (Rosa canina) are edible, as are those of other cultivated roses. In the autumn, the forager can gather the reddish fruits known as hips. They are a wonderful source of Vitamin C and can be used in fruit teas. Watch out for the hairy seeds though inside them that need removing.

Dandelion flowers can be eaten raw as well as the leaves, and again can be used as the base for a homemade wine.

Lime Flowers from the Lime Tree (Tilia europea) make a great herbal tea after they have been gathered and dried in the summer. This tea, known as "Tillieul", has calming and relaxing properties as well as being very enjoyable to drink. The young leaves of the Lime can be eaten raw too.

Sloes

Sloes, the fruit of the Blackthorn. Photo by Steve Andrews

Sloes, the fruit of the Blackthorn. Photo by Steve Andrews

Hazelnuts

Hazelnuts. Photo by Steve Andrews

Hazelnuts. Photo by Steve Andrews

Fruit and Nuts

Autumn is the best time for foraging for wild fruits and nuts too. This is the season in which Mother Nature brings forth her delights for us to gather and Pagans celebrate the second Harvest Festival at the Autumn Equinox on the 21 September.

Blackberries (Rubus fruticosus) are a wild fruit that everyone knows, and they are good eaten fresh or made into pies, jam or jelly. Blackberry wine is another option for using this delicious berry.

Sloes, the fruit of the Blackthorn tree (Prunus spinosa), are actually a wild plum. Although they are far too bitter for most people's palate they can be gathered to make Sloe Gin, which is produced by steeping the fruit in the spirit and leaving it for months so that the flavour and colour leaches out into this strong alcoholic drink.

Haws, the fruit of the Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), are ripened by autumn too, and the trees are often laden in masses of these red berries. They can be eaten freshly picked and have a sort of creamy taste.

There are many types of edible nut too. There are Hazelnuts (Corylus avellana), Sweet Chestnuts (Castanea sativa) and Walnuts (Juglans regia), for starters. All of which fall off the trees they are on and can be looked for and gathered off the ground in autumn.

They often can be gathered in great numbers and they store very well too for the months ahead. All these nuts make nutritious eating raw or can be cooked and used in various meals.

Jew's Ear fungus. Source: Wikipedia.

Jew's Ear fungus. Source: Wikipedia.

Wild Mushrooms

Then of course, we cannot leave out all the wild mushrooms and edible fungi that the experienced forager can gather. With this group though, more care and knowledge is needed, because there are poisonous fungi too and it is easy for a novice to pick the wrong ones with disastrous consequences.

Always make sure you have learned how to correctly identify fungi before collecting and eating them.

One you can't go far wrong with, however, is the weird-looking Jew's Ear (Auricularia auricula). This strange fungus really does look like a fleshy ear.

It is found growing mainly on Elder trees and can be found late in the year in November and December.

Younger specimens are the best to gather because it becomes tough with age. The Jew's Ear is best stewed but also dries out well for future use. It is very popular in China. Elsewhere it is often sold in delicatessens along with other dehydrated wild mushrooms.

Other commonly eaten wild mushrooms include the Field Mushroom (Agaricus campestris), which grows in fields, the Edible Boletus or Cep (Boletus edulis), and the large Parasol Mushroom (Lepiota procera).

And Finally...

Foraging is a very easy and rewarding activity. It keeps you fit from walking about in the countryside and getting plenty of fresh air, and provides a free source of nutritious foods.

The best way to star foraging is with easily identified species such as the Dandelion or Stinging Nettle. Better still, is to learn from experienced foragers in your area, if there are any.

An excellent book that has become something of a classic on the subject of foraging is Food For Free by Richard Mabey,which was first published back in 1972 but has had subsequent editions since due to its great success. As you can see from two videos I have included here I used to quote from this book when I worked as TV presenter and used to be filmed out and about in the Welsh countryside eating the edible wild foods I came across. I was even called "David Bellamy on acid!"

Bard of Ely foraging for Wild Thyme, Scurvy Grass and Wild Carrot

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Steve Andrews

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