A Beginner's Guide to Foraging in the UK
Whether you’re making tasty meals with freshly picked ingredients or crafting organic soaps using flowers and wild herbs, foraging is a brilliant activity whilst camping.
Please note: Before picking, eating or using herbs, fruits, nuts or plants, we urge you to do your own research and confirm whether a particular wild plant is safe for human use. For additional help, you can join numerous foraging groups in the UK, where new and old foragers come together to share tips, recipes and the best foraging hotspots.
What is foraging?
Foraging means searching for and collecting wild plants such as fruits, flowers, fungi and foliage. These plants are naturally grown, and they’ve had no human interference to increase their production.
Although it's simple to walk into a shop and pick out everything you need, there’s something wholesome and cost-efficient about foraging your own natural ingredients to make soaps, scents, syrups, soups, stews, jams, wines, or even a tasty organic cuppa.
The UK is a great place for foraging as it has an abundance of edible wild foods throughout the seasons. If you’re strolling through your local park or perhaps on a hike near one of our campsites, take a look around, and you may be surprised by what wild and edible plants you can forage on your journey.
How to forage responsibly in the UK
Foraging is not as simple as picking and eating any plant. When foraging in the UK, you must be wary of what you can and cannot pick, and you must forage responsibly. Remember the following when foraging:
- Do not pluck plants or wild foods that you’re unsure of.
- Be aware of lookalikes.
- Seek permission before foraging.
- Avoid wastage and protect wildlife.
- Store foraging tools in a safe place.
- Keep freshly foraged food away from children and animals.
Some plants can be toxic and not suitable for human or animal consumption. Other plants may be partly toxic if they’re not handled correctly. If you’re unsure, it’s best to avoid plucking a plant and instead conduct thorough research on it or consult a foraging group.
Some plants look very similar to others but taste completely different. Some could also be toxic lookalikes. Make sure you pay close attention to detail, and that you’re 100% confident in a plant before plucking it. A magnifying glass usually comes in handy here.
Under Section 4 of the Theft Act 1968, you can pick anything growing in the wild, including fruits, flowers, fungi and foliage, as long as it's for personal consumption and not for commercial purposes.
If fruits, vegetables or plants are on private land, you must first ask the landowner's permission. In doing so, you’ll avoid any trespassing offences.
Although foraging is legal in the UK, you must avoid any National Nature Reserves (NNR), Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and other protected areas that state no foraging is allowed. These areas are protected for a good reason.
We also encourage researching specific plants to confirm whether they’re classed as protected species. These protected plants will be found under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, making it illegal to dig up or remove protected wild plants or cause permanent damage to them.
Don’t forage more than you can consume. Why? Humans aren't the only creatures reliant on the world's natural food resources. Animals and other wildlife need wild plants and food to survive. You can severely damage habitats by foraging more than you can consume or taking an excessive amount of a particular plant. Therefore, it’s best to forage edible foods that are native to the UK and available in large quantities.
Foraging tools make cutting and picking tough roots, stems and branches super easy. They should be handled with care and kept away from children and pets. If you’re taking any tools with you whilst camping, store them in a safe location.
Once you’ve picked wild plants, keep them away from children and pets until they are thoroughly washed or prepped. Some edible plants must be prepped to avoid any toxic layers, and others require a good rinse before consumption to avoid dirt or bugs.
Foraging tools you’ll need
Foraging for wild foods can be rough on your hands. To make it much easier and safer, we’ve listed some helpful tools that are worth the investment.
- Gloves: To avoid being pricked and poked by thorns, bushes or trees, keep your hands safe with a good pair of gardening gloves.
- Basket: A woven basket is great for carrying your freshly picked plants and foods.
- Magnifying glass: This will help you inspect plants easier and identify which ones are edible and which ones to avoid.
- Pruners: These will help you snip right through tough stems, twigs, small branches and roots.
- Digging fork: A helpful tool that will dig up most roots without damaging them.
- Folding spade: Also a great tool for digging through tough roots and a convenient tool to take with you whilst camping.
- Weeding knife: A smaller tool great for breaking up soil surrounding roots and making it easier to pluck plants.
- Kitchen scissors: For some plants, a good old pair of kitchen scissors will do the trick. Where pruners are great for tougher stems, kitchen scissors work perfectly for thin stems.
- Compact knife: A sharp, compact knife would work well if you need to peel back any bark or skin of a fruit.
If you’re short for space, this 6-in-1 Garden Multi Tool is perfect for foraging whilst camping. Don’t forget you can save 15% off this multi-tool and find brilliant offers on other foraging tools by joining The Club.
Helpful foraging tips
To ensure you don’t miss out on foraging the freshest wild plants, here are some tips that can help you.
- Download ‘What Three Words’ and pin the exact location of a specific hedge, bush or tree that’s not in season. Once the wild plants are ready to be picked, you’ll know exactly where to find them.
- Avoid foraging wild plants close to polluted rivers, sewers or areas with a lot of harmful chemicals. Also, avoid picking berries that are below the knee, as they can be contaminated by animal waste.
- Join a local foraging group near you to receive great advice and the best spots to forage near you.
Popular foods to forage in the UK
If you’re camping throughout the year and you’re worried about missing the right season to pick edible plants or fresh herbs, worry not. There’s something to forage all year round in the UK.
We’ve compiled a list of popular foods to forage and the recommended months to pick them.
A popular fruit to forage is blackberries. Not only are they perfect as a healthy snack, but you can also transform them into jams, use them in wines and create delicious desserts.
The best months to forage for blackberries are from August to October.
The UK has an abundance of acorns to pick. Ensure you soak your acorns to leach the tannins from them as using them freshly picked can be toxic. Once your acorns are prepped you can use them for roasting, acorn coffee or acorn flour.
The best months to forage for acorns are September and October.
Scrape off the outer brown skin to reveal a triangle seed which makes for a tasty snack.
The best months to forage for beech nuts are from September to November.
Crab apples can be found in British and Irish hedgerows and woodland edges. They produce beautiful fragrant blossoms in spring and tasty fruit in late summer. Crab apples are tastiest when they’re ripe and cold in autumn. You can infuse them with alcohol or use them to make juices, syrups, desserts, jelly, butter, vinegar, and pies.
The best months to forage for crab apples are from September to November.
To become edible for humans, hazelnuts must grow to full maturity and dry out. Once the papery outer covering starts pulling back from the nut, the hazels are safe to eat.
The best months to forage for hazelnuts are September and October.
Nettle leaves are a great superfood rich in vitamins A, B complex, C, K, iron, potassium, calcium, and manganese. You can use them for making delicious drinks, teas and soups.
The best months to forage for nettles are from March to September.
Wild garlic can often be found in damp woodland areas, and it’s great for soups, sauces, omelettes, salads, and sandwiches. It also tastes fab when mixed with homemade butter. When it comes to foraging wild garlic, you can harvest the leaves but not the bulbs, as they will not regrow.
The best months to forage for wild garlic are from February to April.
This one may not come as a surprise to many. Strawberries are incredibly popular when it comes to foraging, and they’re super tasty when ripe. You can use them for countless recipes or have them as a delicious snack.
The downside to foraging wild strawberries is how quickly they get picked. However, if you’re a big fan of freshly picked strawberries, you can check out the best strawberry farms near you.
The best months to forage for strawberries are from May to September.
Although to some, dandelions are seen as pesky weeds we find all over the place, it may be surprising to know that dandelions can be foraged and consumed. They can be fried or used in teas. The young leaves of Dandelion can also be eaten raw, but this can get bitter the older the plant gets.
The best months to forage for dandelions are from March to May.
Hawthorn berries can be used to make jelly, wine or tea. They’re also a good ketchup substitute and add a little colour to any cheese board.
The best months to forage for hawthorn berries are from September to November.
Rose hips are rich in antioxidants and Vitamin C. They have numerous natural health benefits and make lovely homemade body care products. They’re also great for making tea, jelly, syrup and wine.
The best months to forage for rose hips are from August to November.
Another non-surprising foraging favourite is raspberries. They can be washed and eaten as a healthy snack or used in jams, jellies, wines or syrups. Raspberries have also been used in facemasks and to make purple dye.
The best months to forage for raspberries are late June into early July.
With perfectly plump sloes to forage, you can enjoy homemade wine, gin, jam or jelly. The leaves can also be used for edible decorations and tea.
The best months to forage for sloes are between September and mid-December.
If you’re foraging on your next UK camping trip, please do so responsibly. To stay safe, thoroughly research and correctly identify any plant before picking it. If you have some great foraging tips to share or some lovely recipes, tag us in your Instagram, Facebook or Twitter posts, so we can all enjoy foraging together.