Ten free and tasty foods that are probably growing on your doorstep
Foraging for wild food can have many benefits. Besides being an enjoyable hobby and a good excuse to get out and enjoy a productive walk in the fresh air, it can save you money on your grocery bill, and give your health a boost, because wild foods often contain more nutrients than those grown in intensive farming conditions.
Elder trees are common in hedgerows and woodlands. Their masses of creamy coloured flowers, which appear in spring can be used to make a delicious cordial. The tiny purple berries, which follow afterwards may not look like much, but they are bursting with vitamin C and antioxidants, which will give your immune system a boost through the winter months. Elderberries have a rich, sweet flavour making them perfect for adding to pies and crumbles, or turning into jam or cordial.
You've probably heard that dandelion leaves make a tasty, nutrient-packed alternative to salad rocket or watercress, but pretty much every part of this common weed is edible! The flowers are delicious in salads or brewed into tea, and the roots (as well as being used with burdock and ginger to make traditional root beer) can be dried and ground up to make a caffeine-free alternative to coffee.
There are many varieties of nut tree growing wild in hedgerows, parks, and woodlands. Sweet Chestnut, Beech, Walnut, and Hazel can all be harvested and stored in jars for the winter. Nuts can be eaten raw, used to make nut butters, or roasted with sugar or spices to create a delicious healthy snack.
Hawthorn is possibly the most common hedgerow tree. It's pale green leaf shoots have a mild nutty flavour and are great in salads and soups. The small white flowers (also called May Flowers) can be scattered over salad bowls or used to make syrup or cordial. In autumn the bright red berries, full of vitamin C, can be eaten raw, or made into jams and chutneys.
Rose flowers not only look and smell spectacular, they taste wonderful as well! Use them in salads or to flavour syrup, cordial, or tea. They can easily be dried to preserve them longer, and then stored in air tight jars until needed. Rose hips come in many shapes and sizes, but all are full of vitamin C, and can be used to make delicious jam, which will give your immune system a boost.
Once nettle leaves are cooked, they lose their sting, which is wonderful news as they not only make delicious soup and tea, but they are a power-house of nutrients including vitamins A, B, and C, amino acids, calcium, folic acid, iron, and magnesium.
This beautiful wild pansy can be eaten in salads or mixed into pancake batter to make flower fritters. Heart's Ease Tea is used by herbalists to sooth sore throats, colds, and fevers.
It may seem strange to be walking through your local wood or park, and suddenly be struck by an overpowering scent of garlic, but wild garlic is actually very common and can be used in all your favourite dishes, exactly as you would use garlic bought from a shop. Think twice before digging up the bulbs though, as that means the plant won't grow back. Instead, you might prefer to pick the young leaves and flower buds, which can be finely chopped and eaten raw or lightly steamed like spinach.
Provided you do your research and know exactly what you are picking, autumn is a splendid time to go foraging for wild mushrooms. Giant Puffballs, Honey Fungus, Chanterelle, and Hen of The Woods are some common ones to look out for, and all are packed full of nutrients, making them perfect for adding to autumn soups and stews, or drying and storing to use in winter.
If you are lucky enough to live near the coast, there are many edible plants, which can be found growing on the seashore. Lots of types of seaweed are edible, and all are high in fibre making them super healthy, but make sure you only pick plants, which are alive and growing on rocks or dunes, never dead seaweed that has washed up on the beach. Some common seaweeds to try are Bladderwrack, Sea Lettuce, Green Caviar, and Irish Moss.
Always use a good field guide, and never pick anything unless you are certain it is edible. Also avoid plants growing by road sides, which may have become contaminated by traffic fumes. Pick responsibly, only pick what you need rather than the whole plant, and make sure you leave enough behind for wild animals and birds who will be depending on nature's larder too!