Forage like a pro with these five golden rules
07th April 2020
First time foraging? Here are five things to keep in mind and the kit you’ll need to get started
Plant finding and identification is a skill that takes patience and a keen eye, but a few days spent out and about in the countryside with a decent plant identification book or phone app will set you on the right course. Better still, join a local nature group or enrol on a foraging course run by people in the know. Before long, you’ll start to see hedgerows as giant tea caddies and be able to spot a berry-bearing elder from three fields away.
Before heading out with swag bag in hand, there are a few essential rules that the aspiring hedgetarian must adhere to for safe and responsible foraging:
1. Mind where you pick
The laws governing foraging are quite indistinct, with grey areas aplenty. The UK’s Countryside Act states that foraging on common land is acceptable as long as it is for personal use, but local by-laws may override this. In the US, laws vary state by state. Wandering over private property without permission is, of course, trespass and you should steer well clear of nature reserves, conservation areas and areas of scientific interest. Use common sense when foraging and, wherever possible, seek permission first.
2. Mind what you are picking
Some plants are lethal to ingest, and there are countless horror stories of foraging folk undergoing hospital treatment after gobbling a wrongly identified plant. You may also unwittingly tug up a protected plant species, so be 100 per cent sure of your quarry.
3. Pick in moderation
Don’t descend on and decimate a plant like a plague of locusts – leave plenty left behind for the birds, insects and mammals to enjoy. It is, after all, their pantry you are raiding.
4. Wash before use
Insects, insecticides and pollution are not conducive to a nice cup of tea. Rid your plants of contamination – visible or otherwise – before using. Discard anything that looks rotten or pongs.
5. Avoid low-level picking on pathways
Plants that live beside public thoroughfares will be at the mercy of every passing pooch. Always forage higher than a dog can cock its leg.
Foraging kit checklist
Now that you know the golden rules of foraging, you need to make sure you have the right kit with you, so you can collect and store your bounty in the best way:
Containers and Bags
You’ll need a decent bag to hold your swag – foraged fruits can get a bit sweaty in a plastic bag, especially when gathered under the glare of the midday sun. Your flimsy receptacle may also come to a premature end when confronted with a thorny bush. A hessian or canvas tote bag is a good, durable option, especially when combined with a selection of Tupperware tubs to separate your stash.
A folding pruning knife can be useful for helping to persuade reluctant plants to give up their bounty. Likewise, a pair of long-nosed pruners may come in handy when delving deep for fruits or flowers borne on thorny bushes.
Protection is key when foraging. Thorn-proof gloves are handy for preventing cuts and scratches, but may prove restrictive for nimble picking. In wintertime, a pair of fingerless gloves can provide cold weather protection while providing the necessary dexterity for your digits. A coat with capacious pockets will keep you warm and dry and also provide extra storage space for your foraged goods.
Extract taken from Wild Tea: Brew your own teas and infusions from home-grown and foraged ingredients by Nick Moyle and Richard Hood (£16.99, Eddison Books)
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