Collecting wild foods is a great opportunity to get out in the countryside and appreciate the seasonal changes in the world around us. Learning about where our food comes from gives us far greater appreciation of it. This, in turn, helps to reduce food waste because the more value we give something, the less likely we are to waste it. Once you start looking for wild foods, you are sure to be surprised at how quickly you will come to recognise what is edible in the wild. Plus, it is free! The book ‘Food For Free’ written by Richard Mabey, first published in 1972, is a useful resource for advice on when to forage, what to pick, and what to do with it. Take care not to consume ‘at risk’ plants or anything that is poisonous. Seek expert advice if you are unsure. It is important to note that some wild plants require particular preparation before they are edible. Avoid picking anything close to heavily-used roads.
Wild foods sourced locally are an alternative to produce which is frequently intensively grown and imported. Wild foods regenerate themselves naturally and thus, they are a sustainable food source. Always harvest wild foods sustainably, giving consideration to the plants, landowners and other wild food foragers. Though wild plants regenerate themselves, it is important to harvest in a manner that does not destroy the plant, tree, mushroom, or seaweed. When harvesting seaweed, cut it, leaving a few inches on the plant. When seaweed is pulled from the rocks, the plant dies. Though seaweed can be foraged all year round, it contains more nutrients in spring than in autumn. Bear in mind that wild flowers are needed by the bees for cross-pollination. For example, when harvesting elderflowers always leave some flowers on the tree. They will bear fruit after the summer and you will have opportunity to reap the reward…elderberries!
Each season brings new opportunities to source wild food. The availability of wild food not only depends on the time of the year but also aspect and altitude of an area. Variation in crop is affected by how severe the winter has been, how wet or dry the summer, and other seasonal conditions. Wild food is not made up of only fruits and vegetables. Nuts are a great source of protein among wild plants.