Where to Forage
There are a multitude of places to forage, and you certainly don't have to live in the woods to be able to do it regularly! This section looks at common environments where wild edibles can be found, as well as a look at the importance of understanding tree species, as this can often be a very important key to finding certain foods, particularly mushrooms.
Spoilt for Choice
A most wonderful thing about foraging, is you certainly don't have to live in the countryside to do it. There are plenty of things to forage in built-up urban areas, such as dandelions, nettles, plantains, linden flowers, and blackberries; and in inner-city parks and green spaces, it's possible to find other amazing edibles, such as sorrel, wild garlic, cleavers, ox-daisy, elderflowers, apples, cherries, shaggy inkcaps, even ceps! Many of the wild edibles on this website can be found in towns and cities, so don't dismay if getting to a rural greenspace isn't always possible.
Obviously, the variety of plants increases the further out from the city you get, with farmland hedgerows, grasslands, woodlands, forests, and moorlands offering some wonderful wild food that you won't find in the urban environment. These include such delicacies as bilberry, wild raspberry, heather, wood hedgehogs, chanterelles, wild thyme, meadowsweet and rosebay willowherb, to name a just a few. If you do live in the city, then it's usually only a very short trip out in the car before you come across a suitable place to forage for these kinds of items.
The main haunts for most foragers include deciduous, coniferous and mixed woodland; various grasslands, including pastures, meadows and moors; waterways, such as lakes and rivers; and the urban environment, and these are described in more detail below. These aren't hard and fast rules however, as many locations can contain multiple environments - for example, you can often find rivers, streams and grassland meadows within woodland environments, as well as canals and grassland parks in urban environments. The key thing is to get out and explore and see what's available near you!
A deciduous, or broadleaf, woodland is predominantly filled with hardwood trees that shed their leaves every autumn. These environments are often very old due to the slow-growing nature of the trees that live there, and some are even classed as "Ancient", with tree specimens often reaching five hundred years old or more. Common trees to see in these environments are Oak, Beech and Birch, but other trees can also be found there too, such as Horsechestnut, Willow, Ash and Sycamore. Being so old, they often have very well established plant and mushroom species dwelling within them, so are often considered to be a prime place to forage. Many plants and some of the best edible mushrooms are often found in these environments.
A coniferous woodland is commonly called a "forest" and is predominantly filled with fast-growing, needle-bearing softwood trees that are mostly evergreen, and so don't shed their needles every autumn. These environments are often relatively young in comparison to deciduous woodlands, and are usually planted for commercial purposes, such as timber production. As such, they are frequently cut down and harvested every 20-50 years, before being re-planted. Conifers are the most common types of tree to see in these environments, which includes Scots Pine, Larch, Spruce and Fir. As they are mostly man-made and managed plantations, it is uncommon to see broadleaf or other types of tree in coniferous forests, and where this does occur, these trees are usually naturally seeded. Despite their young age, forests do teem with life, and a broad range of plants and mushrooms can be found within them, such as bilberry, raspberry, wood hedgehogs and milkcaps.
As the name suggests, a mixed woodland consist of both deciduous and coniferous trees. These can sometimes be arranged in clearly planted stands or groups of a certain species of tree all together in one area of the wood, clearly separated from other tree types. Alternatively, they can also be arranged in a more interspersed fashion, with multiple species of both broadleaf and coniferous trees all growing together naturally in a randomised growth pattern. Mixed woodlands are often former coniferous plantations that have had deciduous broadleaf trees deliberately introduced to increase the bio-diversity of tree and wildlife species, but can sometimes be natural, unplanted woodlands of ancient origin. Because they contain both deciduous and coniferous trees, the range of plants and mushrooms that can be found in a mixed woodland can be quite diverse, although the relatively young age of many of these environments often means that some populations of these plants and fungi may not be fully established, and therefore don't appear in abundance.
As already mentioned, the urban environment can house a multitude of edible plants and mushrooms. Just heading out into your garden or yard will likely yield numerous wild edibles, such as dandelion, plantain, bittercress and bramble. Streets too, are often lined with ornamental trees that can provide plenty of opportunity for foraging, including Linden, Apple, Pear, Cherry and Elder, and numerous mushrooms can also be discovered here and there, from Shaggy Inkcaps on small grassy pockets to Dryad's Saddle or Oyster Mushroom on decomposing tree stumps. Heading away from the concrete jungle and into inner-city green spaces such as parkland, scrubland, wasteland, golf courses, canals or even cemeteries, will also bring a wealth of wild food. You really don't have to travel far!
“... The garden suggests there might be a place where we can meet nature halfway ...”
Grassland is usually defined as an area of land where the vegetation is dominated by grasses. Grasslands can be found in many places, from the heaths, parklands and scrublands of inner-city environments, to the fields, paddocks, and pastures that make up the agricultural landscape of suburban and rural areas. Agricultural grassland especially, is often surrounded by hedgerows, bridleways and other green spaces, that in themselves, also make excellent foraging locations. Travelling further afield may take you to other, more natural and rugged grassland environments, such as moorland or heathland. All of these areas are packed with wild edibles - hedgrows especially, are often treasure troves of wild food, due to the nourishment they receieve from the rich soil in the fields they encircle - and fields and pastures are also home to numerous wild flowers and edible mushrooms, such as agarics, parasols and waxcaps.
Like grasslands, waterways can be found in a variety of locations, from inner-city ponds and canals, to woodland streams, lakes, reservoirs and riverbanks. The well-watered and fertile banks of Britain's waterways are ideal for foraging for wild food, but some edible plants also grow exclusively either in, or very close to water, such as Watermint, Watercress, various reeds, and wild flowers, such as Scabia and Valerian. Whilst waterways are beautiful, they can also present serious danger in the form of slippy rocks, fast-flowing currents, and other natural hazards, such as algae blooms and water-borne parasites, so extra care should be taken when foraging these areas, especially with children. More information can be found in the Other Safety Tips section of the website.
The Importance of Trees
Knowing whether you are in a deciduous, coniferous, or mixed woodland will largely depend on your understanding of the trees that are around you. Broadleafs, like the Oak, Beech and Birch would indicate a deciduous woodland; whereas conifers, like Pine, Spruce, Fir or Larch will be found in coniferous woodlands. Another significant indicator will be the shape and colours of the leaves. Conifers have needles, rather than leaves, just like those on your Christmas tree, whereas deciduous trees have broader leaves of different shapes and sizes, hence "broadleafs". Deciduous trees also shed their leaves in the Winter, and are responsible for the wonderful warm colours of Autumn, unlike conifers, which, with the exception of the Larch tree, are all evergreen and keep their needles throughout the winter period. As such, if you're foraging in October and are surrounded by the magnificant yellows, oranges, and reds of Autumn, you are very likely in a decidious or mixed woodland, rather than a coniferous one.
Being able to identify the most common types of UK tree is especially important to any forager. Some trees, such as Elder, Rowan and Hawthorne, are wild-food powerhouses that produce delicious edible flowers and berries. Additionally, if you plan to forage for mushrooms, many of the best varieties only grow in association with particular trees, making the tree a key identifier for the the mushroom. If you'd like to take your foraging to the next level and learn more about identifying common UK tree species, click on the link below to head over to the Woodland Trusts, A-Z of UK Trees.
Quickguide: Foraging Locations
A deciduous, or broadleaf, woodland is predominantly filled with hardwood trees that shed their leaves every autumn, such as Oak, Beech and Birch. They often contain very well established plant and mushroom species and are considered a prime place to forage. Many plants and some of the best edible mushrooms are often found in these environments.
A coniferous woodland is commonly called a "forest" and is predominantly filled with fast-growing, needle-bearing softwood trees, such as Pine, Larch, Spruce and Fir. Despite being younger than deciduous woodlands, they do teem with life, and a broad range of plants and mushrooms can be found within them, such as bilberry, raspberry, wood hedgehogs and milkcaps.
A mixed woodland consist of both deciduous and coniferous trees. Mixed woodlands are often former coniferous plantations that have had deciduous broadleaf trees deliberately introduced to increase the bio-diversity of tree and wildlife species, but can sometimes be natural, unplanted woodlands of ancient origin. The range of plants and mushrooms that can be found in a mixed woodland can be quite diverse, although they may not house fully established populations of plants and mushrooms.
The urban environment can house a multitude of edible plants and mushrooms. Common urban foraging locations include gardens, yards, streets, inner-city green spaces, parkland, scrubland, wasteland, golf courses, canals, and even cemeteries. You really don't have to travel far!
Grasslands can be found in many places, from the heaths, parklands and scrublands of inner-city environments, to the fields, paddocks, and pastures that make up the agricultural landscape of suburban and rural areas. Other, more natural and rugged grassland environments, include moorland or heathland. All are home to numerous wild flowers and edible mushrooms, such as agarics, parasols and waxcaps.
Waterways can be found in a variety of locations, from inner-city ponds and canals, to woodland streams, lakes, reservoirs and riverbanks. The well-watered and fertile banks of Britain's waterways are ideal places to forage for wild food, including some species that are only found in water, such as Watermint and Watercress.
Do I need to be able to ID trees to forage?
The short answer is No, but being able to identify common types of UK tree can really give you the edge when it comes to finding certain types of wild food, particularly some excellent species of mushroom, such as chanterelles and Ceps. An understanding of tree species will also help with finding various tree-based delights, such as elderflower, haws, rowan berries, tree sap, and hazelnuts.