The pandemic has had a huge impact on our lives and a lot of people, myself included, have been finding solace in green spaces if we’re lucky enough to be able to access them. Foraging forges such a strong connection with nature as you are always building an awareness of what’s in season, what’s at the end of its season, and what’s coming in the next few weeks or months. Whilst there’s always something to forage even in the depths of winter (see my Winter Foraging post for some ideas) the first of the wild garlic feels like the start of the new foraging year in a lot of ways, so now felt like the perfect time to share some resources for anyone interested in learning more about wild edibles.
Foraging is completely safe as long as you have the right attitude to it. If you’re not 100% sure of what something is, then you never put it anywhere near your mouth. Our egos can’t enter into the equation – you have to be ok with not knowing or not being sure and just leaving well alone. For this reason it goes without saying that identification guides and similar resources are everything to a forager. I have gradually accumulated a number of resources that I use all the time to make sure I know what I’m doing, and I’m always learning – I don’t think a forager ever really stops learning.
I’ve included a number of different types of resources below that I consult regularly including books, websites, and Instagram accounts. They mostly fall into two categories: resources for learning about identification, and resources that are great for seasonal inspiration. Some of the resources have a clear category that they sit in, whereas others overlap. There are apps and image searches that allow you to search using your own image of a plant or fungus, but I wouldn’t suggest ever using these as a definitive ID, but only as a signpost to more in-depth information. At the end of the day, you need to be the one doing the identifying and not leaving such a crucial step to an algorithm. It’s generally advised to consult at least three reputable, quality resources when identifying a new plant or fungus and I’ve listed a lot more than three here!
Hedgerow: River Cottage Handbook No.7 by John Wright
This would be the first book I would recommend to anyone starting out in foraging. Despite the name of the book, the remit isn’t limited to hedgerows, but includes plants found in woodlands, wetlands and more as well. John Wright is the River Cottage foraging expert and you may have seen him featured in the TV programs over the years. The introduction to this book is one of the most useful I’ve come across for its explanation of the legalities of foraging, and each entry has information about the plant’s features, distribution as well as suggestions for how to use it. John Wright’s writing style is pleasingly wry as well as being very informative.
Mushrooms: River Cottage Handbook No.1 by John Wright
Another River Cottage Handbook by John Wright, this time dedicated to mushrooms, and with a slightly different format. This guide uses a key to establish a true ID, taking you systematically through the important factors when identifying fungi such as habitat, what they’re growing on, as well as their features and spore print colour. It’s a great resource for beginners and gets you into the habit of asking these crucial questions that are just as important to getting a correct ID as what the mushroom looks like. The only limitation with this book is that it is limited to mushrooms with a cap, so a lot of edible fungi are excluded such as jelly ears, chicken of the woods, turkey tails etc.
Mushrooms by Roger Philips
This book is more of an encyclopaedia of fungi than an identification guide, and it isn’t specific to edible mushrooms, although it lists whether each fungus is edible, non-edible or poisonous. I often flick through this when I come across something new and it’s really quite comprehensive with quality photographs of each mushroom and a short, quite technical description.
The Edible City: A Year of Wild Food by John Rensten
This book takes you on a journey through a year in the life of a London forager as he documents his finds alongside seasonal recipes and lovely illustrations by Gwen Burns. Although it doesn’t give many specific locations, especially not for his top-secret black trumpet mushroom patch, it does demonstrate how much there is to find even in the “big smoke” and is a great source of inspiration for how to use wild edibles in the kitchen too.
Fern Freud @foraged.by.fern
There are countless foragers with beautiful Instagram accounts and a wealth of information and inspiration, but Fern’s account is one of my favourites. She shares foraging videos with really easy to follow information about plant identification, and her recipes are so creative. I just love her colourful feed and love to scroll through it when I need a bit of uplifting! Side note: I can’t be the only person that thinks she looks like Angelina Jolie, right?
Alexis Nikole @blackforager
I love Alexis’s videos – they always bring a smile to my face as she has such a vibrant personality and energy. As Alexis is based in Ohio, some of the plants she talks about don’t grow in the UK, but there’s still a huge amount of overlap and inspiration, and she’s so entertaining that I don’t feel it even matters if I can’t always replicate what she’s doing.
I’ve grouped the following under one heading as they all provide information and ID tips on various wild foods. They vary in their level of detail and coverage, but each have been useful to me at some point and I find myself coming back to them again and again.
Totally Wild UK: https://totallywilduk.co.uk/
Wild Food UK: https://www.wildfooduk.com/
Galloway Wild Foods: https://gallowaywildfoods.com/
In-person Foraging Walks
As much as books and websites can teach you about identifying plants and fungi, nothing beats seeing the real thing out in the wild. Not only is it the best way to piece together everything about a plant’s ID including the shape, but also the texture, smell and the surroundings, it’s a wonderful way to spend a morning or afternoon in nature. If you are interested in booking an in-person foraging walk with me, you can find out more information on my Foraging Sessions page and get in touch!
That should definitely start you off with a solid foundation in the types of things you can forage and when you can expect to find them. And remember the golden rules: always consult at least 3 quality identification resources before consuming anything, know your poisonous plants and fungi as well as you know the edible ones, forage responsibly, always try a little of something first in case your body doesn’t tolerate it, and don’t consume anything you’re not absolutely 100% sure about.
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