Foraging days in the countryside
Foraging is a great way to engage with the natural world – an important step in achieving a more sustainable and ethical lifestyle. It’s also a great exercise where the amount of energy spent in an hour can be as much as an hour of running!
Interest in foraging is on the rise; people are once more recognising the importance of eating local, sustainable, seasonal food. Eating sustainably often involves growing at least some of your own food (or at least sourcing it from local, organic producers), but supplementing this with foraged wild produce is another important component to an ethical diet. Of course we must do this in a sustainable way.
In addition to considering your own safety when foraging, it is also important to take a long-term view: sustainable foraging means remembering that you are not the only creature which may wish to make use of a given resource. For example, wild berries play an important role in birds’ diets and flowers for bees!
Whatever you take, leave plenty for other people, and for local wildlife which may rely on these wild foods for their survival. Never dig up plants and remove them entirely (which is also illegal in certain locations). Rather, harvest from perennial plants, leaving them able to grow on and continue to produce their edible yield for years to come. Try to disturb the surrounding ecosystem as little as possible, so you (and others) can continue to benefit from its wild yields in future.
A few things to note:
Firstly, though it may sound obvious: never eat anything that you cannot identify with reasonable certainty. There are many edible wild foods around us – but there are also numerous poisonous species that can be harmful if accidentally ingested.
Bear in mind that wild foods can be polluted by human activity. It is therefore best to forage in areas as sparsely populated as possible, and which are not too close to industry, busy roads, or other sources of human or animal pollution. These areas aside, this contamination is negligible by comparison to the chemicals sprayed over any non-organic shop-bought produce. These pesticides and herbicides can be far more detrimental to human health.
Of course, common sense is crucial when foraging. Gloves (and long sleeves) can help protect from thorns and prickles, stinging plants like nettles, or from plants that can cause allergic reactions or photosensitivity. Giant hogweed, for example, can be dangerous to foragers, since its sap is phototoxic and can cause blistering and scars.
St Martha's Hill - a foraging venue