With the weather on the turn, it’s all too easy to retreat indoors which is why having a reason to be in the fresh air and soak up all the goodness nature has to offer is ideal. Just think of all the delicious berries and nuts you can forage before turning them into delicious jams and pies!
Autumn is the perfect time to enjoy foraging in the woodlands and forests – roaming around in the crisp autumn air, the sense of achievement of filling a bag with natural goodies and taking them home to make a delicious pie or jam are all part of the fun. And what better way to spend time with loved ones than wild foraging followed by feasting on the fruits of your labour?
Autumn is one of the foraging’s core seasons with the cooler weather making it be perfect time to head outdoors and reconnect with the natural world whilst surrounded by the abundant beauty of the changing season.
Though it’s important to make sure you know exactly what you’re foraging, ensure you aren’t breaking any laws or potentially even damaging protected species.
Due to the summer heat waves, making sure you’re taking extra care of the natural world is even more important. The multiple heatwaves have caused a phenomenon called ‘false autumn’ to occur across much of the country – bringing forward many plants’ fruiting and disrupting the eating patterns of local wildlife.
Making sure you’re able to not just enjoy time in nature but do so respectfully and mindfully is key. Below is a guide on where, when and what to discover in UK woodlands this autumn.
Being in the great outdoors unquestionably has benefits for both mind and body. As the weather cools it is easy to go from one indoor space to another with only minimal time spent outside. Having a reason to be in the fresh air is therefore a great way to ensure you are soaking up all the goodness nature has to offer.
For physical health an outdoor activity like foraging also means you will be exposed to the sun, building up your body’s reserves of Vitamin D, important as we head into the winter. Being outdoors also encourages more physical activity – walking and exploring woodlands will help amp up your daily step count as you stroll amongst the trees, skip over the roots and push yourself to tackle any hills to find your bounty.
The mental perks are important too – the colours and shapes of nature have been proved to calm our minds, allowing us to de-stress and take a moment to rebalance.
Take advantage of the abundance of mental and physical perks with loved ones, use the time to catch up with family and friends, share a moment with little ones and enjoy connecting to life’s simple pleasures together.
Location, location, location
Different areas of the UK have different laws around foraging. In England and Wales, foraging on privately owned land requires permission from the owner, unless there’s a sign saying it’s allowed. In Scotland, there is a ‘Right to Roam’ which allows for foraging on private land. Sense should be used, however, obviously, woodland is OK to forage in but you should probably avoid someone’s back garden!
It is also a good idea to do some research into any protected species in the area. Be aware of what is plentiful and therefore can be taken home, and what is perhaps an endangered plant or one that is a prime food source for local wildlife, which of course should be avoided.
Whilst picking the fruits and flowers of plants and trees when foraging is allowed, digging out a plant from the roots isn’t – not only could it harm local wildlife, but you’d also be taking away the chance to enjoy foraging for others.
Remember that foraging is not just about finding delicious natural treats for yourself but requires being mindful of the bigger picture and protecting the natural world around us.
Fruits of the forest
Depending on where in the UK you are foraging, different berries and nuts will be more readily available. Blackberries grow in many woodlands across the UK so are perfect for collecting – just make sure they are a dark purple when picked otherwise they are not yet ripe enough for eating.
Other widely found berries are elderberries, hawthorn berries and rowan berries. When picking berries it is important to know which varieties can be tasted raw verses which need to be cooked first. Hawthorn berries for example contain a toxic acid when raw but once cooked are perfectly safe.
Nuts are also a great option for foraging, and identifying the different species, whilst out walking, is oddly satisfying! Hazelnuts are a great choice and should be picked when their leaves are turning yellow. Beech nuts are another one to look out for, or up, for as the trees grow up to 40m high. Not to worry if you don’t feel like scaling heights for the nuts though as the shells open up when the nut is ready to eat, meaning they can be collected from the forest floor.
The Woodland Trust has multiple guides on what produce to look out for in line with the seasons.
Foraging is a great activity in and of itself, but a real highlight is bringing all your finds home and cooking up a feast!
Foraged fruits have the benefit of largely growing without added pesticides, so need less washing to remove any waxes or chemicals. A quick rinse in the sink should be enough to prep the berries for a whole range of homemade treats.
Making jam is a great option for foraged berries as it acts to preserve them, meaning you can make enough to store unopened jars in a cool, dry place for up to 12 months. Make blackberry, raspberry and elderberry jams or combine to make a preserve of your invention for a fruity flavour that will perk up the colder days ahead.
Berries also make lovely pie fillings, so get the whole family involved in this culinary activity. One person can roll out the shortcrust pastry, another can be in charge of washing and sorting the fruit and another can assemble a truly delicious homemade dessert.
Lightly roast and chop the nuts for adding to the pie crust or eat alone as a healthy snack full of autumn flavour and delicious memories of your days in the forest. Or come winter, turn into a delicious nut roast.
The golden rule of foraging
And remember, if you aren’t sure what type of plant, berry or nut you’re looking at, best avoid it in case it’s toxic.
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