A look at foraging

Find blackberries at Minnowburn

Foraging has grown in popularity over the last few years. It has become a trendy activity for some and a complete lifestyle for others. People have been foraging since the dawn of time and it’s time for you to dip your hand into the hedgerows, trees and bushes to see what yummy treats you can discover.

What is foraging?

Foraging is searching, identifying and collecting food resources in the wild. This includes herbs and plants, fruit and nuts, mushrooms and even shellfish. It’s all about cooking, preserving and eating healthy and nutritious food. It can help us gain a better understanding our natural environment.

At some point in our lives, most of us will have fond memories of going out with our families and picking blackberries. Apples, sloes and elderflower have traditionally been picked in the wild. They can be used to make some delicious and nutritional preserves at home.

In the UK and Ireland, we are lucky to be blessed with a host of edible plants, mushrooms and fruit that is readily available. This natural resource is easy to find. Not only in the forests but in our immediate surroundings. It is very like that you can find edible plants growing along areas you pass every day. You can forage in your local park or even in your own back garden.

A little bit of foraging history

Our earliest ancestors were well practiced in foraging. To survive, hunter-gatherer tribes fed themselves by hunting animals and gathering plants from their natural environments.

Foraging is an important skill during times of poverty and hunger. During the second world war, oranges became difficult to find due to heavy importation restriction. Rosehips were foraged as they provided vitamin C. Acorns and dandelion root made an acceptable substitute for coffee.

Before supermarkets, every household used to fill their pantry with food and health-giving plants gathered in the wild. Nowadays, the knowledge of wild plants has been widely forgotten.

Foraging is making a comeback. It has become a recreational activity where we can take a break from our busy lives and discover new ingredients with a variety flavours to enhance our meals.

Not only can foraging help us satisfy our nutritional needs but also understand how nature works. Foraging has the potential to completely change the way you see the world and your surroundings.

At Minnowburn you can find a host of edible species ready to be transformed into jams, syrups, cordials, jellies, beers and gins. They include old favourites like elderflower, blackberries and sloes.

Minnowburn bridge in Autumn
Autumn at Minnowburn bridge, County Down
Minnowburn bridge in Autumn

Cooking your collection

Many things that you forage for can be eaten straight from the tree or bush. Some taste even better when they’re thrown into a salad or steeped to make a fruity tea, or perhaps added to a recipe and baked in the oven.

Be aware

•Only eat what you recognise. If you don’t know what it is, don’t eat it.

•Toadstools are definitely poisonous, but so are some mushrooms. It’s best to steer clear of both unless you’re with an adult who can safely identify what's edible.

•Watch out for prickles and brambles when you’re scouring the hedgerows.

•Bees and wasps also love the sweet fruit and berries that can be found in the wild. Be mindful that you don’t disturb or scare them - you could also be stung.

•Eat sustainably. That means, just taking some of what you find and leaving enough for animals, insects and for the plant to seed. It also means only collecting what is plentiful.

Discover sloes on Blackthorn
Find sloes at Minnowburn
Discover sloes on Blackthorn

Foraging Recipes

 

Rosehip Apple Jelly

4lbs apples (windfalls will do)

2lbs ripe rosehips

Sugar

  • Peel apples, and place in pan with rosehips with just enough water to cover, plus 1 pint extra.

  • Simmer slowly until cooked.

  • Strain through jellybag overnight.

  • Measure juice, allowing 1lb sugar per pint.

  • Mix sugar and juice in pan and boil until setting point is reached.

  • Pot into warm jars.

Sloe Jelly

Put sloes into pan, cover with water and simmer till tender.  Strain through jellybag, complete as above.

Haw Jelly

Like above, using 3lbs haws and 3 pints water.

Elder Syrup

  • Take ½ gallon elderberry juice and put into pan.

  • Add a well beaten egg white.

  • When it boils, skim any froth that rises.

  • To each pint add 1lb sugar, boil until syrupy.

  • Bottle when cool.

Use for colds.

Rowan Jelly

  • Cover 3lbs of rowan berries with water in a pan.

  • Cook till pulpy.

  • Strain through jellybag.

  • Cover 3lbs crab-apples with water; boil until soft, strain also.

  • Mix both juices and complete as above.

Blackberry Cordial

  • Pour 1 pint of white wine vinegar over 1 quart of ripe blackberries.

  • Leave to stand for 1 week, stirring occasionally.

  • Strain when ready and put liquid into pan with 1 lb sugar and ½lb honey.

  • Bring to boil, and then cool.

  • Bottle and keep in dark place.

Herb Beer

1 (gloved!) handful nettles

1 handful dandelion flowers

1½lbs sugar   ~ 1tbsp ginger

2 lemons   ~ ½oz yeast

  • Boil nettles in 1 gallon of water for 10 minutes.

  • Strain into bowl, then boil dandelions in 1 gallon water for 10 minutes.

  • Strain, add sugar and ginger and mix well.

  • Cut lemon in slices, put on top, add yeast.

  • Cover and stand for 8 hours.

  • Strain and bottle.

Hedgerow Jam

8oz rose hips ~ 1lb blackberries

8oz haws ~ 1lb elderberries

8oz sloes ~ 4oz hazelnuts

8oz rowanberries

1lb crab apples

Sugar

  • Wash fruit well.

  • Put rose hips, haws, rowanberries, sloes & chopped crab apples into pan.

  • Add water to cover, cook until tender.

  • Sieve & weigh the pulp.

  • Put pulp into pan with blackberries, elderberries, and chopped nuts.

  • Simmer for 15 minutes.

  • Add 2lbs sugar plus the weight of the hip pulp in sugar.

  • Cook over a low heat until sugar has dissolved.

  • Then boil rapidly until setting point is reached.

Rose Hip Syrup

  • Crush 2lbs rosehips and put into 3 pints boiling water.

  • Bring back to boil, remove from heat and let stand for 10 mins.

  • Strain through jellybag and when it ceases to drip, return to pan with another 1½ pints boiling water.

  • Re-boil and allow to stand as before, strain.

  • Mix both extracts, pour into a clean pan, and reduce by boiling until juice measures 1½ pints.

  • Add 1lb sugar.

  • Stir over gentle heat until sugar dissolves, boil for 5 minutes.

  • Pour into hot bottles and seal.

Blackberry and Elderberry Jam

  • Take equal quantities of blackberries and elderberries (stripped of stalks), put in pan, bring to boil and cook for 20 mins.

  • Allow ¾lb sugar to each 1lb fruit.

  • Bring again to boil for 20 mins.

Sloe Gin

  • Pick enough sloes to half fill a clean Kilner jar, about 1lb.

  • Prick all over and put in jar with 4oz granulated sugar.

  • Seal jar and leave for 3-4 days, shaking jar twice a day.

  • Fill jar with gin and stir well, seal and leave for at least 6-8 weeks, gently shaking jar from time to time.

  • Strain through muslin into clean bottle.

It improves with keeping, but is very good after just a few months for the weak willed.