As a child I loved to pick blackberries, foraging my way through the brambles on a dog walk and returning home with a triumphant bag. It was a simple pleasure that would lend comfort to the late summer days before the inevitable return to school. And the added bonus was the prospect of a delicious blackberry and apple crumble containing the sweet jammy fruits that were picked by my very own purple-stained hands.
With the proper onset of autumn however the British countryside reveals the true extent and richness of its wild treasures. In the Autumn, hawthorn berries, sloes and all manner of nuts come into season and the hedgerows become a veritable natural larder. Here at The Salt Box we are keen foragers and our finds often feature in our seasonal menus – we even enjoy foraging for natural firelighters!
We love sharing our knowledge of the English hedgerow and woods so read on to find out more about foraging in autumn and once you’re done, we’d highly encourage you to throw on your walking boots, grab your basket and get out into the wild for a foraging walk.
Before you set off there are a few foraging guidelines to keep in mind to avoid any injury to yourself or the natural habitats you encounter.
Always forage small amounts for personal use, leaving adequate produce for animals and insects to indulge on, as well as other foragers!
Only eat something if you are 100% sure of its identification, as some plants can make you unwell, or worse still – some are even deadly. Books are very helpful for this; one of our favourites is ‘Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland‘, ‘Food for Free‘ and ‘The Forager’s Handbook‘. Websites and social media groups can also be helpful, but make sure you trust the source entirely before you eat your finds.
Only forage from plants that have produced plenty of fruit as the plant depends on this to reproduce.
Choose carefully how you access your foraging finds. Avoid crushing plants and habitats underfoot whilst hunting for wild foods.
Avoid taking too much twig and never uproot a plant so that it is always able to regrow after you have foraged from it.
Your foraging kit should include – a small legal carry knife or secateurs, gloves to protect your hands from plants that may sting (the humble nettle) and thorns, and a basket/container or three. Don’t forget to wear long trousers and long-sleeved tops to protect your arms and legs from natural nasties such as ticks (find out more about ticks here.)
Autumn is a wonderful time to forage for berries. The autumn fruits of our indigenous trees and shrubs are vitamin-packed and can be used in a wide range of exciting recipes. You may not have tried a hawthorn berry before, but you have almost certainly seen them on a country walk. This tree is easy to identify – their red berries are thin-skinned with a yellow-greenish flesh. A small pointed stone is concealed inside. Hawthorn leaves are small with 5 – 7 pointy lobes. The berries are filled with antioxidants and taste delicious in cordials, syrups and sauces. This season, we’ve taken a particular liking for making Hawthorn berry hot sauce!
The aforementioned blackberry is a classic British fruit that is usually ripe for picking from mid-August to the beginning of October. These purple clusters are easy to spot adorning bramble bushes all over the country and grow in all manner of rural and urban places. The leaves are dark green in colour and made up of five – seven oval leaflets. Try to pick blackberries from the higher branches if possible, to avoid any areas where a dog may have cocked its leg (!). Blackberries work wonderfully in all manner or dishes, why not muddle them into a cocktail or stir into desserts. We love them in a homemade Creme de Mure (blackberry liqueur) – perfect in a Bramble cocktail with our favourite aromatic gin by Distillers of Surrey. They also freeze well, so you can continue to enjoy them in recipes throughout the winter months.
Sloes, the fruit of the blackthorn tree, are a classic hedgerow treasure. Bloomy purple gems that twinkle in the bushes on autumn walks, ready for gathering in baskets. Sloes are identified by their deep purple colour and greeny-yellow flesh. The small serrated edged leaves of the blackthorn bush are another indicator as well as its fierce thorns. You may wish to wear gloves whilst gathering sloes to avoid any nasty scratches. Sloes are a popular choice for infusing alcohol, notably gin. However you can change it up with vodka, brandy, whisky or even pastis for a more original fruit infusion. Putting your sloes in the freezer for a few days before infusing your spirits will help the fruits break down faster and release their natural sugars. After three months your fruity alcohol will be ready to try, at this point you can add sugar to taste. Happy sipping!
Over the past six months, we’ve been hosting seasonal foraging walks in collaboration with Sarah Watson from Wild Feast, an expert on foods found in the British countryside. These events start with a 1.5 hour walk around our base here on the Priory Farm estate, an area rich in natural edibles. Sarah covers the basics of plant identification, what’s good to eat (and what’s not good) and we head up to the woods to enjoy a well-earned feast with fellow foragers beneath the trees.
A selection of our recipes featuring wild ingredients include: