"Autumn is peak foraging season and pretty much all of us will have merrily trudged home with a bag full of blackberries before (if you haven't scoffed them all while picking them, that is). Broaden your hedgerow-horizons by picking billberries, blackcurrants and rose hip with this guide to what you should look for while foraging.
Never, ever eat a wild plant without checking with a local expert. If you are at all unsure about the identification of a berry, do not eat it. Conservation organisations such as the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust recommend only harvesting a little of anything, so that plenty is left for wildlife, reproduction and for others to enjoy. Avoid picking in nature reserves or protected areas where certain laws might apply.
Helpful tip: they're not blueberries. Yes, they look alike but they're much rarer than their commercial counterparts and are mainly found in the wild.
You'll find them: on low scrubby bushes particularly in north England and Scotland (sorry, London). They also go by the name blaeberry with 'blae' being a chiefly Scottish word for dark blue or bluish grey.
Pick them: in August and September
Helpful tip: they're orangey red and oblong-shaped so you'll know a rosehip when you see one. Don't eat them whole due to the little hairs inside. Cook them down or throw them in your teapot then use a strainer to sieve out the hairy bits and seeds.
You'll find them: in a rose bush in your own garden. In the summer they're found in the swollen green part of the stem just underneath the flower. With most people not giving them a second glance, there's bound to be plenty left for you. Use them to make tea or a sweet syrup to drizzle over vanilla sponge cake.
Pick them: in September and October (sometimes late August)
Helpful tip: you'll find some great recipes for blackcurrants on the Blackcurrant Foundation website. Or you could try this blackcurrant, peach and pistachio trifle. Whichever recipe you stick them in, blackcurrants are delicious.
You'll find them: growing on bushes in the wild as they love damp soil.
Pick them: in July, August and September
Helpful tip: these are quite different from the pumped-up gargantuan types you find in the shops. Wild strawberries are tiny in comparison but pack way more of a flavour punch. Try not to pick them unless they are really red as this determines their sweetness. Then do as the French do: eat them with sour cream and a sprinkle of sugar. Sublime.
You'll find them: at the bottom of small bushes in open fields, often no more than a few feet high.
Pick them: in early May to late October (depending on the region)
Helpful tip: everyone knows that sloe berries usually equal sloe gin (try this recipe). Those sloes are good for other things too though, such as jelly, jam, sauces to eat with meat, or even sloe chocolates.
You'll find them: on bushes 3-5ft tall. They're purple, spherical and they look a lot like plums. Don't eat them raw – uncooked, they're inedible and taste particularly nasty. Instead, collect after a frost, which is said to make them softer, then de-stone and cook with sugar.
Pick them: sometimes in September, but you may have to wait until October or November (depending on the weather; rain and low temperatures make them ready)
Warning: if you have any illnesses including health problems or high blood pressure, check with your doctor before eating hawthorn berries as some people experience adverse side-effects.
Helpful tip: hawthorn berries are great for schnapps, sauce and jelly (to eat with cheese) as well as ketchup of all things, a wilder alternative to tomatoes. Don't eat the seeds though as they can cause nausea.
You'll find them: in autumn as the hawthorn flowers turn to berries in hedgerows. Hawthorn has a bit of an old-fashioned rep and is very much out of vogue. It is worth rethinking this hard, bitter berry though as they're very common – even more so than blackberries – and easily identifiable by their star-shaped tips.
Pick them: from October to November
Warning: eating elderberries raw can cause nausea in some people
Helpful tip: respect your elderberries because unlike blackberries, they aren't commercially grown at all. They can be toxic if you eat a lot of them raw, so don't! Instead get them home and use them to make a cordial or syrup ready to use in vodka cocktails or baked goods.
You'll find them: look for small, black berries that droop down in clusters on pink-coloured stems. The bark of the elderberry tree is also woody with small warts all over it. Sounds lovely.
Pick them: in autumn "
Words and pictures above from Isobel King here
Hope you've enjoyed the read, and that you may enjoy your foraging.
Warning: But do take care, and if you are a diabetic or have any allergies or other underlying health conditions please be aware not all these fruits and recipe ideas may be suitable.
All the best Jan