Beyond Consumerism: Foraging

Our Beyond Consumerism page seeks out ideas big and small, for rethinking economic systems or reducing reliance on corporations and money. This time we hear from herbalist Jesper Launder about autumn foraging.

Ask most seasoned foragers and they will talk of a profound sense of peace and purposefulness when dropping into a foraging mindset.

These rewards alone justify the effort to forage. But then there are the more tangible rewards of your labour, the edible flowers, leaves, fruit, nuts, roots, and fungi that act as the motivator, particularly at the start of most people’s foraging journey.

An abundance can be noted especially at the end of summer and in early autumn when hedgerows bursting with elderberries, hazelnuts, blackberries, hawthorn berries, sloes, damsons, and rosehips are a common sight. If conditions are ideal, wild mushrooms can be found in huge amounts at this time of year.

Foraging yields some thrilling and memorable finds. Each forager will have their own ‘pinnacle’ find; however, it is the more abundant, widespread species that make up the bulk of most foragers’ harvest.

Foraging very rarely excludes the need to supplement wild finds with shop-bought additions, however it is possible to minimise one’s degree of dependency on shops and lighten the impact of our food needs. Foods harvested from the wild come without most of the ethical considerations that need to be applied to shop-bought produce.

The rules of foraging

There are, however, some ethical issues with foraging. The most fundamental of these is simply to harvest no more than you need, making sure to leave plenty behind. I find it helpful to view foraging as a role with responsibility, one where the forager is a steward of nature, and where the future welfare of the species harvested is of paramount importance.

There are also some moral and legal considerations regarding foraging on public and private land. Having the permission of a landowner before foraging on their land may seem onerous but can lead to some fine foraging privileges.

On public land, unless under the control of specific bylaws that restrict removal of plants or fungi from the land (some National Trust sites and SSSIs in particular), foraging for personal use (rather than commercial use) is allowed.

The main caveat here is that the uprooting of any plant is illegal and, in addition, a small number of rare plants and fungi are protected by law so may not be harvested at all. The most fundamental of all foraging rules is to simply not eat anything unless 100% certain of identification.

Deadly foraging errors are very rare in the UK but they have happened. By gaining familiarity with an increasing number of species and discovering wild foods outside the main foraging windows of spring and autumn, it becomes possible to find wild foods throughout the year.

Many species are common and widespread enough that anyone with some basic skills in differentiating plants should be able to locate them.

image: hawthorne berries

Hawthorn berries (Crataegus Species)

Best harvested when the skin has developed a deep red colour. The flesh of the berries is somewhat pulpy and insipid when raw, but in spite of this, they make an excellent hedgerow ketchup and provide a pectin-rich base for fruit leathers with other more flavourful fruits added.

image: hazelnuts autumn foraging

Hazel (Corylus Avellana)

One of our most common hedgerow trees and, under good conditions, can produce bumper crops of nuts from late summer.

Young green nuts have a fresh nutty crunchiness to them that is quite unique and very different from the mature nut we are more familiar with. As well as making a nourishing snack, the nuts can be removed from their shells, dried, and ground for use in cakes, crumbles, and curries.

image: parasol mushroom autumn forage

Parasol mushroom (Macrolepiota Procera)

On balance there are fewer dangerous species of fungi to be found in meadows than in the woods.

This edible mushroom is more commonly seen in open unfertilised pastureland and along coastal paths.

The delicate flesh makes probably the tastiest mushroom fritter imaginable. Dried and powdered it can be used to flavour pretty much any savoury dish.

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