Scrubland Scavenger is out and about in the Scottish Borders doing a spot of Autumn Foraging.
This is the first in a series of Autumn Foraging posts for Food Community from Scrubland Scavenger looking at four easily identifiable berries available around this time of year. All of which can be preserved to be enjoyed in the colder, less plentiful months ahead. In this post we learn some foraging basics.
I’m Scrubland Scavenger. It’s my pleasure to bring you this series of posts I have written about Autumn Foraging and I sincerely hope you enjoy them. Please feel free to leave me a comment at the end of this post, perhaps you too have some useful foraging tips to share.
I live in the Scottish Borders which really is a bountiful place when it comes to foraging. Almost all year round there is something tasty to be found if you know where to look. A great selection of berries, nuts and fungi are all available when Autumn Foraging.
Nature is not in lockdown
This year, despite the challenges we as humans have faced, nature seems to have flourished. I have found it really exciting to see plants thriving in places I haven’t seen them before.
Where I live, about 250 metres above sea level in the far south of the Scottish Borders, there has been an abundance of raspberry plants popping up this year. Many that I have seen have been immature plants that have not produced fruit this year…. but I’ve noted their locations down and I’m hoping for copious amounts of raspberries next year!
Know your local area
That’s one of the things about foraging, you need to stay in tune with how nature is behaving in your area. Although the four berries I will be highlighting are available throughout the UK, when they will be ripe and ready for picking can vary greatly.
I started picking ripe Brambles in the Scottish Borders at the end of August (don’t worry, I’ve still gathered a few in the last few days too). I was recently sent a picture from a friend who lives by the coast in Devon which showed that the Brambles (or Blackberries) are yet to ripen.
If a book, app or website you are referring to says that a plant will produce fruit in a certain month remember that nature doesn’t do what we dictate. I have found that keeping my eyes peeled & learning the way plants behave where you live is the best way to maximise your foraging opportunities throughout the year.
Autumn for me is about getting ready for winter, with the nights already drawing in I like to preserve the tastes of September & October for cosy winter nights in front of the fire. First we’ll go Bramble picking, then gathering some Sloes, after that we’ll discover the often ignored Rowan Berry and last but by no means least, the humble Hawthorn Berry.
Before we move on to our first berry: The Illustrious Bramble, I thought I would share a few of my tips regarding foraging.
I’m sticking with four easily identifiable plants for this series and hopefully most people will feel confident that they can find the correct berries, but the main rule of foraging (important health & safety stuff here) is never consume anything unless you are 100% sure of what it is. There are wild plants out there that can kill you if you eat them, so stick to the mantra – if in any doubt, don’t eat it!
A further health & safety warning I feel I have a responsibility to give is that foraging can be addictive. What used to be a gentle stroll in the park may become you jotting from tree to tree, bush to bush, and leaf to leaf, exclaiming in delight and making a mental note to return in a few months time. When traveling as a passenger in a car, you will no longer look at the magnificence of the scenery, you will be scanning the road’s edge looking for things you can pick & eat. Trust me, foraging has the potential to become all consuming…. you have been warned!
Foraging does not really require any specialist kit. A good pair of sturdy boots or wellies are generally advisable and some sort of container to put your foraged items in is basically all that is required. My standard foraging kit contains a few more items which, after many foraging missions, I have found wise to always carry with me.
My standard foraging kit: Bags, gloves, a pair of secateurs and a spring scale/spring balance (also sturdy boots… not in photo as on my feet at the time).
Yes, I know, the ones in the photo are plastic which is not ideal, and for many of my foraging missions I do take a paper bag, but if you are collecting juicer fruits and berries then paper just doesn’t work. To save my plastic bag conscience I do reuse the bags, washing them out after use if necessary. I collect different items in different bags, so if I am going out Autumn Foraging for sloes and haws (I know a place where they both grow together), I will take 1 bag for the sloes and 1 bag for the haws. I will also normally take an extra bag, bags can break and sometimes you come across something you didn’t expect to find and you’ll curse yourself if you have nothing to carry your newest find in!
Maybe I’m a wee bit of a softy, but your hands can get a wee bit battered when foraging. Much of what is available at this time of year (and most of what I will cover in this blog series) has spikes or thorns somewhere on the plant, gloves can offer a little bit of protection. Often I take my gloves with me and don’t use them, but I like to have them with me just in case.
Again, I find that it is better to carry these and not need them, than not carry them and find yourself deep in the woods requiring a pair. I use them at this time of year particularly when collecting Rowan berries.
A Spring Scale/Balance
This allows me to weigh what I am gathering as I go. I will elaborate further below, but this helps me to ensure that I only take what I need. It also ensures I do get the amount I do need…. I don’t know about you, but I can’t accurately hold something in my hand and tell you how much it weighs. I have walked a good distance to collect some awesome edibles, gathered what I think is what I need for the recipe I have selected only to get home, weighed my bounty and discovered I am a good few 100gs out and have to head back out onto the hills. To avoid multiple missions, I use a Spring Scale now!
My standard foraging kit does have other items added depending on what I am going foraging for. For example, I will also sometimes take a small knife or a tupperware dish (see the Bramble post).
Responsible Autumn Foraging
My approach to foraging is to gather the wild delights on offer in a sustainable way. Sustainable is a bit of a buzz word at the moment, but that’s not why I mention it. Foraging for me has always been about only taking what I need – not only because I am harvesting leaves, fruits, nuts and mushrooms that form a vital part of the diet for the local wildlife, but also because I want to be able to keep foraging year on year.
Take only what you need
The Spring Scale helps me to make sure I only take what I need, but it is also a general rule of foraging to only pick from abundant populations, leaving plenty behind for wildlife and other foragers.
Being responsible about how much you take is really important – if an area is over picked then it will impact next year’s crop. Recently, in a place I have foraged since I was a teenager, others have become aware of the edible treasures available there. With more people picking in the area, the population of the most popular plant has diminished significantly and that was notable this year.
When discovering that something normally abundant was sparse, I made the responsible decision to not pick there again this year. I doubt the others using the area will do the same, but hopefully my absence this year will help the plants re-establish. Fortunately, a bit like how necessity is the mother of invention, I went hunting for other areas where I might find the same plant and came across a few other locations where they remain abundant.
Try not to damage the plants
Another general rule is to try not to damage any of the plants that you forage. If you are taking the berries then there is no need to snap the branches. Just be careful when collecting and do your best to leave things as you found them.
Ask permission whenever possible
There are many bits of scrubland, laybys and edges of country roads in the Scottish Borders where foraging opportunities are rife. It can be hard to know who owns these bits of land, but whenever possible you should seek permission from the landowner to forage on their land, it’s only polite!
The laws regarding foraging and land access vary depending on where you are in the UK. Some areas have local bylaws regarding foraging. Always check the laws that apply to where you are foraging.
Over to you
So, there’s the basics as I know them. I don’t think there is such a thing as a qualified forager, and I would not consider myself an expert by any means, but hopefully sharing the little I do know will help you to begin to find your feet with foraging.
It is a great way to get exercise, you get to try flavours you just can’t get at the supermarket, it gives you an appreciation of the seasons and teaches you to make the best of what you have around you, when it is available for that short time. I believe it helps me to be closer to nature and in turn my well being greatly benefits. Maybe it can do the same for you?
Please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you. And look out for my next Autumn Foraging post coming very soon!
Scrubland Scavenger is based in the south of the Scottish Borders. With a real commitment to becoming fully self-sufficient, Scrubland Scavenger started foraging locally when still a child and, although never claiming to be an expert, has built up a good knowledge of many of the wild edible delights. Scrubland Scavenger promotes sustainable foraging, not only to collect culinary delights but also as a great way of discovering more about your local environment & as an exciting way to reconnect with the abundance of nature all around us.