Summer foraging

My handful of top edible wild foods available for summer foraging in Britain

This is just a selection of the wild foods available in Britain during the summer months. The best summer foraging for plants, as ever, will be subject to place, and timing.

Naturally, the spring burst of growth and fertility gives rise to the next generative stage, slowly ripening away in the hedgerows.

Summer is a time of fruits, essential to harbour the next stage of development, the seed. In the UK we are presented with a wide array of fruits to devour on the spot, preserve for later and enjoy all year, If we know what to look for and where to look, summer foraging opportunities are everywhere!

Summer foraging highlights

Fuchsia Species: Some of my favourite urban summer foraging is simply walking down the street, eating the  fat Fuchsia berries, that inevitably are found within a few hundred metres of leaving the front door.  All the numerous species are edible, although some berries are reported to be not particularly pleasant.

Image of Fuschia berries, a great treat whewn sumer foraging
Fucshia is one to look out for when summer foraging in urban areas.

You will find this plant as a common garden plant, overspilling fences and walls, as well as romping away in hedgerows in the wild in certain areas of Britain, notably Scotland. It will be found in parts of Ireland as well.

The bold as brass pendulous flowers are  hopefully full with sweet nectar, and these are followed by oblong, purple-brown berries. All of the berries I have eaten from Fucshia have been sweet and tasty, although some have offered a more peppery finish than others.

Mahonia species: This genus offers us a number of plants bearing the name ‘Oregon grape’.  All offer edible sour-tasting, dark berries, covered in a blue yeast bloom. Some of these will be found in Britain, such as Mahonia aquifolium, pictured below.

The almost round berries of Mahonia aquifolium – Oregon grape.

More common for the urban forager, and largely due to its popularity as an amenity plant for new development complexes, is Mahonia x media.

Mahonia x media with its oval berries and longer racemes.

A couple of closely related plants in the Berberis family will be found in the UK. Common barberry (Berberis vulgaris) has yellow flowers and red oval fruits, while Darwins berberis (Berberis darwinii) has gorgeous tasting 10 mm round berries.

The round, sweeter berries of darwin’s berberis – Berberis darwinii, often planted as hedging.

Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum): A wonderful edible that can be revisited throughout the year for different plant parts. In the summer we can harvest the seeds

The aromatic black seeds were formerly ground and used by commoners, until black pepper became cheap and plentiful enough to buy.

During the late summer you may also start seeing the germinated seedlings and can plot your return next spring for stems and flower buds.

Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus): The season for the much loved blackberry now seems to start earlier in July, and may mean a longer harvesting season for fruitful pickers.

Who hasn’t come home red handed with handfuls of blackberries?

Wild carrot seeds: This is another easy to recognise plant from the Apiaceae family, thanks to its distinctive flower structures and seed head shape. It just happens to be a delightful citrus-like spice and powerful herbal remedy as well!

The tell-tale ‘birds nest’ appearance of wild carrot seed heads.

Sea purslane – Halimione portulacoides: One of the gourmet coastal wild foods, this evergreen perennial can be harvested all year round though spring is when it’s at its most plentiful.

The grey-green, elliptical-oval leaves of sea purslane.

 

Common Hogweed flower buds and seeds (Heracleum sphondylium):

Some plants are so good to get a second mention. Hogweed features in the spring  summary, but also gives us summer flower buds and aromatic seeds. The flower buds need to be tightly packed,  and can be cooked like a broccoli.

Common hogweed buds, at prime time for picking.

After the flowers have set seed, we can return for the aromatic spice in the seeds. Cardamon-like with citrus tones, these are a ‘must have’ for the wild spice rack.

Hogweed seeds sometimes are red when ‘green’, but finish brown when dry.

Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria): Summer is truly here with the frothy creamy sprays of Meadowsweet garnishing our riverbanks,  hedgerows and meadows. The flowers produce a heady vanilla/honey scent which can be infused into sugar, alcohols, and other drinks.

Puffs of creamy, scented Meadowsweet flowers.

Sumac (Rhus species): This plant is well known in Middle Eastern cuisine, where it is a commonly found spice. There is a strong acidic note to the spice, similar to sorrel, that makes it attractive used with thyme and salt.

 

Malvaceae family plants: Common mallow, dwarf mallow, tree mallow, hollyhocks:

Common mallow flowers. All of the family have five petals.

All these plants offer us edible leaves, flowers, seed pods, and occasionally roots. Young leaves from mallow species can be used in salads. The leaves are typically soft and demulcent, and can be chopped in soups and broths to help thicken them.

Dwarf mallow has similar shaped leaves as common mallow, but smaller and with a pale lilac flower.

My favourite mallow for grazing and salads is the not so common musk mallow  (Malva moschata). The deeply divided leaves look like Geranium, but here is where your sense of touch comes into play, easily discerning between these species.

Deeply divided leaves of Malva moschata – musk mallow.

The seed pods of mallows were traditionally eaten by our ancestors. All the different species that grow here offer round flat seed pods, looking like mini camembert, so subsequently became known as cheeses.

Raw, these are crunchy on the outside and soft and gooey in the middle, due to the high amounts of mucilage .

 

Pheasant berry –  Leycesteria formosa:

Pheasant berry with its showy, drooping racemes.

A  vigorous shrub from the elderflower family (Caprifoliaceae) that can be somewhat invasive in the garden, as it self seeds a lot. The edible brown- purple berries are difficult to pick without squashing them, but offer a delightful flavour of burnt toffee.

Rock samphire – Crithmum maritimum:

A coastal specialist herb which is available to pick as a salad or vegetable from the spring. Its fleshy aromatic leaves make a great pickle too, in a spiced infused vinegar. Yellow flowering, and one of the easy-to-identify umbellifer plants.

Aromatic seeds, somewhere between carrot and citrus, can be picked from the middle of summer.

Marsh samphires  (Salicornia species) aka glassworts.

Completely unrelated to the rock samphire, this gourmet group of annuals and perennials are actually related to beetroot and quinoa!

They will only be found on estuary mud flats and salt marsh. The plants are glossy looking, with no real leaves that can be perceived, instead they have what appear to be swollen, branched stems.

Common vetch (Vicia sativa): One of numerous perennial pod-bearing vetches. These are pea-like species, found scrambling and climbing  among the lower vegetation in hedgerows and verges.

The distinctive ‘banner, wings and keel’ petal form of the pea family, as displayed by the common vetch.

This particular pea, and another larger flowering member of the pea family, the everlasting pea (Lathyrus latifolius), are the ones that catch my eye. They have leafy tips, flowers, young pods and peas worth foraging for. The taste is almost exactly like our garden peas.

Some of the plants featured here and in other areas of the website appear in my new  series of ‘Foragers Friends’ identification cards, which, along with other foraging resources and games can be found in the Foraging Resources Shop!

More plants will be coming soon!