In this day and age, you can go into a shop any time to buy food from all over the world. Or you can look out for food that is grown closer to home, or better still grow some in your garden or allotment plot. But there is a 'third way', practised by humans for many millennia and ripe for taking part in right now - foraging for wild food. Take a walk outside and you will find a wealth of abundant natural food literally on your doorstep.
In our towns, there are many areas of wilder greenspace where nature has become established, from less managed corners of parks and along road verges to undeveloped open land on the fringes. Meanwhile, in the countryside of the surrounding South Downs National Park there are many kilometres of public footpaths, as well as large areas of 'open access' land where fruiting shrubs can be found growing in hedgerows and field margins. And then of course there is the food that can be found year-round along our seashore - but that's a story for another time ...
A wide range of fruits are available at this time of year for you to enjoy your very own ‘harvest festival’, or ‘hedgerow harvest’ as promoted during WWII by the Ministry of Food. A good starting point is the perennial favourite for fruit crumbles and jams - blackberries- they may now be past their peak, but are still about for the picking. Other fruits that grow in abundance include sloes (makes great gin!), elderberries (for wine and sauces), crab apples and domestic apples growing wild (for ‘scrumping’!), and rosehips (for syrup). And that’s even before you consider the nuts (look for hazelnuts and sweet chestnuts in woods) and mushrooms (be certain of their identification!) that proliferate in the autumn months.
Many good sources of information are available to help you find wild foods and know what to do with them. The book 'Food for Free' by Richard Mabey is a modern classic, whilst there are a number of local foraging advice websites worth a look, including:
Claire Potter Design - includes talks, walks, events and a map
Brighton & Hove Allotment Federation – recipe for making hedgerow jelly
Brighton Forager - explore your edible landscape!
Have fun foraging this autumn – and remember: only pick things you are certain are safe to eat, avoid any contaminated sites such as along busy roads, and always leave something for our feathered and furry friends!