Foraging for berries is a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon and it can yield some delicious and nutritious results. Humans have eaten wild fruit for centuries; we have evolved to eat it, and as such, the fruits are extremely good for us. There is a wide range of uses for the berries you can find, from making gin to cordials, cakes and pies. Fruit you are likely to find include: apples, blackberries, damsons, elderberries, rosehips and sloes.
When foraging you will need a few pieces of equipment: a bucket or large container to carry the fruit in and a pair of secateurs for tackling overgrown areas.
Once you have taken your fruit home you should rinse it thoroughly in water and store it in a fridge for no longer than three days. Ideally, you should aim to use the fruit as soon as possible, although some fruits, such as blackberries and elderberries, can be frozen.
Foraging for Apples
Apples grow wild all over the UK. Mostly, they are crab apples (which can be collected and made into a delicious jam or jelly). However, both desert and cooking varieties grow wild, and often yield good results. Taste them before you collect them to ensure you like the particular variety, and check to see that the tree is not owned by anyone. Apples are ready to harvest from early to late autumn. Be careful when harvesting them and avoid climbing the tree to reach the fruit.
Foraging for Blackberries
Blackberries (also known as brambles) are used to make jams, fruit pies, cordials and delicious fruity breakfasts. They are generally a late-summer/early autumn fruit but are now ripening much earlier. In some areas, you can find ripe blackberries from as early as late June. When foraging for blackberries, wear a sturdy pair of Wellington boots, as they brambles can grow in quite boggy areas. It is also worth wearing a long-sleeved top and a pair or gardening gloves as the thorns in the brambles can scratch your skin.
Pick each fruit off the plant; choose ripe fruits that are deep purple in colour, and not blemished by green or brown patches. The fruits should be soft but firm to touch. If it falls apart in your hand it is likely to be overripe – this is fine for jam but not ideal for other recipes.
Foraging for Damsons
Damsons are related to plums and grow wild in many area of the country. They are available from mid-late summer. As with other fruit-producing trees, take care when harvesting and avoid climbing the tree to reach the fruit. Wild trees are not maintained like cultivated trees and may have loose branches, which can cause injury. Wasps may also be a problem when harvesting damsons; avoid disturbing them as they may sting you.
Foraging for Elderberries
Elderberries are most commonly used to make a refreshing cordial or fruity wine, however they can also be used to make pies or jam. They are normally ready to harvest from elder trees in late summer, and hang in neat clusters from the branches of the trees. You should be careful when harvesting elderberries; they can grow quite high up and you should avoid climbing trees to reach the fruits.
Foraging for Rosehips
Rosehips are full of vitamin C and make a fantastic jam. They are best harvested after the first frost, as it is believed that this makes them sweeter. Be careful of coming into contact with the seeds of rosehips, as they are irritating to the skin.
Foraging for Sloes
Sloes are traditionally harvested and used to make a deliciously potent sloe gin; however they can also be used to make jelly. They are ready from September onwards.
Some wild fruits are poisonous, so make sure you know exactly what you are picking; if you are unsure, don’t eat the fruit without finding out what it is. Use guidebooks to help you identify plants and take someone with you who is experienced in foraging.