10 Reasons to Forage

Foraging can get a bit of a bad reputation, because occasionally news stories surface of people leaving forests stripped of edible mushrooms, and it is true that, if it isn’t done properly or responsibly (NB: here's how to do it responsibly), foraging can intensify sustainability issues.

But it can also be done in a way that helps the local environment, particularly if you’re picking invasive plants and 'weeds'. By swapping even a little portion of our supermarket shop each week with foraged food, we reduce our food miles and become less reliant on an industrial agricultural system that can have immense and devastating consequences for the environment.

Foraging also has plenty of benefits for your own health - both mentally, emotionally, and physically. I could wax lyrical about foraging all day but here are ten key reasons why I encourage you to throw on some gardening gloves and head for the hedgerows - or join one of our courses.

1. Foraging connects us to the natural world.

At a time of great disconnect and isolation, rediscovering and enriching our relationship with the natural world is more important than ever. The simple act of learning about which wild edibles grow around us helps us to realise that every living thing has remarkable intelligence - from violet flowers with their plan B approach, to the intelligence of ants and their complex navigation system; to the cunning caterpillar. Foraging is so much more than just a treasure hunt or browse into nature's free shopping aisles - for me, it's a window into the mysterious, our sense of place and connection with the seasons.

One of the most powerful quotes I've heard on this topic is from Stephen Harrod Buhner, who wrote, As James Hillman so eloquently put it, “It was only when science convinced us that nature was dead that it could begin its autopsy in earnest.”

Foraging helps to remind ourselves that the natural world is not a static backdrop but is absolutely teeming with life - from initially seeing just a sea of green, you'll soon discover that there are so many varieties of edible and medicinal wild plants right in front of your very eyes!

A photo sent from Tom G, who attended the coast and field foraging course. Seaweed crusted lamb with sautéed navel wort & alexanders!

2. Foraging introduces you to lots of new flavours.

Forget bangers and mash. Have you ever tried stinging nettle ravioli, pickled kelp or pineapple weed cake?! It's no wonder that chefs love adorning their tasting menus with samphire and other foraged ingredients because with wild food, you can create unexpectedly flavourful dishes, that make you wonder why you'd never thought of them before. Wild garlic pesto drizzled over some linguine beats any store - bought pesto - hands down!

Industrialised food has narrowed down the amount of food species we eat and foods have been cultivated to have a more uniform flavour, shape and dimensions - maybe you've even had the same breakfast for 30 years and you're not about to change that! But, wild food encourages us to eat more fresh food varieties and get out of your cooking rut and taste something truly unique - during an average course we pick between 15 - 25 different types of plants/ berries/ seaweeds and coastal plants. Even if you're no Gordon Ramsay in the kitchen, whether you are foraging in an urban space or foraging in the countryside, there are plenty of ways in which you can jazz up your weekday meal and use fresh wild ingredients with flavours and textures that will tickle your taste buds. Dulse brownies anyone?

3. Foraging encourages you to slow down.

Modern society institutionalises busyness as a badge of honour. Whether we call it 'hustle culture', being a 'girl boss' or bragging about our frenetic pace of life, as a culture, we fetishise productivity.

As Gandhi said, 'there is more to life than increasing its speed'. With foraging, there's no way round it - we have to slow down. After all, we don't want to mistake hemlock for cow parsley; or accidentally grab a handful of wild garlic and whizz up some lords and ladies with it! Foraging inspires us to stop and marvel at the sacred wonder of life - patterns, textures, smells, that we hadn't noticed before, and to savour life's simple pleasures...

4. Foraging re - awakens your senses.

What better way to experience this breathtakingly beautiful planet than through our senses - getting to know plants, mushrooms, berries, seaweeds and flowers intimately throughout each season. One thing many of us rarely do is look up - we may raise our eyes in alarm at the rain (who hasn't in the UK!) but often so much of our focus, at least during our working life, is on the screen, in our immediate periphery.

Foraging blasts open our perspective - both literally and physically, encouraging us to truly immerse ourselves in the landscape. Not only is it an excellent excuse to get outside, and get some exercise and fresh air, whether that's a few metres from your house, or yomping across the fields in search of sorrel, but it's one of our most ancient skills - an instinctual and primal activity.

5. Foraging equips you with survival skills

Foraging might be framed as a trendy new activity, popping up on your Instagram feed with 'exotic - sounding' foods, but foraging for wild food resources has been critical to our survival throughout human prehistory and in many post - Neolithic societies. Hunter gatherers were found to be more peaceful, supposedly because they are less prone to food shortages, famines and resource unpredictability.

Whilst hopefully survival skills aren't something you'd need to flex apart from showing off to your mates when camping, many of today's generations are indifferent, oblivious, or clueless as to how much wild food grows around us, which parts are edible and when to harvest it.

At a time of rising food insecurity and domestic food price inflation (UK food inflation was a whopping 13% in December, 2022), foraging is a pretty handy, almost necessary skill to have that helps you save money and become more self - reliant in unsure times, unstable economies and price fluctuations. Not only are there so many wild foods to cook with, but as a herbalist, I'm always interested in an oft - neglected dimension of foraging - medicinal uses. There are a whole truckload of common 'first - aid' plants - plants to treat insect - bites, plants for urinary infections, coughs, or yarrow, that makes an impressive hemostyptic (a plant that stops bleeding), so you can create your very own home medicine cabinet.

6. Foraging is mindfulness.

I’m a big advocate of meditation and training ourselves to be present - something that can be a challenge in today's world! After doing a 10 - day vipassana meditation, I have to admit that foraging for me is the ultimate mindfulness. It brings you to the present moment, it reduces stress and anxiety and fills you with gratitude for this beautiful planet which we inhabit.

7. Foraged food is packed with nutrition.

Unsurprisingly, wild foods are extremely nutrient dense - they are grown without herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, and fertilisers and come without packaging, lined with BPA; most of the foraged food that you find is far fresher than the food you'll find in the supermarket - a newspaper article suggested that half of the apples in the UK are over half a year old. Foraged food, in contrast, usually goes on a very short journey before it ends up on your plate or in your glass. For instance, half a cup of nasturtium has more than half the adult RDA of vitamin A; wild mustard is an excellent source of iron with 100g providing up to 83% of the adult RDA; and elderberries are rich in vitamin C and flavonoids.

8. Foraging is a journey of discovery

Just when you think you've mastered knowing a plant, there's always more to discover - a new name, some folklore or an obscure medicinal use that you never though you needed. You'll never get bored, whether you're a mushroom enthusiast or a coastal foraging aficionado.

One of the beauties of foraging is just how much one's curiosity is piqued. Foraging has been a real learning odyssey - and still continues to fascinate me.

9. Foraging is empowering

Foraging equips us with life-long skills and allows us to reclaim our heritage food knowledge and skill . Many of us are far more reliant on centralised systems than we would care to admit, which leads us to being vulnerable if there are any collapses in that system or price hikes, and the big supermarkets are no exception. Learning foraging is a journey of discovery. We can also become more confident in the stories and ancient tales about our own landscape and in doing so, feel more of a connection to the land.

Believe it or not, this is not from a top London Japanese restaurant but comprised of entirely wild food found on the Coast to Field foraging course in Dorset. Tempura three cornered leeks, wild garlic bulbs, hogweed fronds, prawns and beans, with a miso dressed gut weed, sea lettuce and pepper dulse salad cooked up by very skilled chef attendees, Fi and Tom.

10. Foraging reduces your carbon footprint

Today we have become so seduced by exotic ingredients, growing thousands of miles away; our taste buds primed for Colombian coffee, avocado on toast and coconut milk lattes, that we don’t even notice that abundance of food right beneath our feet, in our domestic garden, in public parks, along verges, in hedgerows, on footpaths, woodlands, and straggling over waste ground.

One of the perks of sustainable foraging is that we minimise transport emissions and get food locally by foot. We become less dependent on big supermarket chains, whose food producers often make negligible profits and our lens shifts to more local food. Next time you're in the supermarket (if you're in the UK), have a look at the eye - popping labels of just how far our food has travelled - potatoes from Israel, asparagus from Peru, pears from Argentina. There are so many foods to forage that make wonderful alternatives to supermarket staples, particularly greens and berries. Nettles, for me, are the ultimate spinach replacement; rosehips or elderberries make a superb breakfast jam; pickled wild garlic and samphire makes gherkins seem bland and bladderwrack is a superfood that will make an exotic green powder from Wholefoods quiver. Instead of salad that's flown miles and picked by labourers in often appalling conditions, at a huge environmental cost, we've got a bounty of salads that are often 'garden weeds' delicious dandelion leaves and hairy bittercress in the process that make flavourful salad companions.

Not to mention that by eating everything that you forage, you’re helping to reduce food wastage

If, after reading this, you'd like to feel more confident around how and when to forage and connect with nature at an elemental level, find out more about our in - person courses below:

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