autumn woodland
Angela Slater
Daughter of a farmer and market gardener so have always had a connection with the outdoors, whether it was keeping animals or producing fruit, vegetables and cut flowers. Along with my work at Hayes Garden World I also have a smallholding, mainly breeding rare breed pigs. I gained an HND and BSc in Conservation and Environmental Land Management, as a result I am an ardent environmentalist and have a keen interest in environmentally friendly gardening. In my time at Hayes I worked for several years in the Outdoor Plant and Houseplant areas

Forage for Free Food in Autumn

Head to the countryside in autumn for free food, fresh air and exercise

Autumn is the time when Mother Nature provides lots of free food in the form of fruit, nuts and fungi. Why buy expensive trays of fruit from the supermarket when, with a little effort, you can pick your own delicious organic, pesticide free food. Just remember the rules of foraging, don’t trespass onto farmer’s fields without permission and avoid the hedgerows besides busy main roads, also please don’t park blocking farm gates. If you are not sure what you are picking leave it alone.

The other main benefit to foraging is that you get fresh air and exercise and it’s one thing the whole family can do together. In addition to the food and exercise you are also learning about the natural world, spotting birds and finding their nests and identifying wild plants; just remember to take a pair of binoculars and ID books. You may need a good pair of gardening gloves if you are picking fruit off thorny branches, such as blackberries and sloes. A walking stick with a hooked handle is also handy to pull branches closer, all the best fruit always seems to be just out of reach!

Blackberries (Rubus)

blackberries

Blackberries are widespread in our hedgerows and have been eaten for thousands of years. They have many uses including, jams, jellies, pies (mixed with apples), crumbles, wine and as a dye. They are extremely thorny so use a pair of thick gardening gloves and take a walking stick to pull down the branches. They are extremely healthy, containing manganese, folic acid, vitamin K and high levels of vitamin C. Michaelmas Day, 29th September, is the last date you should pick the fruit, according to old folklore this is when the Devil spits on them or curses them, possibly due to him allegedly falling into a blackberry bush when he was cast out of Heaven. The flowers are said to signify envy and jealousy and are bad luck if given to a lady, who possibly wouldn’t thank you for a bouquet of thorns anyway!

Bullace (Prunus domestica sub species)

The bullace is a small round blue-black fruit, a bit like a cross between damsons and sloes; until fully ripe it is extremely acidic. It is usually just cooked into jams or pies but can also be made into a compote and served with game or pork. It also makes a lovely wine or infused into gin.

Crab apples (Malus)

crab apples

Crab apples range in colour in shades of red, yellow and green. Almost all are too sour to be eaten raw and are usually made into a jelly which comes in shades of beautiful pink and amber. It needs plenty of sugar but they are high in pectin so don’t need a setting agent. The jelly is delicious eaten on toast or with cold meats and cheese. The cultivated varieties make a lovely small tree for the garden giving flowers in spring, which is an early source of nectar for the bees, fruit and lovely autumn colour.

Elderberries (Sambucus)

These blue-black berries hang in large clusters and can be used as a dye. They must be cooked as they are toxic in their raw state. They make lovely jams and jellies, but can also be made into wine. They are a rich source of vitamin C and also contain B6 and iron. The flowers in spring make absolutely delicious champagne and cordial. This tree is steeped in folklore from it being planted to ward off the evil spirits to it bringing down the wrath of the unknown if used for certain activities.

Fungi

fungi

There is lots of delicious edible fungi around in autumn but there are also some deadly species so it is vitally important that you can tell the difference as some of the deadly species look exactly like the edible ones. For example, the Horse Mushroom looks very like the Yellow Stainer, the Horse Mushroom is delicious but the Yellow Stainer is toxic. Either go out with an expert on a fungi foraging course or take a couple of good guide books. If you are not 100% certain of the species leave it alone. The best placed to forage for fungi are in mixed deciduous woodland and grassy fields.

Hawthorn Berries (Crataegus monogyna)

hawthorn berries

The red berries hang in small clusters and are an important winter food for the birds. They can be made into a jelly which is delicious with cold meats and cheese and wine. The cultivated varieties make a good small tree for the garden. The spring flowers are an early source of nectar and coupled with the berries over winter are an important source of food for insects and birds. There are masses of myths associated with the hawthorn tree, it was often planted to ward off evil spirits but the blossom could never be brought into the house as it brought death.

Hazel Nuts (Corylus avellana)

Hazel nuts are delicious eaten raw straight off the tree and will almost always be green, if you want them brown and ripe wait until they have fallen off the tree and pick them up off the ground. Although they rarely get to this stage in the wild as there are so many grey squirrels around that they almost always get there first. They are really healthy and packed with antioxidants so roast the nuts and make into praline, delicious on cakes, or chop roughly and add to a salad. The wood from the hazel is often used for divining rods.

Rose Hips (Rosa)

These small hard fruits are rich in vitamin C and most commonly made into a syrup or herbal tea. The insides of the hips are much beloved of children as they serve as an itching powder! Just watch out for the thorns.

Rowan Berries (Sorbus)

These small red berries are one of nature’s superfoods having several unique properties due to their antioxydants. They are said to act as a cancer prevention agent, aid digestion, relieve asthma and congestion and be antibacterial. They also contain high levels of vitamin C. Freeze before processing as this reduces their bitterness; they must be cooked and make delicious jelly to eat with game. They also make a Turkish Delight which isn’t quite as sweet as the traditional rose delight; make into a juice before making the sweet.

Sloes, Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)

sloes (blackthorn)

These small blue-black berries are very like the bullaces just a little smaller. They are extremely bitter and usually made into a gin. Take care when picking as the plant has very sharp thorns. Pick them when they have acquired their bluish white bloom. They are traditionally picked after the first frost but can be placed in the freezer before processing. Like the hawthorn bringing sprigs of blossom into the house led to a death and the wood was said to be used to make a witches staff.