I was meandering through Plymouth city centre a week or so back with my 4 year old daughter, when we spotted a tangle of wild strawberries around the side of a building. When I pointed them out, she promptly jumped up and started collecting them in a spare tub I was carrying. Now, I’m no stranger to urban foraging, but it did get me thinking about the masses of free food you’ll find easily in our cities. And no I’m not talking about dumpster diving (which is a whole other thing called ‘freeganism’).
Kids aside, urban foraging is great way to both explore a city and to pick up some tasty (and fresh) food. And, believe it or not, in most cities there is tons of opportunity to find and pick fresh food.
If you’re new to urban foraging, it’s actually a relatively simple concept and one that anyone can do. So we’ll take a quite look at how to do urban foraging, and some do’s and don’ts.
The do’s and don’ts of urban foraging
As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to stay off private property to do your urban foraging. So, don’t stray into people’s gardens, go into farmers fields or private orchards, climb walls or do anything that might damage property. If you do find somewhere that you really want to forage on private land, you could always ask the landowner.
Another thing is to keep an eye out for potential pollutants or toxic chemicals. This might be if you find a fruit tree growing in an industrial area, or picking mushrooms on a field next to a car park.
Remember too that ornamental fruiting tress in public places are for everyones enjoyment, so don’t take everything from one tree, if you can help it.
Also, make sure to do your research about the types of fruit or other foods you’re harvesting when doing urban foraging. You don’t want to poison yourself, There are lots of books and websites dedicated to urban foraging with a focus on specific areas.
One last tip. Always wash whatever you pick before you eat it… If you don’t have a bottle of water on you, take your bounty hope and rinse thoroughly to remove dirt and build-up.
A guide to urban foraging
With those stpes out of the way, you just need to know what to keep an eye out for. Wherever you are, if there are bushes and trees then there are always loads of foraging opportunities. Even when I lived in central London or in Valencia in Spain, I would regularly find lots to pick and take home from the list below.
But here’s what I have found in inner-city Plymouth UK when it comes to urban foraging:
- Crab apples (great for jams)
- Wild strawberries (tasty snack)
- Fresh figs (snack or jams again)
- Blackberries (crumbles, cakes, snacks, jams and all sorts)
- Herbs including mint, rosemary, dill and bay leaves
- Hazelnuts and other seasonal nuts
- Acorns (you can do all sorts of stuff with acorns)
- Rock samphire (not the same as marsh samphire but still great in salads)
- Seaweeds (almost all seaweed is edible, once prepared properly)
- Wild garlic (makes a great pesto)
- Netles (soups and salads)
- Nasturtiums (peppery flowers that go great in a salad)
- Elderberries (excellent for jams and even a cordial style drink)
- Mushrooms (there are always loads of different mushrooms in parks and fields, but definitely do your research first on these)
- Damsons (tart berries that make great jam or steep in gin)
- Rosehips (make a great tea or can be made into jams or even dried and eaten)
This isn’t en exhaustive list at all, and there are plenty of other random fruit trees, bulbs or other treasures that you might spot on your foraging adventures.
Where to look for foraging treats
Generally speaking, you’ll find opportunities for wild foraging wherever these is a bit of greenery. This could be a park or even an untended patch of land such as abandoned buildings, or along the side of a path.
Sometimes an untended garden will have trees hanging over the road with treats such as cherries, figs, apples, pears or even passion fruit (yes they can grow in the UK)
In Plymouth and the westcountry as a whole, you can easily find blackberry bushes pretty much everywhere from the waterfront to the moors.
But I have also found crab apples growing in a business car park (got loads of them one autumn day), spotted potatoes growing in a hidden corner of a park (only a small haul, but I guess someone abandoned a bag of spuds that ended up growing more in the ground) and those wild strawberries were literally set back from the road in the centre of town.
With the seaside on our doorstep here in Devon, you’ll also find loads of seaweed which is very nutritious and tasty.
When to forage
You can go urban foraging all year round, although the best pickings are in the spring and summer, especially for fruit. But in the autumn you’ll find nuts and mushrooms are plentiful, and even in the winter you’ll find herbs, seaweeds, nuts and even some berries.
In short, if you know what to look for, you can always go foraging in the city or the surrounding countryside.
What can you make with foraged foods?
As you’ll see from our list above, you can make pretty much anything with foraged foods. From salads and stews to soups, juices and infusions.
So next time you’re out for a walk around town, keep your eyes peeled for foraging opportunities.