Urban foraging

Reducing our reliance to the system

I can’t remember exactly how nor when I first got interested in foraging food. I guess it should have been a slow process…

While trying to consume more responsibly and reduce my family’s ecological footprint, I realised that we could be more eco-friendly and resilient by 1- growing our own veg and 2- looking for edible plants in my local area.

Though learning to grow your own veg can prove to be a long and challenging journey, harvesting wild plants and fruits tends to be easier and quicker.

How should I get started?

The first step is to identify edible plants and trees growing in your local area all through the year. You can find plenty of information online and guides you can buy or borrow from your local library.
Alys Fowler’s book on the subjet: ‘The Thrifty Forager‘ might be a good starting point.

Second is to learn how to use and prepare them. Again, you will find lots of information and recipes online.
I found lots of nice recipes and tips on Ashley’s blog: https://practicalselfreliance.com/
Even though she lives in the US, most of the informations on edible plants are relevant to us.

Here are some rules to bear in mind to forage sustainably and responsibly:

  • Seek permission from the landowner (if on private land)
  • Know what you’re picking: never consume a wild plant or fungus unless you are absolutely certain of its identification. It could be rare and protected, inedible or even deadly poisonous.
  • Never pick in places subjected to pollution: avoid roadsides, industrial estates, dog walking areas and agricultural land that may be sprayed with herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers. Do not pick plants growing near polluted water sources.
  • Leave plenty behind for wildlife: only pick from abundant populations and leave plenty behind for wildlife and others to enjoy. Over-picking will impact next year’s crop. 
  • Share your knowledge: teach others to respect nature and learn about the environment.

Besides (or instead of) foraging, you can also pick fruits from your neighbours’ back gardens (with their permission) and/or in community allotments. Some people have too many fruits growing than they can handle and they might be happy to share their surplus with you. Why not asking?

I have listed below a list of some fruits you can find pretty easily in Portsmouth:

Apples & Pears:

Usually ready in autumn, wild apple and pear trees are easy to identify and harvest. Fruits can be picked when fully ripened or before and stored until ready. Keep the nicest and sweetest ones to eat raw, make tarts, jams, compotes… And keep the bruised or worm-eaten ones to make juice using a juice extractor or an apple presser.

Don’t throw away apples’ peels & cores, you can use them to make a lovely apple jelly:
http://ayearwithoutgroceries.blogspot.com/2011/11/got-apple-cores-and-peels-make-jelly.html

Blackberries:

They are probably one of the most popular foraged fruits. They are well spread around the city and can be transformed pretty easily in jams with few preparation and cooking skills.

Blackberry jam recipe without added pectin:
https://practicalselfreliance.com/blackberry-jam-no-pectin/

Elderflowers:

Both flowers and berries can be picked and transformed. In June, you can use the flowers to make cordials. And in August, berries will make nice jams or jellies. You have to be quick though as birds love them and they ripen pretty quickly. Be warned that you will need a lot of patience and berries to make jam. Raw berries are mildly toxic and slightly bitter so make sure to cook them beforehand.

How to identify elderflower and what to do with it:
https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blog/2019/05/how-to-identify-elder/
https://practicalselfreliance.com/foraging-elderflower/

Rosehips:

Rich in vitamin C, you can use them in jellies, sauces, soups, seasonings, or tea. It is best to wear gloves to pick the hips because of the rose thorns. They can usually be harvested from the end of September to December. Most people recommend to harvest them after the first light as they will be tastier.

Caution: Don’t use rose hips from plants that have been treated with a pesticide that is not labeled for use on edibles.

How to harvest and use rosehips:
https://www.thespruce.com/what-are-rose-hips-and-what-do-they-do-1403046
Everything you need to know about rosehips:
https://www.eatweeds.co.uk/rosehip-faq

Wild plums:

Wild plums are smaller than the ‘conventional’ ones. They can be eaten raw or transformed into tart, jams… They are usually ripe by July.

And you, do you know of any other fruits, plants and/or nuts we can find in the city? Are you foraging for wild plants?
Feel free to comment below, I’d love to hear from you!

Delphine

Some useful links:

http://theurbaneforager.blogspot.com/
A great blog run by a local family sharing some fun and healthy family foraging activities (identifying fruit and nut trees, locating them on a map and picking, eating, processing and preserving the produce).

https://fallingfruit.org/
A massive, collaborative map of the urban harvest uniting the efforts of foragers, freegans, and foresters around the world.

https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/things-to-do/foraging/
A Woodland Trust guide to forage sustainably without harming woods or wildlife.

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