Foraging with children is a wonderful way to connect them with nature and teach them about the edible plants around us. July is a fantastic time to forage, as there is an abundance of edible plants to discover in the hedgerows, woodlands and our own gardens. If you are a curious beginner, this guide will help you identify some common wild and not-so-wild plants that you can safely forage. So, get your walking shoes ready, grab a basket/bag, and let's dive into the wonderful world of foraging!
If you are just getting started, I would recommend the following foraging kit.
A field guide specific to your region can help you identify different plants, mushrooms, and edible wild foods. Choose one with clear descriptions, photographs, and information on the habitats and seasons of different species.
Gathering Basket or Bag
A sturdy basket or bag is essential for collecting your foraged finds. Choose a basket with a handle or a bag with adjustable straps for easy carrying. Make sure it is big enough to hold your harvest without damaging delicate plants.
You will want to protect your hands, especially when handling prickly or thorny plants. Choose gloves that are durable, comfortable, and offer good dexterity.
Scissors or Pruning Shears
Having a pair of scissors or pruning shears can make it easier to cut stems or branches without damaging the plant or yourself.
A small trowel for more experienced foragers
Some edible wild foods, like roots or tubers, usually require digging.
Water Bottle and Snacks
Keeping everyone hydrated is important during foraging trips. I always pack some lightweight snacks to keep everyone’s energy levels up while we explore.
First Aid Kit
A basic kit with a few elastoplasts, antiseptic and tweezers.
Insect Repellent and Sunscreen
I always insist we apply sunscreen before we head out. Try insect-repellent plasters for younger kids if you want to avoid spraying them. You can also try natural repellents such as rosemary, mint, lavender and citronella.
Bags or Containers for Storage
If you plan to collect a variety of different wild foods, a variety of small bags or containers will keep them separated and prevent them from getting crushed or mixed together.
Compass, Map, or GPS Device
If you're exploring unfamiliar areas, a compass, map, or GPS device can help you navigate and find specific foraging spots.
Keep the following guidelines in mind when you are planning to forage.
Always seek permission before foraging on private land. If you're foraging in public areas, such as forests, parks, or nature reserves, check if foraging is allowed and follow any specific guidelines or restrictions in place.
Avoid damaging plants, trees, or habitats while gathering your harvest. Only take what you need and be mindful of the plant's ability to regenerate.
Mistakenly consuming toxic plants can have serious consequences. Consult reliable foraging resources, books, or experts to ensure accurate identification.
Consume only a small amount of any 'safe' foraged foods to ensure you can safely digest them, even food sources like nettles.
If you are pregnant avoid foraged plants, mushrooms and flowers entirely.
Harvest in a sustainable manner to promote the long-term survival of plant populations. Avoid over-harvesting in a single area. Leave some plants for animals to enjoy. Avoid disturbing wildlife nests, burrows, or habitats while foraging. Leave the environment as you found it.
Avoid foraging near busy roads, industrial sites, or areas that may have been contaminated by chemicals or pollutants.
What to forage in July
Wild Sorrel, which includes Common Sorrel, Sheep's Sorrel, and Wood Sorrel, is a versatile herb known for its lemony or sharp apple taste. The green edible leaves and stalks are delicious and offer a refreshing flavour to various dishes.
It is rich in vitamins A, B, and C, making it a nutritious addition to your diet. Historically, it was even used to prevent scurvy due to its high vitamin content. Wild Sorrel also has diuretic properties and is a good source of potassium, which can aid in reducing blood pressure and water retention.
When identifying Common Sorrel, look for its arrow-shaped leaves and small red and green flower stalks that typically appear between May and August. This upright plant can reach a height of up to 60 cm, and as the season progresses, its leaves may develop a red tinge. Tall slender spikes carry red flowers and later seeds.
You can find Wild Sorrel throughout the UK, commonly spotted in farmland, heathland, wasteland and meadows. Its wide distribution allows for ample foraging opportunities.
The entire plant is edible, from root to flower. To identify dandelions, look for their distinctive bright yellow flowers and jagged, tooth-like leaves. Harvest the young leaves for salads or sauté them as a nutritious side dish. Dandelion flowers can be used to make flavourful syrups or infused oils. You can even try frying the flower heads into crispy fritters for a yummy treat.
Daisies, with their classic white petals and sunny yellow centres, add a touch of whimsy to any dish. Identifying daisies is relatively straightforward, as they have long, slender stems and petals with a slightly pointed shape. Use daisy petals to garnish salads or desserts. The petals have a mild flavour reminiscent of lettuce, making them a delightful addition to springtime dishes.
Known for their vibrant orange and yellow petals, calendula flowers are not just visually stunning but also boast a slightly peppery and tangy flavour. Spotting calendula is easy due to their radiant colours and distinctively shaped petals. Harvest the petals and sprinkle them over salads, soups, or rice dishes to add a burst of colour and a hint of zest. You can also infuse the petals in oil to create an aromatic salve.
Samphire, also known as sea asparagus or sea pickle, is a coastal plant that thrives in salty environments. It is characterised by its vibrant green colour and succulent, finger-like leaves. To forage samphire, head to coastal areas and look for it in salt marshes or rocky shores. This delicious plant can be eaten raw, blanched, or lightly steamed. Its crisp texture and unique salty taste make it an excellent addition to seafood dishes, salads, or pickles.
Wild berries - strawberries and raspberries
When identifying wild berries, it's essential to have a good understanding of each species to avoid toxic varieties. Common edible wild berries include blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries. Look for familiar berry shapes, colours, and distinctive leaves. Wild berries are perfect for eating fresh, or made into jams and preserves, or used as toppings for desserts, pancakes, or yogurt.
Stinging nettles are abundant and reliable sources of wild food, known for their nutritional value and healing properties. The leaves, seeds, and roots of stinging nettles are all edible and highly nutritious. They contain higher levels of iron than spinach, as well as calcium, vitamins (A and C), and minerals. Traditionally, stinging nettles have been used as remedies for various ailments, including arthritis.
They are found in a wide range of environments, from woodlands to wastelands, hedgerows to riversides. Stinging nettles grow in moist, nutrient-rich soils and can reach heights of 2 to 4 feet (60 to 120 cm). Their heart-shaped leaves have serrated edges and are covered in small, stinging hairs that contain formic acid. The stems are square-shaped and also have stinging hairs.
To avoid being stung by stinging nettles, it's important to wear gloves or use tongs when handling them. Cooking the nettles neutralises the stinging compounds, making them safe for consumption. Young leaves are commonly harvested and cooked, and they can be used in various recipes such as soups, teas, and pesto. Once cooked or dried, the stinging hairs lose their ability to cause irritation.
When foraging for stinging nettles, ensure that you choose clean and unpolluted areas, away from roadsides or chemically treated areas.
Elderflowers, synonymous with summer, are best enjoyed from late May to early July in the UK. These fragrant flowers, found on elder trees, are a delightful culinary ingredient. It's important to note that only the flowers and berries of the elder tree are edible, and they require cooking to remove small amounts of toxic chemicals.
To identify elderflowers, look for elder trees in woodland, scrub, hedgerows, and wasteland. The creamy-white flowers hang in flat-topped clusters, creating a picturesque sight. When foraging, select elderflowers whose buds have freshly opened on a warm, dry, sunny day, ensuring they are well away from traffic fumes.
To use elderflowers, start by picking the flowers and giving them a gentle shake to remove any insects. Rinse them briefly in cold water before incorporating them into your recipes. Fresh elderflowers are versatile and can be used to add flavour to cordials, wines, teas, liqueurs, syrups, jellies, and desserts. For a delightful treat, dip the flowers in a light batter and fry them to create elderflower fritters.
Rose petals, including those from the dog rose, are edible and offer a slightly fruity flavour that can be used to create syrups or jellies. When using rose petals, ensure that you avoid any that may have been sprayed with pesticides, try to find organic or pesticide-free sources.
Use them raw in salads for a touch of floral delight. You can also infuse the petals in vinegar, make jam, or crystallise them for a sweet treat. Additionally, drying the petals allows you to use them in Middle Eastern and Asian dishes, adding a fragrant element to your recipes.
When seeking out dog rose for foraging, look for this species in hedges and scrub environments. It typically grows up to 3 metres in height and has curved thorns. Its pink flowers make an appearance between June and July.
Cleaning your foraged plants
Cleaning foraged plants is an important step to making them safe to eat.
Inspect your foraged plants and remove any damaged, wilted, or discoloured parts. Discard any plants that show signs of decay or mould.
Remove any soil and debris by shaking. Use a soft brush or cloth to lightly remove any clinging dirt.
Then wash with water. Fill a bowl or sink with cool water. Submerge your foraged plants and swish them around gently to loosen any remaining dirt. Be thorough but gentle to avoid damaging delicate leaves or stems.
Check for any insects and remove any that you find. If you notice an infestation, it's best to discard the affected plants.
Soak in a saltwater solution. Dissolve 1 tablespoon of salt in a litre of water. Submerge the foraged plants in the solution for 10-15 minutes. This helps remove any hidden insects or larvae that may be present.
Rinse again after the saltwater soak to remove any residual salt or debris.
Pat dry or air dry: Gently pat the plants dry with a clean towel or paper towels. Or lay them out on a clean kitchen towel or drying rack to air dry.
The following recipes are simple and fun to make with children.
Wild Berry Parfait
Assorted wild berries (such as raspberries, or strawberries)
Greek yogurt or whipped cream or vegan plain yogurt
Granola or crushed nuts (optional)
Go for a berry-picking adventure with your children to collect fresh wild berries.
Wash the berries thoroughly.
In a glass or bowl, layer the berries with the yogurt or cream.
Top with a sprinkle of granola or crushed nuts for added crunch.
Enjoy the delicious and nutritious wild berry parfait together!
Flower Petal Salad
Assorted edible flowers (such as dog rose, daisy, calendula)
Salad greens (lettuce, spinach, or mixed greens)
Salad dressing of your choice
While foraging, collect a variety of edible flowers with your children.
Wash the flowers and greens thoroughly.
Arrange the salad greens on a plate or in a bowl.
Add the cherry tomatoes and cucumber slices.
Sprinkle the edible flowers on top.
Drizzle your favourite salad dressing over the salad.
Toss gently and enjoy a colourful and tasty flower petal salad.
Dandelion Flower Fritters
Dandelion flowers (freshly picked)
Pancake batter or tempura batter mix
Vegetable oil for frying
Collect fresh fully open dandelion flowers.
Wash the flowers and remove any green parts at the base.
Prepare the pancake or tempura batter according to the instructions.
Heat vegetable oil in a pan or deep fryer.
Dip each dandelion flower into the batter, coating it completely.
Carefully place the battered flowers into the hot oil and fry until golden brown.
Remove from the oil and let them drain on a paper towel.
Serve the dandelion flower fritters as a tasty snack.
Wild Sorrel Pesto
2 cups wild sorrel leaves
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Wash the wild sorrel leaves and remove any tough stems.
In a food processor, combine the wild sorrel leaves, basil leaves, grated Parmesan cheese, pine nuts or walnuts, and garlic cloves. Pulse until roughly chopped.
While the food processor is running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until the mixture forms a smooth paste.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Transfer the pesto to a jar and store in the fridge.
Use the wild sorrel pesto as a spread on sandwiches, toss it with pasta, or use it as a flavourful topping for grilled meats or roasted vegetables.
Samphire Salad with Lemon and Olive Oil Dressing
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Rinse the samphire under cold water to remove any excess salt.
Bring a pan of water to a boil and blanch the samphire for about 2 minutes.
Drain the samphire and transfer it to a bowl of ice water to cool down quickly. Drain again and pat dry.
In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper to make the dressing.
Place the samphire in a serving dish and drizzle the dressing over it. Toss gently to coat.
Serve the samphire salad as a refreshing side dish or as part of a salad spread.
Grilled Samphire with Garlic Butter
2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Lemon wedges, for serving
Preheat a grill or barbecue to medium-high heat.
Rinse the samphire under cold water to remove any excess salt.
In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and cook for a minute until fragrant.
Place the samphire on a grill pan or wrap it in foil to create a packet. Drizzle half of the garlic butter over the samphire and season with salt and pepper.
Grill the samphire for about 2-3 minutes, turning occasionally, until it becomes tender and slightly charred.
Remove the samphire from the grill and transfer it to a serving dish. Drizzle the remaining garlic butter over the top.
Serve the grilled samphire hot with lemon wedges on the side.
I’d love to hear what you forage in July and the recipes your family have tried. Share your foraging adventures in the Outdoor Mums Facebook group.
Rachel Mills, Buttercup Learning