by Kate Bradbury

I've been out foraging. Not from the hedgerows, but from parks, canal banks and graveyards.

Ripe and unripe blackberriesI've been out foraging. Not from the hedgerows, but from parks, canal banks and graveyards. There's a lot to be gathered from open spaces. I've yet to find wood sorrel or expensive truffles, but I've gathered wild garlic and strawberries, nettles, elderflowers, blackberries and cherries.

I cycle to and from work along a canal towpath. It's a lovely way to travel, and I feel somehow part of the seasonal shift throughout the year. I know spring has arrived when I see the first dandelions push through the ground. (I love dandelion leaves. There're so crunchy and refreshing after a winter of meagre salads. The trick is to pick them before they flower, after which they can taste bitter.) Then the nettles and wild garlic appear (which together make a delicious soup). Before I know it I'm dodging blackberries, pears and plums on the towpath instead of ice and snow.

Just last night my girlfriend came home with a bag of cherries she'd plucked from a tree in our local park. They were delicious and sweet, not like the fat, flavourless cherries currently in the shops. Even with attention from the birds there was still plenty for us.

Of course, not every foraging trip or cookery experiment works brilliantly the first time. Once my mum and I gathered rosehips to make rosehip jam. Rosehips are wonderfully rich in vitamin C, and you can make all sorts of soothing concoctions from them for sore throats and colds. But we made jam. We spent about two hours cutting them up and removing all the seeds and hairs (the hairs are incredibly itchy and it turned out we didn't need to do it because you have to sieve it all anyway). They took ages to soften and the whole process took all day, rewarding us with one jar of very average-tasting jam for our efforts.

Most recently I made elderflower cordial that fermented and smelled of stale beer. I drank it anyway, though no-one else would (except my mum, but that's what mums are for).

That aside, the best thing about foraging is feeling at one with nature, even if you live in a big, smelly city. It's the best antidote to city life I know.

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Talkback: Foraging
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Gardeners' World Web User 15/07/2010 at 11:17

We have some amazing little lanes around here for foraging, or just walking through and forgetting you are in the middle of a city. Lots of brambles, of course, but I will have to look closer and see what else I can find. Didnt know that about eating dandelions before they flower - fab. Lovely post.

Gardeners' World Web User 15/07/2010 at 11:22

Dandelion roots can make a coffee substitute too. I'm forever pilfering rosehips and crunching them as I walk - they taste like apple-peel. Delicious to forage in nature's supermarket instead of in a sterile goliath multi-national. Great post - here's to more foraging!

Gardeners' World Web User 15/07/2010 at 20:14

Yes it is good to forage, but I can't help but wondering why my wild Blackberries are doing better than my thorn less variety. Do l have to wait a certain amount of time before my thorn less bears fruit ?

Gardeners' World Web User 16/07/2010 at 00:12

I love the idea of foraging, but I wonder if I should leave it for the local wildlife that may need it more than I do. So I'm not too weedfree so I can eat what turns up in my garden. Bittercress is lovely and I can feel I'm getting my own back on it! I'm trying to develop a taste for the vast amount of ground elder I have. Any recipes, please?

Gardeners' World Web User 16/07/2010 at 09:38

Hi everyone. Thanks for your comments. I like the idea of country-esque lanes helping you forget you're in the middle of the city, Lia. Jude, I worry about that too and I don't take holly berries off trees in winter for that reason. But there are so many berries on the trees and bushes at the moment, many of which are ending up crushed on the floor. I think the key is to not be greedy - just take a little bit here and there, leaving the rest for others and the wildlife. Kate

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