Foraging is the process of searching, identifying, and harvesting wild food in nature. Foraging can be done almost anywhere and any time during the year. If you are new to foraging, it may seem like a big challenge to learn how to forage, when to forage, and what to forage. If you want to know more about how to start foraging, you can read the blog post Introduction to Foraging: Foraging Benefits, Equipment, Guidelines, Resources, History, and How To Get Started. A good piece of advice is to start with some of the most common wild edibles that nature provides us with.
This article introduces you to 21 common wild edibles divided into the four seasons. Note that the article focuses on wild edibles found in Northern Europe, and the climate there. Even though all species can be found in similar environments around the world, keep in mind that the species may appear in different seasons in your country. Let me know in the comments below what you think about this article, if it was useful, or let me know what you mostly forage in your country.
5 Common Wild Edibles to Forage in Spring
Wild garlic/ramsons (Allium ursinum)
Morel mushrooms (Morchella conica)
The wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella)
Common nettle (Urtica dioica)
Common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
One of the most common and most popular plants to forage is wild garlic, also known as ramsons. As the name suggests, wild garlic tastes like a mixture of onion and garlic. All parts of the plant are worth eating, but keep in mind it can be illegal in some countries/forests to harvest the root. The wild garlic is very invasive, and you will therefore typically find a large area filled with wild garlic. Wild garlic can be misidentified with other plants, so be sure to look up the characteristics in a book and be sure that the plant smells like onion/garlic. You can use wild garlic instead of garlic in dishes and is also very nice to make pesto of.
Morel mushrooms are a highly coveted edible mushroom and can be bought in stores for a high amount of money. Morchella is the common scientific name for a variety of edible and non-edible morels. Therefore, make sure to study the differences between the non-edible and the edible ones. Morels can be brown, black, grey, or light brown in color and blend in very well on the forest floor. The appearance makes it quite difficult to spot the morels on a foraging trip.
Common Wood Sorrel
Common wood sorrel is a small herb that can be found in spring. It is only between 5-10 centimeters tall and has clover-shaped leaves. You will typically find common wood sorrel in coniferous forests and beech forests. The wood sorrel has a fresh, green, and sour taste, that can be used in salty as well as sweet dishes. The wood sorrel can be found all year round but has the most powerful taste in spring.
Common nettle is a wild herb that most people already have experienced to some degree – probably mostly in a bad way. Besides that, the common nettle is a super healthy and tasty herb that can be foraged in spring and summer. In the early spring, the whole plant can be eaten, and later, it is best to only take the new leaves. Common nettle needs to be cooked since otherwise, it will not be a pleasant meal. The nettle can take high heat and longer cooking times than most other herbs. The nettle especially does its good in fat dishes for example with milk products or in pasta.
Common dandelion is an edible nutritious weed that is easy to identify with its yellow flower and green leaves. The whole dandelion can be eaten – the leaves, the flower, and the roots. When you forage for common dandelion, pick the younger leaves; They can be eaten raw or cooked and are great in salads or sandwiches. The dandelion leaves are filled with vitamins A, C, and K.
6 Common Wild Edibles to Forage in Summer
Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius)
Beach rose (Rosa rugosa)
Glasswort (Salicornia dolichostachya)
Blueberry (Vaccinium myrtillus)
Elder (Sambucus nigra)
Wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca)
Chanterelles are one of the most common edible mushrooms to forage and one of my personal favorite wild mushrooms to eat. Chanterelles have a nice smell of apricots and have a very delicious taste. Chanterelles are popular on the menu in restaurants and they are very expensive to buy in the supermarket compared to other edible mushrooms. Therefore, foraging for chanterelles can save you a lot of money, and give you a 5-star restaurant experience. Chanterelles can be identified by their yellow color and are therefore easy to spot on a foraging trip since they “pop” out of the woods. When you have spotted a chanterelle, be careful where you step; often, you will find more chanterelles growing close to each other.
Beach rose is a rose hedge typically found near coastlines in the sand or on the side of the road. The flowers of the beach rose are red, pink, or white and have a wonderful smell of roses. From June till September, the flowers bloom and after the flowers have fallen, they will be replaced by the rose hips, which are also edible. The beach rose is very invasive and is often difficult for holiday house owners to get rid of. The beach roses can be used in many delicious dishes or as edible decorations. They are especially good in desserts, salads, drinks, or made into rose salt.
Glasswort is another edible plant found on the beach. The 20-centimeter tall plant is adapted to saltwater and you will therefore find it growing close to the sea. Glasswort is therefore quite salty in taste, especially in the late season. It is at the same time super crispy and has an amazing freshness. You can identify the glasswort by its cactus-like appearance and its green color. You can forage the glasswort from the beginning of July till August and can be eaten raw. You can eat it as a great replacement for a salty snack like potato chips or in a salad. The glasswort can also be boiled in water for a few minutes and eaten as a side dish. Remember to clean the glasswort well for sand and dirt.
Bilberries are small berries that grow on low bushes in the woods. Bilberries are a species of blueberries from the scientific name Vaccinium. Bilberries are excellent berries to forage and have a lot of health benefits as well as an amazing taste. Bilberries can be used for multiple purposes and are especially used in desserts. A popular way of preserving bilberries is by drying them and using them in baking such as cookies or muffins. The fresh berries are perfect to make jam or fresh bilberry lemonade.
Elder is a tree or bush that can grow up to 8 meters tall. The elder grows elderflowers and elderberries that are both edible. The elderflowers are white and bloom from June till July. The elderberries are black and ripen from August till September. A typical way of using foraged elderflowers is to make them into a sweet syrup that can be mixed with water or alcohol. Another way of using the elderflowers is to make an elderflower sorbet – perfect for a warm summer day. The elderberries can be made into a dark hot beverage or jam and have a very powerful taste. Elderberries can not be eaten raw.
Wild strawberries are one of the easiest wild edibles to recognize since they look like the strawberries we know from the supermarket or the ones we grow in our gardens. Wild strawberries differentiate by being way smaller than the cultivated strawberries. From June the red berries will start to ripen. The taste of wild strawberries is very intense and rich in flavor. Wild strawberries can be eaten straight from the bush, but can also be made into ice cream, porridge, jam, or drinks.
5 Common Wild Edibles to Forage in Autumn
Common juniper (Juniperus communis)
Sloes (Prunus spinosa)
Hedgehog mushroom (Hydnum repandum)
Black trumpet (Craterellus cornucopioides)
Bladder wrack (Fucus vesiculosus)
Sea buckthorn (Hippophaë rhamnoides)
Common juniper is a half-meter tall hedge with green needles and dark berries. The berries, which are actually cones, take two years to ripen. You can harvest the ripe berries from August to October. Common juniper is typically used as a spice in dishes with meat, but you can use the berries for plenty of purposes. Try for example to make them into an oil or a spiced liqueur. If you want to preserve the berries for a long time, freezing them makes them last longer than drying.
Sloes belong to the rose family and are a thorn hedge that grows round dewy berries. The hedge can grow up to 2 meters tall. You can go forage for sloes at the end of October and harvest them before the birds do. Preserve the sloes by putting them in your freezer until you need them. You can use sloes for making syrup, jam, wine, or gin.
The hedgehog mushroom is a good beginner mushroom to forage since it’s easy to identify and is a really tasty wild mushroom. In my opinion, hedgehog mushrooms taste similar to chanterelles. It is especially recognizable by the fact that the underside of the cap has lots of white spines like a hedgehog. The cap is 5-15 centimeters wide and is light creme-yellow in color. You will find the hedgehog mushroom from July till October on the forest floor in deciduous and coniferous forests. You can cook the hedgehog mushroom in the same way as chanterelles, so for example fried on a pan with butter and salt and pepper and served on toasted bread.
Black Trumpet Mushroom
The black trumpet is a dark funnel-shaped wild mushroom that can be up to 12 centimeters tall. When it has rained, it becomes black and when it’s more dried, it has a more gry color. The black trumpet has a coveted special taste that can’t be compared to any other mushroom. The mushroom has a lovely spiced smell. If they smell more of ammonia they are too old and can’t be eaten. You cannot misidentify this mushroom, but keep in mind that other mushrooms become dark when they decay. When you spot black trumpets, you will often find many. The best way of preserving the black trumpet is by drying it. They are actually better to cook when they have already been dried.
Bladder wrack is a common seaweed species. Seaweed in general is often forgotten as wild edibles. The bladder wrack can be foraged all-year-round but has the highest amount of vitamin C in autumn. It is recognizable by its floating bladders that often are paired two and two. The taste variates from how much salt the water contains, and by which environment it grows in. The bladder wrack grows from the beach edge and out in the ocean at several meters dept. A typical way of eating bladder wrack is by making them into crispy chips in the oven.
Sea buckthorn can grow in pure sand and is therefore often seen growing near the coastline. The sea buckthorn berries are yellow-orange in color and ripen from August till September. The sea buckthorn berries are difficult to pick because of their thorns, so be prepared with gardening gloves or cut the branch with the ripen berries off and put them in the freezer. In this way, you can afterward shake the berries off the branch. The berries have an acidic taste but can be eaten raw. The sea buckthorn is typically made into jam or juice.
4 Common Wild Edibles to Forage in Winter
Rose hip (Rosa rugosa)
Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus)
Velvet shank (Flammulina velutipes)
Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas)
Rose hips are the fruits of the rose flower plant. Rose hips replace the fallen flowers when the temperatures lower. You can find rose hips in different terrain since rose hips can grow in poor soil conditions. The most typical species of rose hips are the beach rose hip and the dog rose hip. Both hips are edible and filled with vitamin C. There are plenty of ways of eating rose hips; They can be used to make tea, soups, jam, syrup, pies, cakes, and many more.
The oyster mushroom is one of the few wild edibles that can be found in winter. It is difficult to misidentify oyster mushrooms, and it is, therefore, a great beginner mushroom. The oyster mushroom looks like an oyster in form as well as color. The color of the oyster mushroom can vary from blue-grey, grey to creme color. The cultivated oyster mushrooms that you can buy in the supermarket are often white. You can find oyster mushrooms growing on dead or half-dead tree trunks, and you will often find many at the same spot. Typically oyster mushrooms can be found from October until March. The oyster mushroom can be used in many dishes since it is very neutral in taste. Try making a mushroom lasagna, mushroom sauce or fry them on a pan with a bit of butter, garlic and fresh herbs and serve them on toasted bread.
The velvet shank is also a typical winter mushroom. You can recognize it on its dark stem and orange-brown cap. The mushroom grows on dead stumps and trunks of deciduous trees. The stem of the velvet shank can grow up to 8 centimeters tall and the cap is 1-6 centimeters wide. You can find the velvet shank from September until April. The velvet shank is not the most interesting edible mushroom, but compared to what else there is to find, the velvet shank is better than nothing. A fun fact is that the cultivated enokitake mushroom is genetically identical to the wild velvet shank.
The Pacific Oyster is as the Latin name Crassostrea gigas indicates, a giant among oysters. It can grow up to 40 centimeters in length. The species can handle water temperatures from -5 Degrees Celcius and up to 40 Degrees Celcius and can therefore tolerate huge temperature fluctuations. Foraging oysters is an amazing experience since you can walk out in the low waters, and pick your own oysters and eat them directly at sea. Or you can bring them home in a bucket and cook with them. Even though oysters are typically eaten raw, they are also suitable on the barbecue or in the oven as a gratin. Oysters are often seen as a rich man’s food, also historically. And therefore, if you want to buy oysters, it can end up costing you a lot of money. The Pacific oysters as well as other oyster species should only be harvested in autumn and winter. In the summer and warmer months, there is a risk of getting sick from eating oysters.