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Visit Scotland enthuses about the rich variety of wild foods that we can find out there. It is one of the attractions ofour countryside that it is both wild and accessible. But there are strict rules and guidelines to follow to ensure that our natural larder remains healthy and continues for generations to come.

By definition, foraging is the search for wild food, such as berries, seeds, edible plants etc. It’s more commonly a trait seen in wild animals, but was also a survival skill that our hunter gatherer ancestors had to master many centuries ago.

We can forage for berries including rose hips, edible plants such as wild garlic and the flowers of the elder tree. Many of these have recognised health benefits. But although some fungi such as mushrooms can be happily eaten, many come with the health warnings! 

When the frist bramble berries appear, one's only concern really is whether what you have found is a lovely sweet raspberry or a sour unripe blackberry. They both have the same bright red colour - until the latter turns almost black. By late summer / early autumn, as we enter October, the raspberries are long gone, but some blackberries linger on. But in amongst them are other berries. Those of the hawthorn are bright and cheerful - and rather obvious. But look at this picture and you will see delicate and attractive little red nightshade berries in amongst the brambles too. These are not the deadly variety, but still seriously toxic. Be very clear to children that they are not for picking.

Other plants - their leaves and berries - can be poisonous too. Don't depend on feeling safe because a bird is eating it. They can have a very different digestive system or simply pass the problem seed through. But cooking and preparation, if done properly, can change the situation for human consumption. [Rhubarb, yams etc are poisonous to humans untill cooked too!]. 

Forage sustainably and responsibly, and make sure you stay safe and within the law.

  • In line with the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is illegal to collect wild plants or fungi on a National Nature Reserve (NNR) or a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
  • Be careful what you pick – some species of mushroom and fungi are poisonous and can even be fatal if eaten. Make sure to read up on the various specious beforehand, as well as ensure the information is reliable and up to date. Have a read of the Scottish Wild Mushroom Code to get you started.
  • Only take what you can use – be mindful to leave enough for everyone, including the wildlife who call the forest home.

The following guidance dfor foraging comes from the Wildlife Trust: 

  • Minimise damage and take no more than you plan to consume.

Stick to paths and take care not to trample down or damage areas you are collecting from. Uprooting plants is harmful so pick leaves or berries with care, in moderation and avoid damaging plant roots.

  • Seek permission. On private land such as National Trust of Scotland sites, foraging for commercial purposes is not permitted, but for limited personal use it usually is. Some of their sites are important for conservation, are habitats for rare or vulnerable species or where there are problems with over-picking. These sites can be identified through signage on site, but please always check before setting off.
  • Find a wood to explore.
  • 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. Use reference books to identify them. Fungi can be notoriously difficult to identify, so if you're unsure it's best to leave alone.
  • Only collect from plentiful populations. Only collect flowers, leaves, fruits and seeds where they are in abundance.
  • For fungi, only take mushrooms that have opened their caps (so are likely to have dropped their spores). Do not collect small ‘button’ mushrooms.
  • Leave plenty behind. Wild food is vital for the survival of the UK’s wildlife.
  • Forage carefully to ensure there is enough left for birds and species to consume now and to ensure plants and fungi can regenerate and reproduce. You may not be the only person foraging and plants and fungi need to produce seeds and spores to grow into the next generation. 
  • Do not collect rare species. Only take plants and fungi when you are certain you know what they are.
  • Take a good field guide to confirm species in the field and avoid confusion. Some species are protected by law, so know what not to collect. Ancient woods, in particular, can contain many rare species so take special care. If you're not sure, it's best to leave it alone.

Wild plants and the law : All wild plants are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). It is illegal to dig up or remove a plant (including algae, lichens and fungi) from the land on which it is growing without permission from the landowner or occupier. Some species are specially protected against picking, uprooting, damage and sale. A list of these can be found on Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981).


Having begun this discussion on a rather dour tone, let's go back to the rewards of foraging. We have already noted that you can find berries including rose hips, edible plants such as wild garlic and the flowers of the elder tree. Let's now look at recipes. There are several ones online for which the links are given below. You are sure to find many more, but can use these as a starting point. For identification of these plants refer to their individual sections.

BRAMBLE PIE : https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blog/2019/08/easy-blackberry-recipes/

COMFREY SALVE - to ease aching koints and muscles : https://theherbalacademy.com/comfrey-cream-recipe/

COW PARSNIP : https://foragerchef.com/cow-parsnip/

ELDER FLOWER CORDIAL AND INFUSIONS - both flowers and berries. : https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blog/2021/06/how-to-identify-elder/  & https://www.thewildpioneers.com/blog/summer-foraging-in-scotland-elderflower-recipes#:~:text=The%20pale%20cream%20flowers%20are%20delicate%2C%20dainty%20and,Elder%2C%20Sambucus%20nigra%2C%20is%20ubiquitous%20here%20in%20Scotland.

Scottish FISH : http://www.rampantscotland.com/recipes/blrecipe_beer_battered_fish.htm

GARLIC : https://www.bbc.co.uk/food/wild_garlic

Wild MUSHROOMS : https://www.bbc.co.uk/food/wild_mushroom

NETTLES : https://thegrownetwork.com/stinging-nettle-recipes/

ROSE HIP SYRIP : https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blog/2019/07/raw-rosehip-syrup/

SALMON : https://theplateunknown.com/scottish-salmon/

STICKY WILLY : Curry : https://gowildgowest.co.uk/foraging-sticky-willy/           Tinctures : https://www.foragersfolly.co.uk/sticky-willy-cleavers/


There are various websites that can advise you of which those above are but a sample related to recipes. It is always advisable to gain a broad knowledge of how to approach foraging if you intend looking beyond brambles. 

RSPB : The local RSPB reserve hosts various events which include foraging. index.asp?pageid=715851   https://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves-and-events/reserves-a-z/loch-lomond/

EAT WEEDS website, blog and books. This is Robin Harford’s eatweeds foraging guide to the edible and medicinal wild plants of britain and ireland. https://www.eatweeds.co.uk/

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