Our foraging Update

You may remember that at the start of the year, the kids and I set ourselves the challenge of learning more about both foraging and identifying our native wild plants in general. The inspiration came from our favourite walk, and our aim is to be able to identify all the plants we see on it. You can read more about what inspired us here.

Out foraging

The Infant Thames

Last weekend I attended a foraging walk with ethnobotanist Robin Harford. The walk was a Christmas present from my brother, and along with about 10 other enthusiasts, I spent the morning with him in Oxford. The course promised to introduce us to identifying wild edible plants, as well as learning their stories, their nutritional values, and their folklore and history. And that's exactly what it did! Although I did of course take my camera with me, I didn't get it out once. I simply listened, and touched, and smelled and tried to absorb all the amazing knowledge that Robin holds in his head. It was a totally fascinating morning, and it felt completely immersive - I could happily follow him around for days, and actually felt quite deflated having to get back on the train and return home.


Water Mint, Mentha aquatica

Water Mint (Mentha aquatica)

So what did I learn? I learned that I need to be using all my senses in identifying plants, and not to simply rely on books. To feel each plant, to roll it around in my fingers and to smell it. To focus and take my time, giving my brain the opportunity to take in all the information, process it and allow it to retrieve the knowledge that it already holds.


young meadowsweet

Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)

I also learned that plants communicate and interact with each other, so you need to look at the bigger picture when foraging, and take in a plant's environment. Not only the obvious stuff like not foraging where every dog from the neighborhood pees, or next to a busy road, but also looking at the whole plant community, and whether it is thriving, or if there are poisonous plants present. Plants like us, are all individuals. So one patch may have a totally different taste from another, even when they are the same species. Likewise, we all may react differently to a plant - what suits one of us, may not another.


Cowslips (Primula veris)

Cowslips (Primula veris)

I learned that wild plants have huge nutritional benefits. For example, studies suggest that the humble stinging nettle boasts three times more iron than spinach, seven times more vitamin C than oranges, as much calcium as cheese and as much protein as some beans and chicken. It also claims some impressive medicinal properties, which frankly, makes you wonder why we aren't all eating it.


Exploring nature

It was also great to taste some wild edibles in a safe environment, Cow parsley, for example is something that I had never tried before, as I am always concerned over identification, and more importantly that the kids will copy me and get their identification wrong. Even plants that we know well, such as brambles turned out to be a surprise - did you know that their new stems are edible and have a coconut taste? Apparently they pickle well, which is something we will be trying.


peeling bramble stems

The knowledge that I gained on the foraging course has already made such a difference to how I approach wild plants. I am seeing the world around us far more clearly, amd we are taking small steps to introduce more wild food into our diet. We are trying one edible plant at a time, here it is Alliaria petiolata (Garlic Mustard, Hedge Garlic, Jack by the Hedge), which we have tried both raw and in a familiar meal.

Garlic Mustard

garlic mustard ready to cook

Chicken and rice with foraged garlic mustard

There are thousands of edible plants out there, and we are just taking our first tiny steps into the foraging world, but each plant that the kids and I learn to identify and use, feels like a step closer to both nature and our ancestral roots.

I would like to point out, as someone kindly did in the comments below, that foraging from the edge of agricultural land can result in picking plants that are contaminated with both the chemicals sprayed on crops, and pathogens from animals. Although our foraging walk crossed over this land, and I have included photos, we did not gather any edibles from these areas.

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  • Reply Maria

    Thanks for posting! I’ve been foraging a little this winter, but have plans to do more once the snow is gone. Looks like you’ve found a great way to get out and explore!

    February 22, 2017 at 3:12 pm
    • Reply Sarah - Craft Invaders

      It really is a great way to get out and looking at what’s around you isn’t it Maria, and the kids will try anything we pick which always amazes me as they can be really fussy about what is on their plate when it comes from the shops!

      February 23, 2017 at 12:25 pm
  • Reply Chelsea Louise Haden

    Last year, I was so proud to identify wild garlic and made pesto with it. I said that I wanted to learn lots more about foraging and I’ve found an excellent course nearby, to eventually enroll on to! It sounds like you’ve learnt loads and thanks for that valuable info. I’ve so many nettles in the garden, come spring (when the shoots are young and more tasty) I will be making soup with them. I never knew about their iron content!

    February 22, 2017 at 1:59 pm
    • Reply Sarah - Craft Invaders

      The course made such a difference to me Chelsea, I am so pleased I went on it. We’ve made a couple of nettle recipes on the blog – our favourite was trying it in fruit leather, the kids love it 🙂

      February 23, 2017 at 12:21 pm
  • Reply Monkey and Mouse

    This is so interesting! I’ve been on lots of plant ID courses and they are fab, but would love to go one to learn all about the edible plants, it sounds amazing! You’ve given me the perfect reason to start incorporating more foraged food into our meals, especially nettles! Thanks so much for linking up to #Whatevertheweather 🙂 x
    Monkey and Mouse recently posted…Dumyat: An Easy Hill Walk For KidsMy Profile

    May 17, 2016 at 10:20 am
    • Reply Sarah - Craft Invaders

      You would love it Jenny, it was fascinating. We’re sharing some nettle recipes this week which I’ll definitely link up x

      May 17, 2016 at 10:33 pm
      • Reply Jenny Eaves

        Ooh! Can’t wait! Loads of nettles at the allotment, so could do with some recipes. Looking forward to them. 🙂 x
        Jenny Eaves recently posted…Whatever The Weather #43My Profile

        May 17, 2016 at 10:56 pm
  • Reply Becky, Cuddle Fairy

    What a great skill to pass onto your children! This is forgotten largely by modern society & really this is something we should still be learning how to do! It’s very interesting that plants communicate & that you need to look at the full picture when foraging. Thanks so much for linking up with #BloggerClubUK
    Becky, Cuddle Fairy recently posted…How to Increase Domain AuthorityMy Profile

    May 16, 2016 at 4:10 pm
    • Reply Sarah - Craft Invaders

      Thanks for having us Becky. It is incredible how all this knowledge has been lost to so many of us over what must really be only a few generations.

      May 17, 2016 at 10:31 pm
  • Reply Nikki Frank-Hamilton

    I so love that I can come here and learn something new, each and every time. Nature is such an incredible thing, how things grow, where they grow, and how it can actually sustain us. I really look forward to hearing more on this subject. It’s so cool!

    BTW, what a great brother you have! The best gifts are the one’s that suit the recipient, and I’d say this was an extremely thoughtful present! One that will keep on giving!
    Nikki Frank-Hamilton recently posted…A Refreshing Spring Cocktail for the PatioMy Profile

    May 16, 2016 at 3:46 pm
    • Reply Sarah - Craft Invaders

      He is a lovely brother, and he’s great at thinking of presents 🙂 We are loving learning more about foraging, I am so pleased we can share it you xxx

      May 17, 2016 at 10:28 pm
  • Reply Chloe

    I love this so much!!! I’m glad you had such a great time. I want to get out again and learn more too. You definitely learn more from a person than a book. That’s incredible that nettle has all of those nutrients in. Why on earth are we not eating more of them? This is such a fascinating post. I can’t wait to see more of what you cook with your finds. Thank you so much for sharing with #whatevertheweather x
    Chloe recently posted…CURIOUS LITTLE EXPLORERS #17My Profile

    May 16, 2016 at 1:38 pm
    • Reply Sarah - Craft Invaders

      Thank you Chloe, I really did love my day out. It seems mad that we stopped eating them doesn’t it? We’re putting a couple of recipes made with nettles on the blog this week, that have gone down really well (probably because they are sweet). Thanks for having us xxx

      May 17, 2016 at 10:24 pm
  • Reply Lauren (The Helpful Hiker)

    I find this a really fascinating subject. A foraging course sounds like an amazing present! I’ve been mushroom picking with my parents in France but I was terrified of picking the wrong thing. Looking forward to hearing more about your foraging 🙂 #whatevertheweather

    May 15, 2016 at 3:48 pm
    • Reply Sarah - Craft Invaders

      Thanks Lauren, it really was a fascinating day and it has really help my approach and confidence with foraging 🙂

      May 17, 2016 at 10:20 pm
  • Reply Helena

    Thanks for sharing your insights with us. My husband and his side of the family know about foraging particularly mushrooms in France.
    Helena recently posted…Our Walk in Lyneham WiltshireMy Profile

    May 12, 2016 at 4:55 pm
    • Reply Sarah - Craft Invaders

      Mushrooms are a great thing to be able to identify, I’m hoping to take a course on them in the future 🙂

      May 14, 2016 at 8:53 am
  • Reply Erin @Nourishing My Scholar

    This is so wonderful! We went on an edible plant hike last summer with a Ranger and learned tons! These types of outings are so fantastic for both young and old. #whatevertheweather

    May 12, 2016 at 1:51 pm
  • Reply Michelle

    What a fun gift…we love giving experience gifts rather than actual things when possible.

    May 12, 2016 at 2:59 am
    • Reply Sarah - Craft Invaders

      Experiences are such great gifts – hoping to go on one for brother’s birthday next 🙂

      May 14, 2016 at 8:50 am
  • Reply Katy - Hot Pink Wellingtons

    Wow, this is such an interesting post – I’m amazed by the number of edible plants out there and I’m really impressed at how many you were able to identify. Lovely photos too! #WhatevertheWeather

    May 11, 2016 at 8:42 pm
    • Reply Sarah - Craft Invaders

      We’ve definitely caught the bug Lucy – I’m seeing wild food everywhere now 🙂

      May 14, 2016 at 8:49 am
  • Reply Gina

    Yes! This is so cool! I’m fascinated with foraging and really hope to do it someday. Right now I live in an urban area and shudder at the thought of foraging anything in town. Everything is either peed on by animals, people or sprayed with toxic chemicals. But, this is such a smart way to get food that I really want to take advantage of. Congrats on your new foraging knowledge!

    May 11, 2016 at 4:26 pm
    • Reply Sarah - Craft Invaders

      Thanks Gina. I hope you find you own little bit of wilderness to forage in soon 🙂

      May 14, 2016 at 8:49 am
  • Reply Sarah

    We mainly forage for mushrooms, not many about at the moment though. We have ramsons (wild garlic) in our freezer and also wood sorrel is good to eat. Sounds like a wonderful present. Sarah #whatevertheweather
    Sarah recently posted…My Wild Ones: River paddlingMy Profile

    May 11, 2016 at 4:07 pm
    • Reply Sarah - Craft Invaders

      Mushrooms is something I’m still not very confident about – must be great to be able to identify them 🙂

      May 14, 2016 at 8:48 am
  • Reply Debbie

    Hi Sarah, what a fab Christmas present. And not only having plants pointed out to you, but also being taught about them is great too.

    On our walks the group leader often points out edible plants and it’s not unusual to see the local foraging for what they call horta in the fields. I recently had wild asparagus pointed out to me, which is much more delicate than the stuff we buy in shops.There are also plenty of herbs growing will in the hills here, I love it when we walk through trails with thyme bushes, the smell is quite heady.

    My main concern would be proper identification, but I do know a bramble when I see one and every spring Dad clears a load out of his ditch. May plant the seed in Mums brain as she is an avid pickler.


    May 11, 2016 at 12:44 pm
    • Reply Sarah - Craft Invaders

      Your walks sound lovely. I googled Horta and it translates as wild greens so it sound like they pick and use a whole range of edibles 🙂

      May 14, 2016 at 8:47 am
  • Reply Lucy

    A lovely post, the walk sounds fab. I am pretty rubbish at identifying plants, but my husband is really into the outdoors and being self sustaining, so when our little one is a bit older hopefully he can teach us a thing or two! X

    May 11, 2016 at 12:23 pm
    • Reply Sarah - Craft Invaders

      Thanks Lucy, It’s a great thing to be able to learn with the kids – bet your hubby has loads of fun teaching you and the little one 🙂

      May 14, 2016 at 8:45 am
  • Reply Yvonne

    I have found this post incredibly interesting. What a great present and a wonderful thing to teach your children. I have heard this about nettles before but never tried it personally x

    May 9, 2016 at 9:37 pm
    • Reply Sarah - Craft Invaders

      I’m so pleased I went Yvonne, I think as Mums we don’t get many days out by ourselves – was quite weird to spend a day with just adults lol

      May 11, 2016 at 11:02 am
  • Reply Let kids be kids

    I am completely hopeless with identifying plants and therefore foraging, but I’d love to be able to. The course sounds fantastic and a great thing to teach children. #CountryKids
    Let kids be kids recently posted…Crafty craft race, NewburyMy Profile

    May 9, 2016 at 1:26 pm
    • Reply Sarah - Craft Invaders

      I think its definitely one of those things that once you’ve got the bug you get really in to it – it’s definitely opened my eyes to whats growing around us 🙂

      May 11, 2016 at 10:59 am
  • Reply Elizabeth

    Such a fantastic guided walk to attend! I would love to do something like that but I fear very little grows wild up here in Shetland to forage. A very informative post this, now I’m off to find some nettles!
    Elizabeth recently posted…Morning Glory MuffinsMy Profile

    May 9, 2016 at 6:42 am
    • Reply Sarah - Craft Invaders

      It would be interesting to know how many edible plants there are on Shetland – I guess the focus for you would be on the seashore 🙂

      May 11, 2016 at 10:58 am
  • Reply Rhian Westbury

    I never thought about goign foraging for edible plants. Sounds like you had an interesting trip x

    May 8, 2016 at 8:25 pm
    • Reply Sarah - Craft Invaders

      It’s really interesting Rhian and apparently there’s literally thousand of edible wild plants!

      May 11, 2016 at 10:55 am
  • Reply Sarah @theparentingtrials

    Wow what a fantastic day out you had… would love to do this. However I doubt that 1 I’d be brave enough as to know what I was picking and 2 my kids Wouldn’t eat it haha.

    May 8, 2016 at 5:56 pm
    • Reply Sarah - Craft Invaders

      I definitely feel more confident since I went on the course Sarah, but I now realise it will take years to be really proficient at foraging. Bizarrely my fussy kid will try everything we forage 🙂

      May 11, 2016 at 10:54 am
  • Reply Fiona Cambouropoulos

    Sarah this sounds like a course for me. How wonderful to be shown which plants you can eat and have their properties explained. Now we need some good nettle recipes I am totally sold on the health benefits from what you say. The farm is awash with wild garlic at the moment I’m using an bit where ever I can, I hope it has as much nutrition as stinging nettles. Thank you for sharing with me on #CountryKids
    Fiona Cambouropoulos recently posted…How to Grow Green Fingered KidsMy Profile

    May 7, 2016 at 6:37 pm
    • Reply Sarah - Craft Invaders

      It was a brilliant course Fiona, and I will definitely be taking more. I’m so envious of your wild garlic – it doesn’t grow well where I live. We are in the process of making our first batch of nettle cordial so I will share that with you all when its ready, it’s looking really promising 🙂

      May 11, 2016 at 10:51 am
  • Reply

    The idea of foraging doesn’t appeal to me as it’s too much like getting my hands dirty lol. It looks like a lovely place to go for a walk though. Glad that the kids seemed to enjoy it 🙂 recently posted…Bearded Backchat with Laura from Dear Bear and BeanyMy Profile

    May 7, 2016 at 12:27 pm
    • Reply Sarah - Craft Invaders

      Thanks Danny, I guess us all having different interests is what makes life fun 🙂

      May 11, 2016 at 10:48 am
  • Reply Milander

    I sincerly hope those plants you seem to be eating weren’t picked formthe same places you seem to be walking in. They, the plants, will be feeding off the water run off from the fields and as such will be full of very high levels of insecticides and pesticides. The sheep field is of particular worry as sheep faeces and urine is often contaminated with worms (their eggs at least) and other not friendly at all bacteria which, of course, the plants will pick up. All advice on the gathering of wild produce recommends highly against picking such items from worked field verges.

    May 6, 2016 at 11:38 pm
    • Reply Sarah - Craft Invaders

      Thanks for your comment Milander. No we didn’t gather anything from the field edges for exactly the reasons you have given. I will go back and edit my post to make that clear. Thanks for taking the time to warn us 🙂

      May 6, 2016 at 11:45 pm

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