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Food and drink: How to go foraging in Kent and what to look out for from elderflower to blackberries and wild garlic

By Angela Cole

From elderflower and blackberries, to crab apples and garlic, there’s a host of wild treats out there just waiting to be picked.

There are some nifty ways to boost the contents of your fridge and the freshness of your diet without hurting your bank account – you just need to know where to look. Grab a basket and go gathering with out guide to seven edible plants to look out for:

1. Elderflower

Buying bottled elderflower cordial can be pricey, but it’s pretty easy to make yourself. And in early summer hedgerows are overrun with frothy white sprigs of the flat, star-shaped flowers. Boil the flowers up with water, lemon wedges and citric acid, then leave to cool for a straightforward cordial recipe. There’s even a craze for deep frying the flowers in tempura, until crisp. Just make sure not to confuse elderflower with cow parsley...

Try making your own elderflower wine

Try making your own elderflower wine

2. Wild strawberries

With white flowers and red fruits, wild strawberries are almost identical to your usual pick-your-own, except they’re rounded and the external seeds are more knobbly. Find them in woodland, low to the ground, then eat with cream or, if you come across a bountiful crop, use in homemade jam.

3. Nettles

These pesky little weeds are everywhere and yes, they sting. However, rip them up, apply heat to the spiky leaves, and they lose their bite. Wilted in a pan with lots of butter they make a good alternative to spinach or kale. Brew some up for a cup of nettle tea, or stick with a classic, restorative nettle soup. Just wear gloves when collecting them.

Nettles

Nettles

4. Crab apple

Oddly, crab apples tend not to be grown for commercial fruit supply, but you’ll often find the trees used in street planting (the white blossom is a quick fix for smartening up grey urban areas), and they make great jelly – in fact, you can swap them like-for-like in any recipe that includes apples. Start collecting them in late August and September. Some are red, others a more yellow/orange. To see if they’re ripe, slice one open and if the pips are brown, it’s ready to eat.

5. Blackberries

From July to September, hedgerows and scrubland become jungly with brambles encrusted with tart blackberries. You’ll pay about £3 for a handful in supermarkets, but go for a walk with a couple of sandwich tubs, and you’ll easily come back with enough fruit for a crumble or two. Avoid picking berries from the branches nearest the ground, though, in case a dog has already marked them as its own...

Head out into the hedgerows for some blackberries

Head out into the hedgerows for some blackberries

6. Wild garlic

You’ll know when you’ve come across a patch of wild garlic because it’ll be springtime and you’ll smell it before you even see the crowds of delicate, drooping, bell-shaped white flowers, all swaying on skinny green stems. More subtle than your usual garlic bulbs from the supermarket, chop up the stems (like you would a spring onion) and chuck into any dish that needs a garlicky hit.

Do you have wild garlic in your garden

Do you have wild garlic in your garden?

7. Mushrooms

If you’ve seen Into The Wild, you’ll know that eating the wrong berry or leaf can be fatal, and when it comes to mushrooms, the chances of poisoning yourself are much higher than if you’re just snaffling elderflower sprigs. However, if you’re confident you know what species you’re looking for, it’s incredible what types of mushroom you can discover in British woodland, from ceps and giant puffballs to morels and bright orange birch boletes.

Stay clear of death cap (which looks like a field mushroom but has a bronze/green tinge to it), and your classic toadstools, which can cause hallucinations, sickness and death. To learn which mushrooms are edible, Fungi To Be With run mushroom foraging workshops. Check out wildfooduk.com for tips on identifying what you’re picking, too.

Read our feature on foraging 

HAVE SOME HELP

If you like rockpooling, fancy foraging on the beach?

Deal chef Lucia Stuart will be holding Midsummer Gladness on Saturday, August 5, between noon and 5pm.

The class will begin with a beautiful beach exploration searching for nutritious seaweed before a wild food beast is cooking up in a beach hut. To book go to thewildkitchen.net.

Try some foraging with the family

Try some foraging with the family

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