The summer months are exciting times for the avid forager. July and August herald the fruit picking season, and fields are full of fresh, fragrant berries that look simply delicious.
What to pick?
Look out for wild strawberries (Fragaria vesca). Their tiny little fruits are produced on low growing plants. Easy to identify, they look exactly like their larger cultivated counterparts. It is a similar tale with the wild raspberries (Rubus idaeus) which are rampant in various areas of Scotland. Both fruits contain a deep, rich flavour which simply cannot be matched by shop bought varieties.
The familiar and prolific blackberry (Rubus fruticosus) – protected by its thorny stems – can be seen in hedgerows and scrubland everywhere. They may be difficult to pick, but the deep purple black fruit at the top of the bunch is definitely the ripest and sweetest by far. Bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) are another delight with their rich breadth of flavour. They can be found on heathland and moorland areas. The tradition is to begin picking bilberries on the last Sunday in July or first Sunday in August depending on where you live.
Mid to late August will then see the ripening of crab apples (Malus sylvestris), rowan berries (Sorbus aucuparia) and elder berries (Sambucus nigra). Ensure all the fruit is fully ripe before picking, particularly elder berries. Never pick the hard green or red fruit, instead, always look out for those with a deep black colour. Crab apples – descendants of today’s domestic varieties – may turn different colours when ready, typically red or yellow. Another way to tell when they are ripe enough is to cut open a fruit and check that the seed is brown in colour.
Flora and fauna
The ubiquitous dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) can be found everywhere during the summer months, exhibiting a mixture of bright yellow flowers and silvery ephemeral globes called ‘clocks’, which contain the seed.
Top tip: Make tea out of the leaves and flowers if you can’t bear its bitterness. Or, consider dry roasting the root to make a coffee substitute.
Daisies (Bellis perennis), like the dandelion, favour lawns and their lemon flavoured leaves are great for salads. They have a long flowering season and don’t mind being mown. Their spoon shaped leaves lie in flat rosettes and largely miss the mower blades. Other flowers available now include the bright yellow gorse, various species of which can be found nearly all year round.
Chickweed (Stellaria media) will also be coming up at this time of year. Its bright green mat of lush leaves and tiny white flowers are a favourite for salads, because of their mild flavour and delicate appearance. If you can’t find any it’s worth buying the wild seed and sowing them in your garden.
Ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria) and stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) will still be available, too. When foraging for these, be sure to pick the young leaves and growing tips rather than the tough, older foliage. To ensure a plentiful supply, keep cutting the plants down to the ground once a month, throughout the year. They will emerge time and again, probably until the first hard frosts arrive. Both plants can be used as a spinach substitute.
Other edible leaves at this time of year include the mucilaginous common mallow (Malva sylvestris), the tart-flavoured leaves of common sorrel (Rumex acetosa) and the rather pungent ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare). If you can find them, the succulent leaves of pennywort (Umbilicus rupestris) and the salty marsh samphire (Salicornia europaea) are a real treat.
While, if you live in the south you may be lucky enough to find ripe hazelnuts in August. But be quick to pick them, because the squirrels are often one step ahead!
Words: Amanda Scott.
Amanda is an active vegan and author. Her second book, ‘The Best Edible Wild Plants in Britain’ is a guide to the best foraging techniques, and which plants to look for – click here to buy a copy.