Nature’s bounty: foraging Wiltshire’s countryside

While enjoying a relaxing holiday in Wiltshire’s stunning countryside, when it comes to choosing your next meal, why not make a selection from nature’s unique bounty?

Foraging is a popular outdoor activity, and for its advocates, it is a great way to eat healthy, but also develop a better understanding of nature’s delicate balance. For foragers in Britain, the menu consists of a wide variety of mushrooms, greens, fruits, nuts, and even types of shellfish in coastal regions.

The county is the ideal location to take part in foraging. For novices, there are a number of local courses that can serve as an ideal day out whilst staying at a country holiday cottage in Wiltshire. Enjoying nature, and its bounty, are favourite pastimes of many visitors to the region.

“Here in Wiltshire we like to pride ourselves on our beautiful landscape,” the fine folks from Visit Wiltshire attest. “Wiltshire is home to three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty: the Cotswolds, the North Wessex Downs and Cranborne Chase, as well as a section of the New Forest National Park and, of course, there’s also the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site.

“With a variety of landscapes from chalk down lands to ancient woodland, Wiltshire is home to some special flora and fauna, including the snake’s head fritillary, the great bustard and some rare orchids,” they told Hideaways recently.

Springtime greens

As the temperatures get warmer, the new plant shoots and flowers of spring are great objects to forage. In this time of new growth, there are a number of salad leaves, wild vegetables and herbs to be found. Beyond that, there are also edible flowers and roots. These greens and plants – with a little ingenuity and flair – can be transformed into tasty salads, soups, sauces, desserts and other great dishes. They can also be used as ingredients in teas, beer and other alcoholic drinks.

According to Roger Phillips, an expert forager and author of Wild Food, there is a bounty of available plants ready for eating in the spring. One of his favourites is a British staple: watercress.

“A common plant of streams and waterways. Although [it is] sold commercially, collecting it yourself is always more fun. Watercress soup is my favourite,” he recently told The Telegraph.

- John Tann

Mushroom harvest

The woods in and around Wiltshire are full of a wide variety of edible mushrooms. Experts are in agreement that the best time to go mushroom picking is the autumn months. The forest provides a number of delicious mushrooms like puffballs, clouded agarics and honey fungus. According to Wild Food UK, there are as many as 15,000 types of wild mushrooms in the UK.

But, be wary, there are several poisonous varieties growing in wait for the uneducated. One particular species, the death cap contains a poison with no known antidote.

- Andrew

Fruit and nut gathering With the temperatures of summer to help them grow and ripen, nature’s harvest of fruit and nuts is usually ready by the autumn. There are many diverse ways we can use and preserve the sweeter objects of the wild food harvest. These include desserts, jams and jellies. They can be added to cheese, chutneys, and sauces as well. - Ben Salter

The education of wild food foraging

Wild food is a great resource, but it must be treated with respect. The best way to avoid sickness or worse is by going through proper foraging education. As a simple rule, one should not go out foraging for edible food without the help or consultation of an expert. There are several excellent books available that will help you sort the edible from the dangerous or inedible. Here is a comprehensive list of foraging books from Goodreads.

To remove most of the dangers, perhaps the safest way to forage in Wiltshire is by taking part in a foraging course. They can be a great way to enjoy a day outside, and will leave you with lasting and important information that you can take home with you.

For local courses in Wiltshire, Hedgerow Harvest offers courses in finding tasty and safe fungi. They offer a number of full-day foraging courses that include a nice walk collecting various wild foods whilst learning about their identification, preparation and uses. The course also includes an indoor education session that includes preparation, cooking and, of course, eating your own foraged three-course lunch.

They also offer a number of shorter foraging walks. Visit their website for more information.

Image Credit: Visit Wiltshire

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