Summer foraging guide

Foraging along our canals and rivers is a wonderful way to add a sense of adventure to your day. This simple pastime connects us to nature, our local surroundings and generations that have foraged before us.

Photo of blackberries Blackberries in a basket

Summer is the best time to try foraging. We know that getting out in the fresh air and having some exercise is great for your health and wellbeing. Throw in some local foraging to the mix and you could be enjoying a berry smoothie at the end of the day to celebrate.

We asked our senior ecologist, Paul Wilkinson what we could forage for along our rivers and canals over summertime.

Blackberries

When: August, September

Blackberries courtesy of Phil Long on flickr

There is nothing quite so satisfying as standing on the very tips of your toes and reaching for the highest, plumpest blackberry and carefully teasing it off the bush without squashing it. Super as an ice-cream sauce, in crumbles, smoothies or freshly picked.

Elderberries 

When: August, September

Packed full of vitamins, ripe elderberries are great for making juices. Boiled up with sugar and water, Elderberry Syrup has been hailed as a natural remedy through the ages to treat coughs, colds and flu.

Meadowsweet

When: June, July, August

Often found in wet or damp habitats, this lovely plant can be used to add flavour to jams, sauces and beverages. Don't mistake it for Water Dropwort that can also grow by the waters edge. Try add a couple of the flower heads of Meadowsweet to a cup of hot water and a drop of honey for your own herbal brew.

Apples

When: September

Many an apple tree can be found along our towpaths bearing new variety apples from discarded cores because apples don't grow to the original variety of their seeds. Walk along the Great Canal Orchard between Birmingham and Wolverhampton and enjoy the many apple trees that we have planted along the way.

Damsons

When: July, August

Often associated with old lock cottages, Damsons grow in back gardens or wild in hedges and provide fantastic fruit for both eating on the spot or in jams, preserves, or summer fruit juice drinks. If you’re really lucky, you can occasionally find the closely related green gage with its green outer skin and yellow inner flesh.

Watermint

When: June, July, August

Watermint grows in and alongside canals and can be used like any other mint. It has a pleasant taste and the fragrance is fantastic for attracting pollinators. Pop some of the leaves in boiling water for some delicious herbal mint tea.

Horseradish

When: spring through to autumn

This was introduced and now very firmly established along many of our canals. The leaves are tall and lush green and have a sharp taste, but dig up the root to enjoy a hot flavour to your sauces.

Hazelnuts

When: late August, September

Hazelnuts will be ripening towards the end of August, but you will be in close competition with your local squirrels to find and eat these delicious nuts so haste is of the essence.

Dandelions

When: May, June, July

Both the leaves and the flowers of the dandelion plant are edible and children especially find it very exciting to give them a try once they know they can eat them. They do taste quite bitter and become more so as the summer draws on. Dig up the roots and grind them up to make a coffee substitute.

Foraging top tips

  • Never pick anything that you can't identify
  • Be mindful not to take more than you can eat
  • Wash your plants before you eat them
  • Don't pick anything by the roadside or close to herbicide use
  • Try a small amount of the plant before you cook with it to check your tolerance
  • Pick with care, try not to trample on other local foragers

Last date edited: 24 June 2019