Nature’s larder: five species to forage this autumn

Get your foraging basket out and make the most of our hedgerows' nut and berry bonanza.

Trees and hedgerows are sagging with ripe berries and nuts at this time of year. This is nature’s larder for birds and small mammals to gorge on; to bolster them for the lean winter months ahead. But we humans can benefit, too. A walk along the towpath with friends and a foraging basket at this time of year can reward you with a feast of wholesome treats. Just remember to leave plenty for the birds!

Sloes, Prunus spinosa

We’ve seen an early bumper harvest of sloes on blackthorn trees this year owing to the warm spring and heavy summer rain, but many foragers like to wait til after the first frosts of autumn to pick these inky jewels when they’re most ripe. So, how do you make the perfect sloe gin? Freeze the sloes overnight, half-fill a bottle with the fruit then top up with good quality gin. Leave for three months, then crack open and enjoy with an ice-cold tonic.

Elderberries, Sambucus

Did you know the name ‘elder’ derives from the Anglo Saxon word ‘weld’, meaning fire, owing to its flammable spongy pith? As well as its fire-starting properties, the elder wields a berry famed for keeping colds at bay. The dark purple berries and dark pink stalks are easy to identify, and once picked you can make them into a syrup – great drizzled over pancakes, or taken by the teaspoonful as an anti-cold remedy. Just don’t eat them raw as they're slightly toxic.

Rose hips, Rosa canina

Rose hips are the red and orange seed pods of rose plants commonly found in hedgerows and contain more Vitamin C than citrus fruits. As with elderberries, rosehips are renowned for helping stave off colds during the winter months, whether it be dried or as tea or made into a syrup, jam or jelly. Just make sure you remove the hairs surrounding the buds, which are a traditional ingredient in itching powder.  

Find out more about rose hips

Sweet chestnuts, Castanea sativa

Don’t confuse these with the inedible horse chestnuts (conkers), which have a thicker husk compared to the longer, sharper spikes of the sweet chestnut. You can either grind the nuts into flour or blitz them into a delicious soup, but what better way to enjoy them than simply roasted over an open fire, hot toddy in hand?

Hawthorn berries, Crataegus monogyna

Also known as haws, these little red berries found on the hawthorn tree are a firm favourite of blackbirds, finches and starlings but also go well in jams, jellies, vinegars, even ketchup. Haws are best picked late autumn (mid October to November) when they're as ripe as possible and should only be eaten cooked - they don't taste great raw. Did you know the word 'haw' is the Old English for 'hedge'?

Words: Abigail Whyte

Last date edited: 7 March 2016

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