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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

Late summer/early autumn is the best time to try foraging. Getting out in the fresh air and doing some exercise is great for your health and wellbeing. Throw some local foraging into 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.


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.


When: August, September

Elderberries (Sambucus Nigra)

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. However, please do not eat these raw as they contain toxins which can lead you to feeling quite ill.


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, which can also grow by the water's edge. Try adding a couple of flower heads of meadowsweet and a drop of honey to a cup of hot water for your own herbal brew.


When: September

Apples growing on a tree

Many an apple tree can be found along our towpaths. New varieties appear 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 to enjoy the many apple trees that we have planted along the way.


When: July, August


Often associated with old lock cottages, Damsons grow in back gardens or wild in hedges. They 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 greengage, with its green outer skin and yellow inner flesh.


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.


When: spring through to autumn


This was introduced and is 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 add a hot flavour to your sauces.


When: late August, September

Hazelnuts on a branch

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.


When: May, June, July


Both the leaves and the flowers of the dandelion plant are edible. 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 where herbicide might be used
  • Try a small amount of the plant before you cook with it, to check your tolerance
  • Pick with care and try not to trample on other local forage

Last Edited: 16 September 2022

photo of a location on the canals
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