I recently stayed on the East coast of Corfu (Greece) for a week, and whilst the intention was to have a week of complete relaxation, I don’t think it’s possible for a forager to ignore plants, ever.

Anyway, I was pleased to see so many plants that I recognised from foraging in the UK, but there were also plenty that I wouldn’t have a clue about – that’s where some local knowledge would help if I intended to stay there and forage!

Quite often on foraging walks, we get onto the subject of lost knowledge, and how in other parts of the world (including some of mainland Europe) they don’t have “foraging” because gathering wild edible plants is just part of life. However, whilst it was encouraging to see some evidence of wild food gathering, it was also clear that the practice is beginning to die out in Corfu too.

Horta forager

In Greece, they have a dish called “horta” which just means greens and will probably have different contents from one restaurant to another. It can include dandelion leaves, amaranths, mustards and chicory. Interestingly, the Greek for vegetarian is hortafagos which translates as “weed-eater”. Anyway, it was encouraging to see that you can still buy horta, gathered by a local forager, from the markets.

Horta in the market

Slightly less encouraging was the amount of perfectly good olives, grapes, prickly pears and other edibles rotting on the plants, or on the floor beneath them.

Edible plants in common with the UK

So what can you recognise their from your foraging here? I’m sure that there is plenty more, but this forager saw:

Large Birch Polypore

Introduction to a foraging definition

I wanted to post something along the lines of a definition of foraging and what it means to me, but I am in no way an absolute authority, hence it’s more of a discussion point rather than a hard and fast definition. This is what it means to me, but I’d love to hear from readers about their opinions.

Why made me think of this

The incident that spurred this, was a night in with my wife, watching an old favourite film on the TV – Crocodile Dundee. Early on in the film, Sue is in the bush with Mick Dundee and he’s prepared a spread of “bush tucker” for her to eat. This spread included fire-roasted goanna, yams, witchety-grubs, fire ants. etc.

Crocodile Dundee

Sue says to Mick “What about you. Aren’t you having any?”

Mick replies “Me?” and gets a tin out of his bag.

“Well, you can live on it, but it tastes like shit.”


That had me thinking that there’s actually two types of food foraging:

  1. Foraging for survival.
  2. Foraging for everyday consumption.
Witchety grub
Crow garlic chicken dinner

Where foraging for survival is all about calorie intake regardless of flavour/texture/palatability; and foraging for consumption is about finding wild food which is pleasant on it’s own, or which adds to the palatability of everyday meals/snacks.

Foraging for survival might include such things as cat-tails rhizomes and silverweed roots for carbs/calories, ground elder, nettles, etc for teas and their nutrients.

Foraging for everyday might include things such as blackberries, raspberries, red-currants, hazelnuts, wild garlic and so on for their flavours.

Other considerations

You could possibly include a third option of “Foraging for the study of Ethnobotany” to the foraging definition, where Ethnobotany is the study of the human usage of plants. However, I would class this is something that sits alongside the other two options.

And this article doesn’t even go into foraging for medicinal wild plants (which I am also doing).


Which category an item fits into, can be entirely down to who is doing the eating. For example, you may find the suggestion of eating woodlice completely distasteful and categorise them as survival food; on the other hand, you may enjoy their shellfish-like taste as part of a rice, potato, or bread-based dish, in which case they fit into the other category.

Whilst it’s not really possible to look at one category without the other in this foraging definition, my main area of focus is foraging for everyday consumption. So, along the way I’m also discovering survival foods, and understanding certain aspects of Ethnobotany.

I’m finding that as I learn more about plants and trees, it’s becoming increasingly useful to understand some of the botanical words and phrases that are used. Not just the Latin names (which are helpful sometimes), but also the parts of plants. So the long long white things with yellow things on the end, become the white Filaments with yellow Anthers.

Parts of a flower diagram

It seems to make it much easier to make myself understood, but also it helps me when I’m looking into a plant or tree, and I find myself reading some of the more scientific resources that you find on the web.

Parts of a Flower

When it comes to the parts of a flower, I knew what stems and petals were; And I think I vaguely remember the terms stigma and stamen from school (although I wasn’t sure what they were). When the term “Sepal” came up, I have no idea, and yet it is the simplest thing. When a green flower bud opens up, and the cover becomes small leaves that often support the petals.. They are the Sepals!

The Stamen is the “male” part of the flower, which consists of a Filament, with an Anther on top. The Anthers are where the pollen forms to be spread by wind, insect or bird.

The Carpel is the “female” part of the flower, which consists of the Stigma, which receives the pollen, the Style which transfers the pollen to the Ovary, and the Ovary which is where the magic happens. This is complicated slightly, as some flowers have multiple Carpels, which can be referred to as a Pistil. When there only one Carpel, the term Pistil can also be used.

More information…

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Some of you already know how I feel about litter in our beautiful countryside, so this litter rant won’t come as too much of a surprise to you. I went out for a quick walk in the Lee Valley Park this lunchtime and the litter was appalling.

It was only a short walk, out and back; So on the way out I saw all the litter and when I turned around I decided I’d do something about it. As I’ve said in the past, the new addition to my kit is a bin bag, so out it came.

Within twenty minutes, my bag was half full. Discarded gloves, cans, bottles, crisp packets, energy bar wrappers, and finally… Bags of dog mess! Really? You can be bothered putting it in a bag, but you can’t be bothered taking it to one of the many bins provided? Also, all of this was collected from within a foot of the path; I didn’t even have to stray very far for any of this.

Litter rant. Collected from a 20 minute walk in the Lee Valley

I spoke to a Lee Valley ranger who happened to be in the car park, and apparently they have considered litter bins; But unfortunately this leads to overflowing bins which they can’t keep up with.

Litter rant proposal

My proposal would be that if everyone who visits collects 2 pieces of litter while they’re there, it’ll soon all be under control. What do you think?

Whilst the London Plane tree is of no use when foraging for food and drink; And as far as I’m aware, not especially useful for bushcraft; given that it accounts for probably half of the large trees in London, I think it’s worth being able to identify, if only for the purpose of elimination. Environmentally speaking, they are very useful as they grow very tall and have a natural ability to absorb pollution from the air (no wonder they’re planted so much in London!)

I was in Island Gardens when I found myself surrounded by them. Apparently Berkeley Square is also a good place to see them.

London Plane trees and Island Gardens

London Plane Identification

Luckily, it is one that is pretty easy to identify, even in winter. The bark is the thing that stands out the most, being a sort of urban camouflage. It is a smooth, but flaky bark, with the flaky scales often being coloured mottled green, brown, olive and grey. When the tree gets older, the lower parts of the trunk can appear more fissured/grooved, but the usual pattern will continue higher up.

London Plane Tree Mottled Bark
Older London Plane Tree Bark

As well as the bark, the fruit often remain on the tree through to spring, and they are small, spiky balls of 2 to 3 cm diameter.

London Plane fruit in winter
Please note: This article was originally posted on www.totallywilduk.co.uk

Identifying trees in Winter is hard. It isn’t too bad in Spring, Summer and Autumn; But during the winter, when there are no leaves, flowers or fruits on show, it’s pretty awful.

Winter Trees

Why trees? What has that got to do with foraging?

The obvious reason is that some have edible parts. The fruit of Sweet Chestnut, Acorns (after processing), and Apples for example. But there’s a secondary reason too. Trees can point toward other edible resources. For example, Cattails (or Greater Reed Mace) grow in water and are available all year round as a food source. Willow and Alder trees also like to grow near water. So, if you can spot weeping willow and/or alder trees in winter, there may be Cattails nearby too.

Willow and Reedmace

So what about when there are no leaves, flowers or fruit to help me?

Honestly, part of me doesn’t really care that much (I know, you’re horrified, right?) But seriously, unless I’m in a survival situation, they’re no use to me in the Winter, and I can always come back later and identify them when it’s easier. That said, maybe you’re out and about and you want to know whether it’s worth coming back in the productive seasons. So, here are a few things that can help.

Apps and Books to use

I have the “British Trees” app from the Woodland Trust, and that’s quite good. I also use the Collins Gem “Trees” book; Mostly because it’s small and easy to carry around. There are many other tree reference books that you could refer to at home when returning with lots of pictures.

Parts of a tree that can help in identification

That’ll be all the parts you can see, and sometimes, where the tree is. Including: bark, general shape/outline, twigs, leaf buds (which are present throughout Autumn and Winter, not just in Spring), any remaining fruit and/or seeds/cones, any remaining leaves/needles, and any remaining flowers (some catkins remain through the winter). Also, don’t forget to look down; There could be leaf litter and other evidence on the floor around the tree.

Hazelnut Litter

Leaves or not?

Probably the most obvious place to start would be whether it has leaves through the winter or not. If it does, then you have leaf shapes to look at too, such as the needle-like leaves of conifers, or the spiky, shiny leaves of holly for example.

Holly Leaves


The location of a tree can be helpful in identification. As I mentioned before, certain trees like to be in wet, marshy ground; Or Scots pine, for example tends to be found in poor soil, rocky areas, and generally where other trees don’t like to grow.

Alder tree with its “feet” in the river


The shape of a tree from a distance can also give you a starting point. If your tree is in the middle of a forest, this isn’t so easy, but if you can see the whole thing you may be able to begin with trees that grow tall and thin, or short and wide, warped and twisted, etc.

White Poplar


The bark of a tree is there year-round and can be a key identifier. Birches with their white, peel-able bark, cherries and plums with their shiny, red-ish bark with horizontal lenticels, poplar with their creepy, eye-like markings, and so on.

Cherry Bark


Twigs can be hairy or hairless, slightly different colours, with or without glands, fine and delicate or more substantial, and the arrangement of buds on the twigs can be useful too.

Birch twig

Leaf buds

Contrary to popular belief, the leaf buds on trees are generally there throughout winter and are quite different between tree species. For example, Beech buds are long (up to 2 cm), slender, very pointed, red-ish brown, with obvious scales; Oak are shorter, egg-shaped, orange brown, and form in clusters at the shoot tips.

Beech Buds

Other features

Some trees have other features which you can look out for too. For example, common alder cones tend to remain on the tree into the next season; Common hawthorn has short, sharp thorns throughout; blackthorn has long, vicious-looking thorns throughout and so on.

Blackthorn Spines


I hope you’ve found this helpful. It’s not meant to be a guide to identification, just a few pointers to help you get started. Happy tree hunting!

I had a couple of hours spare so I thought I’d go foraging the edges of Epping Forest in Winter (late January to be precise).

Wildlife Seen

Not much to see today, but then it is absolutely freezing. The wildlife clearly has more sense than me! However, I did see a lot of Redwings on the village green, which was quite nice and not a bird that I was familiar with. I also didn’t have my camera handy, so this picture is courtesy of the RSPB website (www.rspb.org.uk).


Trees Identified

Now this is something I’ve been trying to work on, identifying trees (especially deciduous trees in the winter). Silver Birch are pretty easy and straight forward any time of year, Elder is also fairly easy for me as I have one in the garden. Oak is quite easy, especially with all the Oak leaf litter around it. New to me was Hornbeam. Similar to Beech, but it has papery, winged fruits called ‘samara’ which contain the nuts/seeds, which in winter, hang down like brown papery decorations. Also plentiful out in Epping Forest is the good old Beech tree. Obviously, there are plenty more, but there’s only so much I can take in in one day.

Foraging for Free Food

Onto the key part of the day’s activities. Well, the sap isn’t up in the Birches yet, so they weren’t much use; the Elder is bare and didn’t even have any Jew’s Ears fungus either, however, the nuts from the Hornbeam Samara are edible, and there were still plenty of Beech nuts around too (although this is probably the last that they’ll be any good for eating).

Hornbeam Samara

The Hornbeam nuts are rock hard and tiny, so probably not much use except in dire circumstances, and with Beech nuts around, why would you bother? The Beech nuts are lovely. Opinions vary, but I think that they taste like Almonds. The Beech cast is the spiky part, inside that are the three-sided nut pods, however, the nut itself is inside that pod, so break them open first (yes, I have tried to eat the whole pod before, and while it still tastes nice, it’s a bit spiky!)

Beech Nuts and their masts
‘Bare’ Beech nuts, ready to eat

Once prepared, the Beech nuts look a little like pine nuts (in my opinion) which got me to thinking that they could probably make a nice alternative in a wild pesto (using nettles, or wild garlic to replace the basil).

Finally, on my way home I came across some crab apples. They were the last on the tree and well past their best, however, the recent frosts had managed to get rid of some of the bitterness.

Crab Apples

So, in general, the Beech nuts were the only thing worth having on this trip, but I’ve learnt quite a lot too.

Kit I Take When Foraging for Free Food

I was thinking about a new addition to my foraging gear/foraging pack, and I thought it might be worth sharing the rest too.

Of course, when I say my standard foraging pack, I mean my standard walking pack. After all, you wouldn’t want to come across a bumper patch of something special but not be able to take advantage of it, would you?

  • Small rucksack.
    Obviously you need something to carry your bits and pieces, and I prefer to not have my pockets stuffed full.
  • Camera/Mobile Phone.
    This is a personal choice. We all know how good the cameras are on mobile phones nowadays. However, I prefer to have a small digital camera, with optical zoom so I can catch wildlife in the distance without losing the quality that digital zoom does. I have my phone too, which I also find pretty invaluable with its identification apps.
  • Knife.
    I like to think that a clean cut will do a plant less damage than a tear, so even if I don’t have my bushcraft knife with me, I always have my little multi-tool knife (sharpened).
  • Bags.
    A few old carrier bags in my rucksack means that I can collect various things and keep them all separate in my rucksack. Ziploc bags might be better, but carrier bags are always lying around. I also appreciate that bags aren’t ideal for some mushrooms etc.; I’ve found that as long as you can open the bags in the boot of the car, or get them home within an hour or two, then it’s usually fine.
  • Walking stick/branch puller.
    I have a favourite walking pole, which has a 90 degree handle on it. Not only for walking, but the extendable nature and the handle makes an excellent puller for those goodies just out of reach.
  • Water bottle and/or flask.
    I always have a full water bottle as it’s easy to start getting dehydrated when you’re out for a few hours (even in the wind
  • Blanket.
    This one’s purely for comfort. If I want to sit down for a minute or two with my flask, and I’m not wearing waterproofs, the blanket is quite handy for keeping my dry and warm. Of course it would be handy in an emergency too.

New Items

  • And the newest item for my foraging pack, an extra bag, or bin-bag.
    Much though I hate the thought of picking up other people’s rubbish; I find that I hate the thought of leaving it behind even more.
Foraging pack

Other bits

There’s also a handful of bits and pieces I take that I would class as foraging gear; That’s just stuff I’d have on any walk. It includes: Tissues, hand wash gel, pain killers, plasters, dressing and bandage, whistle, and compass.

I’d be interested to hear if anyone has anything different in their foraging pack?

Where to forage

Berries, fruit, leaves, seeds, nuts etc.

When I think about where to forage from, for such things as berries, fruit, leaves, seeds, nuts and anything else that doesn’t involve taking a whole plant, I take from anywhere apart from private property, unless I have permission to take from the private property. EXCEPT, and this is quite important; I don’t collect from busy roadsides or anywhere where pollution may be possible. Plants will absorb a lot of pollutants and toxins, and if you eat them, you absorb the baddies too.

Whole plants (including roots and tubers, etc.)

When it comes to whole plants, there’s the law and also a little common sense too. By law (at the time of writing), you are not allowed to remove whole plants (so roots etc can’t be taken) without the landowners permission. That much is obvious when you’re talking about private property, but what about public parks and woodland etc? Well that’s not always simple. Contrary to popular belief, sometimes they are privately owned but with public access granted. In any case, you have to use your common sense. If you’re stopping to get one pignut in a big field, I’m pretty sure no-one will care; If you find a massive patch of crow garlic, it’s probably OK to take a few bulbs for your own use; But if there’s only one or two of what you want, it’s not just that you’re taking without permission, you’re also damaging the environment. Those plants may not grow back.

Most of all, it’s about common sense. Does your choice make sense when it comes to protecting the environment? Does it make sense when staying on the right side of the law? Are you really going to make use of all of that?

Soon to come, my first video entry; I’ll be digging up some crow garlic (with permission of course).