Written by Robin Harford
Foraging is a fascinating skill that both deepens our relationship to nature and empowers our health. This article shares some interesting plants you can forage here in the UK in October.
Foraging is a wonderful way to connect both with nature, and nourish our health. A useful link with images that can help with identification as well as botanical information is Wild Flower Finder. Here Robin Harford shares some edible plants you can safely harvest from the wild in October.
Please note: Under Section 13 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, uprooting any wild plant without landowners’ permission is illegal.
Burdock (Arctium spp.)
Burdock has largely fallen out of use as a vegetable in Western cuisine, but the root remains popular in Japan and China.
There are two species found in the UK. Greater Burdock (Arctium lappa) and Lesser Burdock (Arctium minus).
You can use both in the same way as the Japanese varieties, which are called, Gobo.
Burdock is one of the ingredients of tekka, a miso-based condiment. The roots of the plant can be pickled for storage and later used in cooking. The roots are also roasted to make burdock coffee or pounded to make pancakes.
It’s often sold for a hefty price, but it is a common weed you can pick for free.
Crab apple (Malus sylvestris)
At this time of year, people walk past delicious wild apple trees laden with delicious fruit.
From the traditional Crab Apple with its pectin-rich sharpness to ultra sweet varieties whose specific names have long been forgotten.
Despite its sour taste, Crab Apple has made a surprising contribution to apple cookery. Many find Crab Apple jelly or Crab Apple wine pleasing, and a couple of crab apples in an apple tart can improve its flavour.
The fruit, which is relatively high in pectin, is also added to ensure jams and jellies set. It is particularly helpful for jams made with low pectin fruit.
Crab Apple makes pleasant fruit cheeses mixed with blackberries or other fruits. Fruit cheeses are like stiff jelly that can be cut into slices and eaten with roast duck, goose or game.
It is recommended to pickle crab apples in spiced vinegar and serve with pork. Other uses for these sour fruit are for making syrup, apple butter, spiced apples and wine.
Pine (Pinus spp.)
While the idea of walking past a tree in a park or woodland and stopping to snack on its young shoots, twigs, fruits or flowers may seem too strange to us today, such behaviour was once perfectly acceptable.
In Estonia, between the 18th–21st century, pine provided snacks for foragers (2).
Pine seeds are rich in lipids and sugars and make a nutritious, energetic snack (3). The tiny nuts, which are actually seeds, can be twisted off the cone, the winged casing removed and eaten on the go.
Wild food plants provided a valuable source of famine food in times of scarcity, such as in Poland, where pine needles were dried and ground for flour until around the 19th–20th centuries (4).
In Lapland, Norway and Scandinavia, the inner bark has been used to make bark bread (5). In Sweden, pine bark was collected from forests, kiln-dried and ground into flour. Then, people mixed it with oatmeal to make thin, dry cakes. The Laplanders were said to be fond of the inner bark when boiled as a broth (6).
Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus)
Note: In some countries, Guelder Rose fruits were frozen and then defrosted before eating. However, it is not advisable to eat Guelder Rose fruits raw and for safety, please only use cooked fruits.
In northern Europe, such as Norway and Sweden, the Guelder Rose is used to flavour a paste of honey and flour (7).
In Estonia, the fruits have been eaten as a snack and used in baking bread, added to porridge, soup and pies, made into jams, syrups, desserts or juices, and used as an additive in vodka.
Guelder Rose fruits were also used as a filling for root cake (kaapekakk), a traditional bread made from the bread pan of the previous bread and kept, which was used in the new bread dough to make it leaven better (2).
In Russia, the fruits were eaten fresh after freezing and again used cooked in porridge, for baking, making jams, jellies and marmalade, as well as for pastes, vinegar, mousse, pie fillings and as a condiment to meat.
The fruits were also used as a substitute for tea or roasted as a substitute for coffee. However, the traditional food use of guelder berries has declined in Russia, write Shikov and team (2017), partly because of the bitter, astringent taste of the berries (8). Viburnum opulus is also known as Cramp Bark as the bark is used to support menstrual cramps.
Silverweed (Potentilla anserina)
The roots are small, up to 3 cm in length, and are a good source of starch.
The starchy bulbous roots are small, up to 3 cm in length, and are best collected once the leaves have died back and turned brown. This is usually from September and until the beginning of Spring. Harvest too early and they might be tough and fibrous.
The roots are good grated raw into salads, baked, pureed and pickled. Traditionally they have been dried and ground into a gluten-free flour (9).
People grew Silverweed roots in pre-industrial days in Scotland as a famine crop (10).
Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata)
Garlic Mustard roots are long and thin. They look like little carrots or daikon radish, and have a spicy sweetness. They can be used raw or cooked.
New leaf growth also appears at this time of year. And can be used chopped into a salad or cooked as a vegetable. The Autumn growth is a bit more fibrous than its Spring counterpart.
- Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Accessed September 14, 2022. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1981/69/section/13
- Sõukand R, Kalle R. Changes in the Use of Wild Food Plants in Estonia: 18th-21st Century. 1st ed. 2016. Springer; 2016. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-33949-8
- Lentini F, Venza F. Wild Food Plants of Popular Use in Sicily. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2007;3:15. doi:10.1186/1746-4269-3-15
- Luczaj L, Szymanski WM. Wild Vascular Plants Gathered for Consumption in the Polish Countryside: A Review. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine. 2007;3(1):17. doi:10.1186/1746-4269-3-17
- Couplan F. The Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America. Keats Pub; 1998.
- Sturtevant AH. Sturtevant’s Edible Plants of the World. (Hedrick UP, ed.). Dover Publications; 1972.
- Facciola S. Cornucopia II: A Source Book of Edible Plants. Kampong Publications; 1998.
- Shikov AN, Tsitsilin AN, Pozharitskaya ON, Makarov VG, Heinrich M. Traditional and Current Food Use of Wild Plants Listed in the Russian Pharmacopoeia. Front Pharmacol. 2017;8:841. doi:10.3389/fphar.2017.00841
- Fleischhauer SG, Spiegelberger R, Guthmann J. Enzyklopädie Essbare Wildpflanzen: 2000 Pflanzen Mitteleuropas ; Bestimmung, Sammeltipps, Inhaltsstoffe, Heilwirkung, Verwendung in Der Küche. AT-Verl; 2014.
- Harrison M. Wild Food Mentor. Eatweeds Press; 2010.