Concealed among the hedgerows and undergrowth of the British countryside is a rich variety of edible plants.
Marcus Harrison runs Wild Food School courses in Cornwall to teach people that there is much more out there than blackberries and nettles. The key is knowing where to look, what is palatable and what to avoid.
Pictures and interview by Dominic Bailey
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My family, which consists of two children (aged 9 & 12) spent 2 hours blackberry picking last weekend and had a glorious time out in the country in warm, sunny weather. We managed to pick 3kg of blackberries and not once did my children complain that they could have been playing computer games. It was such a success that we will repeat the experience and have recommended it to my family and friends. The big bonus is that it's free. Sally, Norwich, UK
Healthy, low fat, organic food for free, complete with gentle exercise in finding it!
Ah, sometimes we should look back in order to move forward. Right, lets go and get some sloes for that gin. Alex Kettle, Sandy, Beds
Advice - do not strip plants bare. Always leave something for the next human visitor and all the wildlife that depends on the "free food". Allow the plant enough to keep growing. Jonathan, London, UK
It always amuses me that people pay £2.99 in the supermarket for a 150g punnet of blackberries. I live in the suburbs of Leeds and there is waste ground near me. This year, in a 1 hour picking session I picked 2kg (4.5lbs) blackberries. There were loads of blackberries but I couldn't fit any more in the freezer! Lots of ice cream and crumbles - yummy! Miriam, Leeds
I think this is a wonderful idea. There is so much wild food out there with great flavours. My husband is always nibbling on leaves and fruits when out walking. People should always be sure, though, that what they are eating is not harmful. If unsure, don't touch it. Diana D, Portsmouth, UK
Wonderful, thank you.
Having just been in a guided mushroom picking for the 1st time, to find this has been of great inspiration. Marilia Angove, Cardiff - Wales
Excellent. It would be nice if more of this practical advice was available. Maybe some referencing of books for the purpose of identifying edible UK plants. Not that impractical Ray Mears 'entertainment'- Surviving in Africa or the Arctic, or such. I personally cannot afford a class or course to learn this and cannot find a useful book via shopping or 'Googleing' Antony Franklin, Liverpool, England
A few of Ray Mear's programs have actually dealt with foraging. One episode of his Bushcraft series deals exclusively with the UK, and covers a number of 'free foods', including shellfish, fruit, salad leaves.
The two best books I have seen on the subject are -Food for Free by Richard Mabey -Wild Food by Roger Phillips They might be a bit hard to get hold of, but are worth searching for. There are recipes too.
Today organic foods are fashionable - so much that they are more expensive than non-organic versions of the food! I'm sure that foods growing in hedgerows etc. have never seen fertilizer or pesticides. Surely this is a way of getting free organic fruit and vegetables! Simon Richards, Barnt Green Worcestershire.
Please, please be careful when picking fungi. Learn how to spot the Death Cap and Destroying Angel, both of which are pretty rare but look very like mushrooms. They are deadly and there is no antidote. Be particularly careful in woodland. David Bean, Ripon
When i was younger i used to go wild black berry picking down our local woods, we knew where the best brambles were. and used to come back with several containers full of brambles. I went down our local woods again this year and all the little paths we used to walk along are now massivly over grown. it seems to me that im probbly last of a generation who would forage for food. Andrew Giggal, Chesterfield
I love hedgerow food, and have made loads of bramble and apple jelly this year - delicious. But you must be careful when you choose your picking spot. Find somewhere a field or two away from a road and also any fields that have recently been sprayed (if you can). My son (18) also forages, but he just eats it on the spot rather than preserving it. But no, it's not a lost skill. Sandy, Derby, UK
Blackberries, Crab apples, Hawthorn berries, Rosehips & last but not least Elderberries. Collect as much as you can carry, put them in a plastic bin, pour over boiling water, add 1 bag of suger per gallon. Wait untill cool & add a port yeast. 6 - 9 months later, Hedgerow Port. It will put hairs on your chest & strip them off again. Fab. Steve, Poynton, Cheshire
Picking sloes to make sloe gin is an annual event for me. I was horrified recently to see a popular brand of gin now also sells sloe gin in some supermarkets. Part of the pleasure of drinking this nectar at Christmas time is knowing that it is home made. toni, waltham cross, herts
Oyster Mushrooms - £25 a kilo in Kingston. 2 miles up the road they are, quite literally, coming out of the woodwork. I filled a bag in 20 minutes. Say no more. James, London
The bilberry crop this year has been wonderful. I started picking immediately after Tynwald Day (July 5th., old midsummer's day) and went on until early September. The picking may be slow and fiddly but the surroundings on the slopes of Cronk ny Arrey Laa here on the Isle of Man are magnificent - views over the South Barrule and to Scotland and Northern Ireland. I'm sure that foraging for food satisfies an inborn drive handed down from thousands of generations of our forebears who lived by it. Alan, Port St Mary, Isle of Man
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