Forage & Folklore: A Beginners Guide

If you have ever been on one of our tours before, you know that we always start off with a health and safety briefing before we head out for our walk. We of course prioritize our guests' wellbeing, but more than that we very much want to set an example for why foraging in a safe and conscious manner not only keeps you from harm but also the land in which you have come to learn about. We decided that it would be good for us to discuss this topic in a blog post, as lockdown has yielded a higher level of interest in foraging than we have seen for several years. With lack of other accessible activities, folks are very keen to head out for walks these days. As a result, the desire to understand our natural spaces and come to recognize the amazing food sources, natural medicines and generally fascinating plants that are available to us for basically free is more popular than ever. And as wonderful as it is to have so many people engaging with their natural surroundings so actively, we must remember that foraging is a practice that requires careful thought, study, and critical thinking in order to be done so successfully.

Part of our tours – as you can see in our name – is of course folklore. We like to encompass both the fun and memorable folk tales of times past as well as the traditional viewpoint our ancestors held regarding our natural resources. It was common for our forbearers to recognize the balance that was to be maintained in nature. Nothing comes to us for free, and folk beliefs recognized this. If one were to take from nature, it was therefore only fitting to return the favour by providing the spirits of the land an offering. Typical items offered were those that had required energy in order to be produced, such as milk or bread. This is a basic principle in early folk practices. As foragers today, we should keep in mind this ideal whenever we take from the land. Not only in a spiritual sense, but in a practical light we should always remember that the creation of the fruits, plants and fungi we are foraging required energy. If we take without keeping balance in mind, we are not foraging correctly.

A mature Shaggy Inkcap Mushroom with open cap and signature inky residue

Having said that, our very first rule of foraging and one we regard most important is to only take what is growing in abundance in order to ensure that you can leave a healthy portion of whatever it is you are foraging alone. Not only are we doing this for the environment and wildlife, but in order to ensure you have more to forage either later in the season or for years to come; it is only practical to be able to leave a healthy amount of your chosen plant or fungi remaining. I was recently speaking to a lovely estate owner and she reported to me that with this current trend in foraging, folks have been unfortunately completely clearing her land of all the plants, berries and so on. Not only is this detrimental to the health of the ecosystem and the wildlife that rely on it, but it also affects the foraging opportunities for following seasons.

So, once you have found something that is growing in abundance and you have decided it is fine to forage, Ashley and I have some tips for ensuring foraging is being done sustainably. Most folks really enjoy the prospect of foraging for fungi. A tip we always give to those looking for delicious wild mushrooms is to ensure that the cap of the mushroom has opened fully. There are a few exceptions to this rule, such as the Shaggy Inkcap, that really should only be foraged when it is very young – but again we recommend you only harvest such fungi when you can see others of the same species are also growing around it. By harvesting only after the caps have opened, you are ensuring that the mushroom has had the opportunity to spread its spores and thus you will hopefully have more mushrooms to harvest later on. For plants, it is ideal to never completely uproot it. Unless you are foraging specifically for the roots, you should do your best to not kill the plant and allow it to continue to grow.