‘There’s something deep within us that’s brought to life when we forage’

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James Wood knows this more than most. One of the UK’s top foraging experts, he’s the founder of Totally Wild UK, author of The Foragers’ Cookbook and has lent his expertise to BBC Countryfile and ITV’s Countrywide. He speaks to us about his passion for wild food, and his top tips for foraging through the seasons.

James, what makes foraging so special?

There’s something deep within us that’s brought to life when we forage. We’re connecting with our natural surroundings in a practical and meaningful way. Historically, we’ve been foraging for longer than we’ve been farming. And who doesn’t like to find some fantastic ingredients for free?


Can you tell us about your best foraging experience?

I remember heading out with a friend to look for morel mushrooms. In a whole day we found nothing. When we’d nearly given up, we found a single one growing out of the sand dunes. I can remember them cheering behind the sand dune in complete joy.

Tell us a bit about Totally Wild UK. What inspired you to launch the business?

My ultimate goal was to bring foraging in to the 21st century and have it recognised in a more serious way. Totally Wild has grown into a team of professional foragers who’ve all achieved a foraging and wild food accreditation, which we developed ourselves. We hold foraging courses. We’ve even started offering a Wild Veg Box scheme, with ingredients curated by our foragers.

Do you forage for different ingredients as the seasons change?

We really move with the seasons. Throughout spring the hedgerows are full of delightful salads and blossoms. In summer we head to the coast for seaweeds and salty marshland plants. Come autumn we’re off to the woods to hunt for mushrooms. Autumn really is the time for berries and mushrooms. The easiest mushroom family to start on are the boletus species. There’s a section on our website for identifying them.

Do you have any favourite autumn recipes that use foraged foods?

I’ve got a lovely recipe for mushroom ketchup and I also enjoy this bilberry pie recipe, that I started out making for my Grandma

On your website you mention that foragers can make paper from foraged mushrooms. What other unusual items can be made from foraged foods?

It depends how experimental you want to get and how much time you have on your hands! You can make glue from seaweeds, ink from the bark of oak trees, and a sweet jelly from a mushroom called jelly ears. You can even make plasters from birch polypores.

What top tips would you give to beginner foragers?

Only pick a little from each plant – less than 20% of what’s there – and only take what you’re actually going to use. Other than that, always start with the things that are easy to identify and easy to find. And start with one new species at a time. If you have a stew using 10 new ingredients and you get ill, it’s much harder to know which ingredient caused it.

I’d always advise starting with stinging nettles. They’re everywhere and we all know what they are. Try as many recipes as you can with them. For example, nettles can be used in smoothies, wilted like spinach, fried into crisps, dried and powdered as a matcha alternative, boiled into a cordial… it goes on and on.


What resources and tools should beginner foragers start with?

When it comes to tools, invest in some secateurs and a small, sharp knife. At Totally Wild, we all use hooked folding knives for our picking. And of course, you’ll need a basket because what’s a forager without a basket?

I’d also recommend An Initial Guide to the Identification of Mushrooms & Toadstools, it was my go-to guide for starting to learn about mushrooms. I’d suggest getting a recipe book to give you ideas for cooking with what you find, too. It’s great finding foraged ingredients, but we need ideas for cooking with them, as well!

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