12 months of amazing free food

Wild food is completely free - and a great way to reconnect with the seasons. Chris Graham shares the story behind his love of foraging.

I first got into foraging because of my East Malaysian wife, Lily.

She belongs to the Iban, an indigenous tribe of Borneo, and often talks about how she used to gather exotic fruit, ferns and other wild foods from the rainforest.

So I wondered how to recreate this wild food experience for her in suburban Yorkshire. We invested in a pocket guide, Food for Free by Richard Mabey - and got ready to ramble.

After some trial and error, here are my tips for wild food each month.

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January - Chickweed

Providing the winter's mild, this is a good alternative to lettuce.

February – Stinging nettles

Cook stems and leaves from young tips in boiling water to make them safe to eat. High in iron, and a great spinach substitute.

Nettles in the sunshine

March - Jack-by-the-hedge

Their heart shaped leaves bring a mild garlic flavour to any salad. Superb with soft goats cheese.

April - Beech and hawthorn leaves

Collect beech leaves while still semi-transparent to enjoy their nutty flavour. Gather newly emerged pale green hawthorn leaves. Together they make a wild salad snack. 

Another favourite for April is the versatile and nutritious dandelion.

May - Ramsons or wild garlic

Instantly detectable by their pungent odour and usually found in woodlands. The dark green leaves are delicious chopped in Italian tomato dishes while their crisp white flowers make an incredible addition to egg sandwiches.

June - Wild cherries

Two types - bitter and sweet. Be prepared for some trial and error...

July - Wild rose petals

Delicate texture, light scent and deliciously sweet. Pick only petals from flowers that have lost one or two petals already.

Wild pink rose with a bee on it

August - Watercress

Don't pick if sheep or cows are nearby as it can harbour a liver fluke which can affect humans. Boiling will kill the parasite but best to avoid plants that might carry it if possible. Choose plants from fast flowing and clear streams - take care when collecting.

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September - Mushrooms and rosehips

Find a good guide to help you take your first steps into fungi foraging, as some varieties can be poisonous. The variety of shapes, textures and flavours on offer makes them worthy of further consideration. Read about foraging for mushrooms in our blog.

Rosehips are another tasty treat this month and packed with vitamin C. 

A Cep, or Porcini mushroom

October - Apples

Apple sauce, crumble, chutney – recipe ideas are endless. Picking your own is a fantastic way to relive one of childhood's guilty pleasures.

November - Sweet chestnuts

Urban dwellers may be at an advantage here. Excellent roasted in the oven or on an open fire.

December - Roadkill

Personally as a veggie I wouldn't, but available all of year round for the extreme forager. It might be your best option if you're looking for a free Christmas roast.

Top foraging tips

  1. Check and double check.
    If in doubt - don’t pick.
  2. Exercise caution
    Too much of anything can be bad for you so check your guide for possible problems before you tuck in. Leave plenty for existing inhabitants - especially in winter.
  3. Get permission
    If appropriate, ask the landowner.
  4. Take a little
    Take only a leaf or two from each plant and only if they can spare it.

'Food for Free' by Richard Mabey is just £4.99 in the Friends of the Earth Shop

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This article is based on a feature from Earthmatters, Friends of the Earth's supporter magazine. Join to receive your copy.