My guide to identifying and spotting what to forage in countryside hedgerows:
I don’t have to go far to forage. In fact I can do it in my garden and in the hedgerows around us here in southeast England. The rainbow over our valley and hedgerows this week didn’t lead me to a pot of gold but a treasure of berries, fruit, and more.
I’ve already written about the overabundance of Blackberries in some of our hedgerows. So many in fact that I’ve frozen masses for crumbles and more Blackberry fool this autumn. (Tip – first freeze the blackberries in rows on a baking tray and then put the frozen berries together in freezer bags)
But in recent foraging expeditions I’ve found Sloe patches, Wild Plums, Haws, Rose hips, Dewberries, Elderberries, Water Mint, and even Wild Marjoram! There’s also been some poisonous berries lurking amongst them like dangerous bodyguards. Here and there Honeysuckle show up adding their sweet fragrance amid the thorns.
Did I mention Wild Plums?! At first I thought they were Sloes …anyway more below.
The deer are also clearly fond of some of the fruit as they love to shelter – or hide from me – in the undergrowth and trees by the hedgerows. Here are a couple this morning fleeing towards a hedgerow as I walked along the back of ours in the same field.
Foraging in the hedgerows
So without further ado, here’s what I found in the hedgerows, some of which I brought back home:
Hawthorn – Crataegus monogyna
Hawthorn berries, also known as Haws, (bright red in centre) and Wild Rose Hips (in left background).
Hawthorn spiny branches and leaves
I never made anything with Hawthorn berries, but you can use them to make Haw jelly or fruit leathers.
Wild Rose Hips (Rosa canina and/or Rosa arvensis)
These hips are from the wild Dog Rose – Rosa canina – which has white or pink flowers earlier in the summer. The rosebuds also have a pinkish colour. The Field Rose – Rosa arvensis – only has white rosebuds and then white flowers with styles fused in a column.
Wild rose hips are great for making rose syrup which can be used in cake recipes, jam, or even as sauce for ice cream. During World War II, rosehips were gathered and consumed extensively as rosehip syrup because of their high Vitamin C content – in fact 20 times as high as oranges.
Dewberry (Rubus caesius)
Dewberries – they look like Blackberries with extra large druplets. They’re full of flavour and often burst when you pick them.
Elder (Sambucus nigra)
Elder shrub covered in Autumn berries. Elderberries should not be eaten raw as they are mildly poisonous, but cooked and boiled they can make wonderful Elderberry vinegar or simply as a refreshing juice drink. You can also make delicious Elderberry wine with the right equipment and ingredients. Earlier in the summer I always pick the flowers to make lots of Elderflower cordial which I also freeze. Here I’ve written a post where you can identify Elderflowers.
Beware of poisonous berries when foraging
Poisonous berries also made an appearance here and there – the little devils! When I’m foraging with my children I always explain to them what is safe to pick while making sure they avoid any toxic berries.
Black Bryony (Tamus communis)
Warning it’s poisonous! There are two Bryony berries that hide and clamber through the hedgerows which are toxic. Black Bryony (Tamus communis) has heart shaped leaves, no tendrils and is part of the Yam family. White Bryony (Bryonia dioica) has palmately-dobed leaves, tendrils along its twining stem and is part of the Gourd family. Both have green and red berries and often lose their leaves by Autumn.
Above you can see Black Bryony in the yellow and green immature stage, while in the next photo you can see the red stage berries hanging right next to blackberries.)
The small red berries hiding amid the bramble and delicious Blackberries are poisonous. Whether you call them Bittersweet, Woody Nightshade or Poisonberry, the berries turn from green to red in the autumn and are very toxic. On the bottom left you can see a red berry of the poisonous Black Bryony.
And on a pleasanter and more fragrant note, I’m still finding Honeysuckle flowers growing in the hedgerows. The flowers and berries are a feast for butterflies, bees, moths, birds, and dormice. Wild ones are not edible for us.
Wild Plum (Prunus domestica)
Wild Plum tree (above) in centre middle ground – plus wild Watermint (Mentha aquatica) growing in left and right foregrounds.
Careful!! When picking Watermint beware that the habitat is also favored by the very deadly Hemlock.
Now the best bit – I’m going to be making quite a few fruit flavoured gins this autumn. Yes, I found Wild Plums. And not just one tree but many.
At first I thought it was a Sloe patch but I could pick the wild plums without fear of sharp thorns. I also took a small branch to a friend who is a horticultural expert to confim my findings. There are quite a few different subspecies of wild plums, including Bullace. They are thought to be naturalised versions of cultivated plums, perhaps a hybrid of Blackthorn and Cherry Plum.
Wild Plums with dew drops – Prunus domestica.
Blackthorn / Sloe (Prunus spinosa)
Usually known as Sloes, or Sloe berries, they are the fruit of the Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) and probably the ancestor of the cultivated plum. Since the 17th century, when Blackthorns were planted as hedgerows following the Enclosure Acts in Britain, they have been popularly used to make Sloe Gin.
Sloe Gin can easily be made at home. I often make extra bottles to give away as gifts or use in recipes. You can also make a non-alcoholic Sloe cordial or Sloe and Apple Jelly.
Blackthorns were already covered in Sloe berries. They have rather scary looking thorns.
Another difference between the Sloe berries and the Wild Plum berries was the leaves. The Blackthorn had small oval shaped leaves while the Wild Plum tree had larger pointed oval leaves with blunt-toothed edges.
On the left is a Sloe plus a small stem from a Blackthorn. On the right is a small Wild Plum and a stem from its tree.
So I’m going to be feasting and drinking soon with the fruits from my hedgerow foraging. Time for Sloe Gin, Wild Plum Gin, and Blackberry Vodka! I’ve already picked one batch of Wild Plums which I’ve frozen but they’re still quite bitter. Luckily, as all the bushes and trees are practically in our garden, I can regularly check on how they’re ripening. I also don’t have to worry about foragers nicking them before I pick them!
So autumn is rather fruitful and I’m looking forward to some good tipples this winter.
In September I also went on a mushroom foray with a guide on a friend’s estate. I’ve also been collecting some of the flowers from our garden as well as these treasures from the hedgerows to fill up the vases in our home. Have you been foraging too?