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How to forage for wild food safely

By Leanne Downs1 March 2018

There are lots of easily recognisable fruits, seeds and nuts that you can forage without the worry. However, many edibles have dangerous look-a-likes and can make you seriously ill or kill you. These are some steps you can take to ensure you are foraging safely.

Knowledge is key

Educate yourself and only eat something you are 100% sure if safe to eat. There are many toxic fungi, plants and berries in the UK which are easily confused if you don’t do your homework. Question and get second opinions from trusted authorities and take responsibility for your own safety.

Do not eat anything

Tasting should not be part of the identification process. You should only do this when 100% certain you have identified something correctly.

Do a tolerance test

Once you are sure you have identified something correctly, try only a small amount to make sure there are no adverse reactions. Everyone is different and what may be fine for someone else, might not be fine for you. Certain foods can also interact with medicines.

Consider your own health

Are you on any medication that might interact? Could you be pregnant? If so, probably best not to try anything new incase it affects your baby. Some wild foods can be fine for you to ingest but, just like with certain medicines, they can have harmful effects on a foetus and even cause miscarriage.

Where did you find it?

Is it in an area popular with dog walkers? Or a popular weeing spot for dogs. If so, it could be contaminated with faeces or urine. The main danger from these are the presence of bacteria and worms. Avoid hotspots and wash anything you find at ground level or within peeing height of a male dog (or a fox – consider the presence of wild animals too). There’s also the danger of chemical pesticides. Avoid anything that isn’t in good condition, as it could have been affected by chemicals. Use common sense. It’s a good idea to not eat anything raw directly from nature unless you are sure it is clean and parasite free. Wait until you are home where you can boil or cook something lightly to kills off any bugs. Especially if picking from near a pond or river.

Know the land and its history

Consider whether the plants could have absorbed pollution from poor soil. Some parks and recreational areas these days were once used for industrial purposes and although they look a world away from the landfill sites and factories they once were, it can take a long time for the soil to recover. Most places will be fine, but generally, consuming edibles next to busy roads or built up areas is probably not the best idea. Especially things like fungi, which are great at absorbing pollution. Graveyards are also probably best to avoid, due to chemicals such as arsenic and lead, which are bound to be present in the soil. If you do decide to eat anything from these areas, do not do it regularly and do so sparingly.

Leanne Downs

About Leanne Downs

Leanne Downs is the content editor for Thryve and works as an outdoor writer, blogger and photographer. She loves hiking, hillwalking and wild camping.

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