Our guide on how and what to forage for in January in Britain, with a few key details regarding where each plant can be found, characteristics and recipe ideas.
Where to forage in Britain
Woodlands, hedgerows and the shoreline are good places to start your foray into foraging. However, you may discover local parks and even your garden provide foraging hotspots.
How to forage responsibly and safely
It is vital to avoid damaging wildlife habitats or rare species, so check you are allowed to forage in the area before starting to pick. When foraging, ensure you leave plenty behind for wildlife and only pick from an area with a plentiful supply. Only take what you plan to eat and take care to avoid damaging the roots of plants as you pick.
Take a good field guide with you and always be sure you can positively identify any plant before you pick it, and never eat any plant you are unsure of. Taking part in a foraging course with an expert is a good way to learn how to forage safely and responsibly.
January is a lean month – the berries and nuts of autumn are long gone and the few mushrooms available are best left to the experts. However, winter greens are worth trying. And butchers will also offer all sorts of game to try if you are happy to leave the foraging to someone with a gun.
The bane of a new vegetable plot, hairy bittercress springs up even in the coldest weather/Credit: Getty Images
The bane of a new vegetable plot, hairy bittercress springs up even in the coldest weather it seems. It loves bare earth and its tiny rounded leaves in concentric rings are easy to spot. It’s also very tasty, especially in salads or a cheese sandwich where its watercress-like pepperiness really packs a punch.
Chickweed – a hardy winter green commonly found in gardens/Credit: Getty Images
Another common hardy winter green with a watercress-like flavour but is also good briefly boiled and then fried in butter (isn’t everything?). Chickweed has small oval or heart-shaped leaves was once cultivated widely in Britain – the whole plant can be eaten. In Victorian times, it soft yet crisp texture when raw made it a salad essential.
Nettles can be made into delicious soups and stews – just be careful picking/Credit: Getty Images
The first shoots of young nettles early in the year are the very best to eat and are a great spinach substitute in curries, pasta sauces and as a vegetable side dish. Gather as many as your patience will allow – wear gloves – and wash and drain them. Add to a saucepan without extra water and wilt them for 5-8 minutes until they resemble cooked spinach. Drain any excess water, toss in butter and season with salt and pepper.
Stinging nettles are more than just needled irritants, the Cornish make a delicious cheese using them, the Nepalese make curries and some people even use them for clothing. Nettles in the UK are often known as common nettle, stinging nettle or leaf nettle.
Nettle soup served with fresh cream (Getty)
Make this easy nettle soup recipe – perfect for a light lunch.
In January you will often see it in butchers and supermarkets/Credit: Getty Images
This very common bird of the British countryside is frequently shot as a pest by farmers. In January you will often see it in butchers and supermarkets. The whole, unplucked bird is fiddly to deal with but the pigeon breasts offer one of the most delicious wild treats – for meat eaters at least. Usually inexpensive, the breasts can be quickly panfried in butter, olive oil and a dash of Worcestershire sauce, sprinkled with sea salt and eaten with fresh bread – or on a bed of wilted nettles if you fancy a truly wild experience.