September foraging guide: best foods to find and recipe ideas

Make the most of the late summer bounty found in Britain's woodlands and hedgerows. Here is our expert guide on the best nuts, seeds and berries to forage for in September.

Published: August 30th, 2018 at 3:06 pm
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To stay safe while foraging, make sure you're confident with species identification and do not eat anything unless you are sure it is safe. It's also important to leave plenty of food for foraging animals such as birds and mice.

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Our September foraging guide looks at a selection of Britain's most delicious edible plants, berries and mushrooms, all found in the British countryside this month. Plus, find easy seasonal recipe ideas.

Where can I forage in Britain?

You don't have to look far if you want to have a go at foraging. Woodlands, hedgerows and the shoreline are good places to start, and you may discover local parks and even your garden are ripe for the picking.

How to forage safely – and responsibly

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.

Blackberries growing wild

Best berries to forage for in September

Blackberries

This prickly shrub grows in woods, hedges and heaths. It is usually found in a tangled straggly clump, with prickly, toothed leaves that turn reddish green in the autumn. The berries should be a deep purple-black when picked.

Bramble (Rubus fruticosus) cultivar, ripening berries/Credit: Getty Images
Blackberry and apple crumble

Sloes

The fruit of the Blackthorn tree, sloes are abundant in the wild in the UK. They are notoriously bitter when eaten straight from the branch, and make a fun highlight to family walks to see who can chew for the longest without making a face. The berries should be picked when ripe: a deep purple colour and easy to squash. A promising sign is seeing fallen sloes around the tree.

Sloe gin is a staple among homemade Christmas presents. If picking for this reason, you should traditionally wait until after the first frost so that the frost splits the skins and you don't have to bother pricking them. But if you'd rather get ahead, pick them in autumn and freeze the berries for the same effect.

Blackthorn or Sloe, Prunus spinosa./Credit: Sandra Standbridge/Getty Images.

Hawthorn berries

This abundant shrub can be found in woodland, hedges, scrubland, on heaths and downs. Its leaves are a glossy green, deeply lobed and found on spiny branches. The round red berries (haws) grow in small bunches and have a gentle, apple-like taste.

They can be used to make wine or a sort of candy called hawthorn leather. This involves simmering the haws in a little water until soft and straining off the pips. You then add sugar as you would to make a jam but keep reducing the liquid until it thickens. When cool, it resembles a strip of candy.

Hawthorn berries, also known as haws/Getty Images Stephen Power

Rosehips

Used as a replacement for citrus fruits during the Second World War, they where widely collected and made into syrup for flavouring foods. They can be found in hedgerows, rough grass and scrub. It grows up to 3m (10ft) high. The leaves grow in pairs of toothed leaflets, the flowers are pink or white, and the fruit is orange-red and oblong shaped. Watch out for thorns and be sure to carefully remove the inner seeds, still known in primary schools across the land as 'itching powder'.

Ripe rosehips/Getty Images, Steve Austin

Elderberries

Widespread and easily found in woodland and hedgerows. The bark is corky, and the green slightly-toothed leaves grow in groups of five. These small, dark red-black berries grow in clusters and can be added to sweet pies, crumbles or jams.

Elderberries can be added to crumbles, jams, drinks or pies/Credit: Getty

Rowan berries

Raw rowan berries are very tart and contain parasorbic acid, which is toxic, but when cooked it becomes sorbic acid, which is safe. Rowan berries can be used to make Rowan wine.

Raspberries

An easily identified plant and less prickly to handle than its bramble cousin. Raspberries are coming to an end in September, but you should be able to get a harvest or two, especially from autumn fruiting garden escapees. It is only very slightly spiny with toothed oval shaped leaves, with a white underside. These rich red berries are formed from drupelets.

Easy to pick and less spiky than blackberries - add to jams, pies or crumbles/Credit: Getty

Wild strawberries

Although small and hard to find, these berries are well worth the search. They are bursting with flavour and best eaten straight from the plant. They can be found on grassy banks and in open woodland, low on the ground. The leaves are grouped in threes and are toothed and shiny.

Keep an eye out for wild strawberries in country lanes and hedgerows/Credit: iStock

Bilberry

This unassuming little fruit goes by a variety of names depending on where you are from in Britain – some know it as a bilberry or blueberry, and others as a whortleberry, wild blueberry or whinberry. By September, the low-lying bilberry shrub, often found on moorlands, heaths, and in birch, oak and conifer woodlands, will be ripe with berries – assuming the sheep haven't got to them first. It's a slow harvest, but once picked there are lots of great options for delicious recipes.

A slow harvest but worth the wait...add bilberries to cakes or pies/Credit: Getty

Best nuts to forage for in September: nut identification guide

The arrival of September marks the beginning of nut season – learn to recognise six of the most common with expert forager Adele Nozedar.

Hazelnut

These nuts are ripe for picking when the leaves are just beginning to turn yellow. Often found in woods, hedgerows and scrubland, try giving a branch a good shake and searching below the tree. The leaves are roundish, downy and toothed while the nuts are encased in a green, leafy cup.

Hazelnuts are often found in woodlands and hedgerows/Credit: Getty

Monthly foraging guide

Our beginner's guide to foraging in Britain explains what you can gather in hedgerows, woodlands, along the coast and in the countryside. Learn how to forage responsibly and safely, what's in season each month and where to find it, plus recipe ideas. 

Read more

Sweet chestnut

The tree prefers a mild climate, lime-free soil and moisture. Unlike the conker (similar in appearance), the nuts are delicious. Pierce the skins, roast, peel and dip in butter and salt.

Nothing says autumn like the sweet chestnut/Credit: Getty

Acorn

Also known as the oaknut, acorn species vary in shape and size. Oak trees grow in woods as well as singly or in small groups. All acorns are edible, although tannins make most bitter.

Find the forest floor littered with acorns/Credit: Getty

Horse chestnut

Underneath their spiky, green outer case, conkers are glossy brown, round, up to 4cm in diameter and have a paler patch on the underside. They are not edible, but make a lovely silky soap.

Conker season is coming! Fun to play conkers or make your own soap/Credit: Getty

Walnut

These non-native nuts are something of a Russian Doll; a smooth, pale-green outer layer covers a further, knobbly shell that gradually hardens. The inner nut resembles two halves of a brain.

Technically a walnut is not a true botanical nut but rather the seed of a drupe or drupaceous nut/Credit: Getty

Beech nut

Beech trees grow alone and in forests. This easily recognisable tree can grow up to 40m (131ft) tall. The tight, prickly shells open in early autumn, dropping their fruits to the ground. The nuts – also known as beech masts – were once fed to pigs. The leaves are bright green, alternate and oval. The nuts grow with four, three-sided nuts to one brown prickly husk. It tastes similar to a walnut, but gather early, as you will have squirrels to contend with.

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Beech trees grow alone but are easily recognisable/Credit: Getty

Seeds to forage for in September

Poppy

Contrary to popular belief, poppies in England do not contain opium. The seedheads are ready for picking when they are a grey-brown colour and have small holes just underneath the flat top. Put the whole seed heads into a paper bag and shake. Remove the heads; the seeds left in the bag can be used for sprinkling on bread, cakes and rolls.

Authors

Carys MatthewsGroup Digital Editor

Carys is the Group Digital Editor of countryfile.com and discoverwildlife.com. Carys can often be found trail running, bike-packing, wild swimming or hiking in the British countryside.

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