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.
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.
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.
Best berries to forage for in September
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.
- We've rounded up our favourite blackberry recipes in our handy blackberry guide.
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.
- Try our recipe for perfect sloe gin
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.
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'.
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.
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.
- Try out this spiced crab-apple and rowanberry leather recipe.
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.
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.
- Try making wild strawberry and thyme ice cream with this recipe on the BBC Wildlife Magazine website.
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.
- Try making a bilberry and almond streusel cake.
- Recipe for bilberry muffins, on the BBC Wildlife Magazine website
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Seeds to forage for in September
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.