Ever since prehistoric man first shuffled out of his cave and wondered what was for dinner, thoughts of foraging were never far away. That legacy is still going strong today; learning a little about foraging is a great way to spice things up and take your cocktail recipes to a super fresh, highly original and professional level. You can find your run-of-the-mill items in any supermarket, but looking a little off the beaten track can yield some impressive and delicious results, as well as giving your clientele something local and sustainable to ponder. A ready source of unusual ingredients could be growing minutes away from your front door.
Foraging Five Minutes From Your Doorstep
You don’t have to travel far to find great things, though different parts of the country offer different results. If you’re living in London, the royal parks are a no-go for foraging, but sloe berries and elderflower can be found growing around Hampstead Heath. Battersea Park is a ready source of wild garlic and fresh herbs, whereas chestnuts, walnuts and rocket grow naturally in Burgess Park.
Heading west to Bristol will net you poppy seeds and blackberries growing a 30-second walk from the central bus station.
Travelling north will open up even more diverse options, with cherry blossom, dandelion and magnolia growing wild in Edinburgh and wild garlic and sorrel being found in Manchester. Wild hawthorn and bramble leaves, as well as nettle and cow parsley, can be found in and around central Belfast.
A List of Ten Items To Forage Near You:
The 700 UK varieties available at the coast year-round are traditionally used in bread, soups, salads, or as a cabbage replacement.
A saline vegetable grown in estuary marshes between July-August. Traditionally steamed and served with fish.
Found in hedgerows, this underused but versatile ingredient is traditionally used in cordials, soup or as a replacement for spinach.
Available in Autumn, and best after the first frost, these red seed husks are great for tea, jus or sauce, syrup, jelly or jam.
Look for wispy, fern-like fronds with bright yellow flowers. Wild fennel has an aniseed flavour that works well in aperitifs.
Are the poor man’s hazelnut and can be used in much the same way; roasted, toasted or ground.
You’ll know you’ve found it by the distinctive smell. Wild garlic grows summer long and can be used in pesto or as a flavour enhancer, much like garlic cloves.
This wild herb is used in many Mediterranean dishes and has a light, delicate floral flavour.
Unlike the elderflower (but from the same tree), these jammy berries have a punchy, bosky flavour. They are a primary source of nourishment for birds, though, so forage responsibly.
These autumnal berries can be found in hedgerows and work well in sweet suspensions like jams (they contain natural pectin) or jellies.
How to become an expert forager
The best approach is to seek out a local foraging expert in your specific region to find out precisely what you can and can’t forage. A cursory web search will tell you whether or not things are safe to eat, but identifying the difference between certain leaves needs a careful, experienced eye. An expert will let you know what’s in season, how to avoid toxins, trespassing rules and may even have a few recipes up their sleeves.
Using Your Foraged Ingredients
Simple syrups, cordials and macerations can be made with varying degrees of success, depending on the ingredient. You can introduce lesser-known products to customer palettes by modifying or enhancing more familiar ones. Try pickling your magnolia leaves for a fresh, gingery kick, or throw together a wild rocket and strawberry shrub. A little imagination is the first step to a potential world of intriguing new flavours.
The Impact of Foraging
Before stepping out into the wild:
Take a little time to research the impact your foraging might have on the local food chain.
If you find a good foraging spot, make sure you aren’t butchering a local farmers prize crops.
Ask permission where possible (or reasonable).
Take enough for your intended use, and leave the rest for other enterprising foragers.
The natural world is brimming with potentially delicious cocktail ingredients, and they are more or less waiting for you to nab. Take the time to look into what you can find in your local area, and then take a tentative step into the outside world.