The Best Kinds of Foraging

Advent Sunday. A day to light a candle, and think about shopping. Exeter this week was full of city noise, bus fumes, and Black Friday frenzy. I went there to meet someone, not shop, so it was easy to despise everybody else for being too consumerist, but then I had to hang around waiting, and that changed.

Advent Candle

It only took a minute of idling around market stalls, full of unusual socks and special hats to realise that I have NO CLOTHES AT ALL and I HAVEN’T DONE ANY CHRISTMAS SHOPPING.  

After two hours, I had all these exciting packages to gloat over, and a warm glow in my heart. What was that all about?


Blame our ancestors, the hunter gatherers, it is their fault need to gather stuff. We know that shopping supports giant corporations, destroys the planet, and clutters homes with nonsense, but we keep doing it.

If you are feeling ashamed and want to come off shopping, here are some other ways to forage, with helpful guidelines.


Foraging for food is exciting and worthwhile. You get exercise, country walks, wild garlic pesto, nuts, stinging nettle soup, and life or death adventures with fungi.

Foraging for Fungi
Plenty of these available around here.

I lived with a forager for a while, and will never forget his face, when I snatched his dish of mushrooms on toast and threw it in the bin. ‘Can’t you see the green slime?’ was my defence. Soon after that he was diagnosed with eyesight problems. Don’t forage for fungi if you can’t see properly.

Some people take it further and collect road kill. Years ago I was at a splendid roast dinner with fresh pheasant from the road. The preparation took days, especially the plucking, which was tricky. We had to use all sorts of tools for that, including a blow torch.

It looked great in the pan, but not when we carved it. Somebody forgot to look in the poor pheasant’s mouth and corn from its last supper spilled out. Half-digested corn doesn’t look tasty, even when it is cooked, so the cat got the pheasant and nobody at that dinner does much foraging these days. 

Food foraging is a Good Thing but you have to know what you are doing.


It is easy to spend £89 on an outfit with a good label and you feel special because they fold tissue paper around it, while the card goes through. The tissue paper eases any pain about the price. 

But you can get the same costume a year later if you wait for somebody else to buy it, get bored with it, and deliver it the your local charity shop. And, second hand clothes are best because you can wear them for gardening.

The jumpers below are perfect examples of golden finds.

But that dress was expensive, and is useless in the garden because it gets caught up in brambles. Even the cat prefers the jumpers.

Plants for the Garden

Garden centres cause plant envy and the internal hunter gatherer will demand that you ‘buy something.’  Watch out. The beautiful, unusual plants you drag home will shrivel within months because who knows what ‘partial shade’ or ‘acidic soil’ really mean?

My best examples include: The garlic bulbs that cost £8, waited in the ground for 10 months and produced £5 worth of garlic, a blueberry bush that sits around longing sadly for Nordic  woodland, and a pear tree with curly brown leaves.

Pear tree with only one pear

It only grows one pear a year.

Give up garden centres and keep your eyes peeled. Free plants will appear, and you can stuff them in any corner, where they will flourish because they are tough, and had to make their own way in the first place.

If they die you can forget about them because they didn’t cost £23.99.  Examples include:

Vaccine Centre Daisies.

If you give somebody a lift to the vaccine centre, you have to wait outside in the car with nothing to look at but people parking. There are no parking arguments, because there are too many stewards, so it’s boring.

Daisies at the vaccine centre

I went for a walk and found a path full of daisyish plants. It was easy to pull them out of the gravel, and it felt like a sensible thing to do because it made more room for the ones left behind.

Wild daisies planted in bare earth

Compost corner is coming along nicely, and now it is full of daisy plants.

The purple tree on the left is also a bit of forage. I found it lurking in the garage, left over from a party. It is pure plastic and compliments the daisies perfectly.

Pickled Walnut trees

Eight years ago I decided to make pickled walnuts, an expensive Deli style treat to eat with port and cheese at Christmas. Imagine the pleasure of giving out home made pickled walnuts to impress all your friends. I am not sure why I needed to impress friends with my pickled walnut making skills but it was important that day. And, I knew where the walnut trees were. 

I googled what to do, gathered green walnuts and started the pickling process by leaving them in salt water for a few days while I went to Glastonbury. 

When I got back I was over tired, and no longer interested in giving anybody a pickled anything. The walnuts had gone the right colour of black, but then I spotted a crucial part of the instructions, ‘pick while still soft.’ Mine were wooden, and hard, and as tasty as a jar of pickled wooden beads.

I threw them out on the vegetable patch.

Walnut tree

Two years later, a row of walnut trees appeared and now I have trees for anybody who wants to come and forage them. Nobody does so they are getting out of hand.

Cliff Harvest

Rock plants live around cliffs. Look out for the ones hanging around on the side of the path, where the road sweeper will scoop them up before long. Or tumbled off the side of a crumbly cliff.  

Rock plant

Do NOT attack cliffs and start pulling them out.  Cliffs have got enough to deal with these days. 

City bushes

Cities have armies of gardeners trotting around planting ornamental this that and the other.  Keep an eye on any new plantations, spot the bush that got left to topple over or pulled out by a vandal and rescue it.

I saved this bush from Exeter city centre.

Berry bush
I don’t like it but, I do appreciate it because it was free.
It is not OK to steal

This garden is stuffed with things I found. It gets tricky if I see a nice plant in a public place, where nobody else is going to appreciate it. The local farm shop has geraniums all over the car park and I swear I am the only person that sees them. I don’t notice them in a good way, just a ‘how many seconds would it take to whip that into a bag’ way. 

That is called stealing.  Just because somebody else planted it in the wrong place is not enough reason to dig it up.  The golden rule with plant foraging is only pick the ones that are crying out for a new home.

Beach Combing

Wander along the shore and collect seaweed for compost, plastic to make you feel good about yourself, pebbles (when nobody is looking because most beaches ban that) and bits of art that look like this.

Beach Arts

The best forage on beaches are the things you can’t take away. 

Rock hanging off the cliff at Exmouth

The cliffs of Exmouth are constantly collapsing. Chunks of Jurassic rock hang in the air as a warning for anybody walking below.  It is exciting because lots of people take no notice and walk along underneath, so you talk about how stupid they are and hope that they don’t get squashed in front of your eyes. 

When rocks crash to the ground, they form huge sculptures that would cost a fortune if they were commissioned from an artist.

A whale
The nose of a dragon

The best things are always the ones you can’t take home.

Like this sky

To see more on this topic watch this video

One thought on “The Best Kinds of Foraging”

  1. Foraging , whether it be for clothes, food or plants, is one of my great pleasures. Sometimes things turn out to be duds but it doesn’t matter, no money spent. I love it when my plant cuttings come to life, when my “thrifted” outfit receives a swag of compliments and my hastily assembled meal from leftovers is praised as “ lovely” by my judgey family.

    And very impressed by the walnut tree story!

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