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Guide to Wild Food Foraging in Scotland

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Wild, foraged foods, once a widely available, healthy and free means of seasonal sustenance, are featuring more in popular TV cookery programmes and across social media these days, and as a result are appearing in more of our produce, restaurant dishes and home cooking.

But what delights in Scotland’s wild larder are there, when is best to forage for them, where can they be found, who can take you foraging for food and where can you eat foraged foods? Read on to learn more.

What is Foraging?

By definition, foraging is the search for wild food, such as berries, seeds, edible plants etc. It’s more commonly a trait seen in wild animals, but was also a survival skill that our hunter gatherer ancestors had to master many centuries ago.

Foraging Rules & Guidelines in Scotland

Foraging in Scotland is a fun and exciting way to get up close to nature and wildlife, and then getting to taste the fruits of your labour afterwards. However, there are a few rules to follow along the way:

  • In line with the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is illegal to collect wild plants or fungi on a National Nature Reserve (NNR) or a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
  • Be careful what you pick – some species of mushroom and fungi are poisonous and can even be fatal if eaten. Make sure to read up on the various specious beforehand, as well as ensure the information is reliable and up to date. Have a read of the Scottish Wild Mushroom Code to get you started.
  • Only take what you can use – be mindful to leave enough for everyone, including the wildlife who call the forest home.

Learn more about the guidelines around foraging in Scotland.

When is the Best Time to Go Foraging?

Well that all depends on what you are looking to forage. In January, head out foraging for winter fruits and nuts, such as acorns, blackberries and chestnuts, in June keep your eyes peeled for edible flowers, such as elder and honeysuckle, or in September go rummaging for wild berries, such as raspberries, strawberries and sloes.

Find out more about what to look for month-to-month in Scotland.

Foraging for Kids

Taking the kids out foraging is a great way to get them in tune with nature, teach them about their surroundings, and can also be a really educational experience. Foraging could be a great opportunity to explore a new corner of Scotland that you haven’t visited before where you can teach the wee ones about foraging; what to pick, what not to pick, where to pick from (i.e. not beside a road or place where there are dog walkers), and making sure they check what they pick with an adult first to ensure it is safe.

Foraging Courses

Various places around Scotland boast fascinating courses and events that allows you get involved in foraging. Head to Cardross in Argyll for a Seashore Foraging Foray tour, enjoy a coastal foraging course with Galloway Wild Foods in Dumfries & Galloway or join a Wildwood Bushcraft in the Highlands, and learn what to forage and how to cook it.

Wild Food Foraging in Scotland

Wild berries

Berry picking

Berry picking

Many Scots carry fond recollections of picking wild, bursting-with-flavour berries, on the long hot days of summer with them. It’s a great way to get out and explore more of Scotland, with nature providing healthy – and free – snacks along the way.

There are about 10 different edible types of berries that are found in our woods and along quiet trails and roads including wild cherries, blaeberries (bilberry), blackberries, sloes, rowan and juniper berries. They largely grow in Perthshire, particularly in the fertile Strathmore valley, and Fife, but are also found in Aberdeenshire, the Highlands, Arran, Ayrshire and the Scottish Borders.

Picking them is made all the easier with Scotland’s Outdoor Access Code providing a right of responsible access to most land and water, which is among the best in Europe. Just take care when you’re picking berries that you don’t damage the environment and make sure you leave plenty for local wildlife!

Wild mushrooms

There are literally dozens of species of edible wild mushrooms in Scotland’s woodlands, but only a few are commonly eaten. Autumn is the best time to pick them, but there are always some species growing in woodlands.

Given the severe toxicity of some species (e.g. fly agaric), be sensible and leave unfamiliar fungi alone. Better still, join a relaxing foraging stay at Gartmore House in Stirlingshire, join a mushroom foraging course in Perthshire with Monica Wilde Foraging, or join one of her wild cookery courses. It’s easier and fun to learn what to pick and when in a group setting, led by an expert.

Popular edible varieties include cep, chicken of the woods, chanterelle, wood blewitt, hedgehog fungus and morel. Scottish Natural Heritage has produced a great guide about Scotland’s fungi and the Scottish Wild Mushroom Forum also has a Mushroom Code to advise gatherers on best practice.

Coastal Foraging Scotland

Galloway Wild Foods Coastal Foraging, Dumfries & Galloway

Galloway Wild Foods Coastal Foraging, Dumfries & Galloway

Our seas produce some of the finest seafood in the world and our coast is prime territory for enjoying seaweed foraging in Scotland. Collect sea buckthorn berries on long beach walks, poke around rock pools at low tide for shellfish, put out lobster pots or fish inshore for mackerel, or forage for healthy edible seaweed – dulce for instance is a red seawood, which is a hit with vegetarians and is especially delicious in soup.

Mussels, limpets and winkles are some of the fishy delights that can be found along rocky shores. And if you’re lucky you might also find razor clams (sometimes known as ‘spoots’), cockles and clams. There’s nothing quite like cooking up your foraged coastal bounty on a beach fire.

Wild shellfish can carry a risk of food poisoning, so observing a few basic safety tips, such as collecting in clean waters and avoiding high summer months, will keep you safe. Enjoy a coastal foraging tour with East Neuk Seaweed,

Foraged Flavours

Charlotte Flower forages for natural flavourings on the shores of Loch Tay, Perths

Charlotte Flower forages for natural flavourings on the shores of Loch Tay, Perthshire © Charlotte Flower

Foraged foods are increasingly finding their way into some of Scotland’s finest produce. Using them enhances their unique flavour and adds a real dash of local authenticity. Here are just a few examples.

Not many people can resist tempting chocolate, but Charlotte Flower, the Loch Tay chocolatier, takes temptation up a notch! From her home at Acharn in Highland Perthshire, Charlotte explores the shores of the loch and nearby woodland in search of Scots pine, wild mint, wood sorrel and elderflower, which she uses to flavour her captivating confectionery. If you’re in the area, ring ahead and drop in to see her before exploring the lovely Acharn Falls nearby.

Over the last five years, Scottish gin has grown in both profile and popularity. Indeed over 70% of the UK’s gin is produced here. Many producers use locally foraged botanicals to make their spirit stand out from others. One of the most unusual we’ve discovered is sugar kelp, which is used, along with other botanicals, to flavour Harris Gin. This hand-dived seaweed, gives the spirit a distinct and delicious taste that’s the very essence of the island it comes from.

Foraged plants are also used in some Scottish beers. William’s Bros. Brewing Co. based in Alloa have long recognised this, with their well-established brews including ‘Fraoch’, which uses heather flowers as a flavouring, ‘Grozet’, which is flavoured with gooseberries and the rather potent ‘Alba’ where Scots pine needles add a unique flavour. Head for Inn Deep in Glasgow to try these delicious beers for yourself.

Foraged Food Restaurants

It’s great fun being in the outdoors and foraging for food, but in Scotland you can still enjoy tasty foraged food without getting your hands dirty or wet! Visionary Scottish chefs are harvesting wild foods and introducing them into dishes, imparting delightfully local flavours. In Edinburgh, The Gardener’s Cottage, Forage and Chatter and Wedgwood the Restaurant are serving dishes which include seasonal and sustainable sensations. Or why not eat wild with a unique Buck and Birch occasional dining experience featuring ingredients carefully curated over many years by Head Chef Rupert Waites? Join in a cocktail making class with a foraged twist with The Botanist Cocktail Experience on Islay,

These are just some of the foraged culinary riches found in Scotland’s woods, hedges, and along our coastline, as well as in our produce. There’s plenty more to discover. All we ask is that you follow the guidance in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and if you’re not sure how to get started, join a course and learn with an expert. Scotland’s food and drink is amongst the very best in the world, the best place to enjoy it is right here. Why not add an eco accommodation experience or a unique farm stay to your trip?