Wild foods, once a common – and very cheap – means of seasonal sustenance, are enjoying a renaissance in restaurants and homes. Discover how you can get your hands on these rich pickings of Scottish foraging – ideal picnic pastime.
Collecting wild berries gets you out and about – and they’re free too, of course. Scotland is home to some of the best outdoor access rights in the Europe, so take advantage and get out into the countryside. Just take care when you’re picking the berries that you don’t harm the plant.
There are about 10 different edible types of berries that are found in Scotland’s woods including wild cherries, blaeberries, sloes, rowan and juniper berries. Wild berries predominantly grow in Perthshire, particularly in the fertile Strathmore valley, and Fife but are also found in the Grampian area, the Highlands, Arran, Ayrshire and the Borders.
In warm Scottish summers, the heat combined with long daylight hours help most berries ripen into succulent morsels bursting with flavours.
There are literally dozens of species of edible wild mushrooms in the Scottish woods but only a few are commonly eaten. Autumn is the best time to pick edible mushrooms, 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.
Popular edible varieties include cep, chicken of the woods, chanterelle, wood blewitt, hedgehog fungus and morel. Scottish Natural Heritage has a great guide about Scotland’s fungi.
The Scottish Wild Mushroom Forum also has a Mushroom Code to advise gatherers on best practice.
Scotland’s coast is prime foraging territory. Collect sea buckthorn berries on long beach walks, poke around rock pools at low tide for shellfish, or even dabble at putting out lobster pots and fish inshore for mackerel.
Mussels, limpets and winkles are some of the edible fishy specimens that can be found along rocky shores. The empty shells of razor clams, cockles and clams on a beach give them away beneath the sand or mud.
While wild shellfish do carry the risk of food poisoning, a few basic safety tips – such as collecting in clean waters and avoiding the high summer months – should make them perfectly safe to eat.
Rock pools are also home to colourful array of seaweeds and shore plants which make unexpectedly tasty dishes. Once part of the staple diet of crofters and fisherfolk, dulce is a red seawood which is a hit with vegetarians and is especially delicious in soup.
These are just some of the culinary riches found in Scotland’s woods, hedges and shoreline which are free for the taking. But please be responsible at all times when out and about foraging. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code allows foraging provided it’s not for commercial gain. And don’t be greedy and pick everything in sight. Be sure to leave plenty for others to enjoy – including the wildlife!