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Carly O'Brien
Written by Carly O'Brien 18th September 2017

Walk on the Wild Side

Raspberry and strawberry picking may be coming to an end, but September is the perfect time for some early autumn foraging to make salads, jams and liqueurs. You just need to know what you’re looking for and where to find it, so take a thick pair of gloves and a bag for your bounty and head down to your local woods.

For beginners, start with plants you definitely recognise. Dandelions are packed with nutrients and great in salads, and the humble nettle is high in iron and makes a great spinach substitute. It loses its sting when cooked and you can even deep fry nettle leaves to make a crispy seaweed equivalent, or use them instead of basil in pesto. Rosehips are tasty and packed with vitamin C and are ideal to make tea and jellies. Wild nuts like hazelnuts and chestnuts are in abundance now, as are sloes, which resemble blueberries and are ripe for picking to make sloe gin. Experts recommend fermenting slow gin for a year before drinking, but you can get away with just three months. Make it now and it’ll be ready for Christmas. And a Michael Graham top tip – don’t throw the sloes away after you’ve drained them. Cover them in chocolate and eat them with ice cream for a post-dinner indulgence.

Any wood offers a huge diversity of flowering plants, fungi and fruit, and you’re spoilt for choice across Michael Graham’s regions. Foraging in Top Ardles Wood in Northamptonshire round about now will provide you with a good haul of damsons, which make excellent jams and added to gin or vodka make the damson equivalent of sloe gin. Penn Wood and Hodgemoor Wood are both in the Buckinghamshire Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Penn Wood is famous for fungi but novices beware - eating the wrong varieties can be lethal. Flora and fauna expert David Willis knows his mushrooms and runs family-friendly guided walks in both of these woods, rated by The Guardian as outstanding. Places are free but limited, so head to now as he’s already taking bookings for next year. Aspley Wood, between Woburn and Woburn Sands, is one of the largest areas of woodland in Bedfordshire, and Hitch Wood in Hertfordshire is considered one of the finest woods in the North Chilterns and a top spot for sweet chestnuts. Just make sure you leave some for the squirrels.

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