Foraging in November and December: edible wild plants to look out for

Don't let short days and cold, damp weather put you off. Find this cast of characters and you'll be in for a foraging treat.

You'd expect to find nuts and seeds but look out for fresh, new leaves too. Here’s a short guide to our favourites.

Always take a good field guide with you and please follow our sustainable foraging guidelines.

Bullace (Prunus domestica)

Use bullace to make jam, wine and liquers. (Photo: cnmb15/Alamy)
Use bullace to make jam, wine and liquers. (Photo: cnmb15/Alamy)

Bullace is a wild variety of plum and is similar to damson. In some years the hedgerow can be straining from the weight of bullace fruits.

How to use it: the fruits can be used to make crumbles, jams and preserves, fruit wine and to make fruit liqueurs (similar to sloe gin).

What to look for: small, oval fruits can vary in colour but are usually blue, purple or black. They tend to taste acidic until ripe. This is a great late season fruit as it ripens up to six weeks later than many others from October to November.

Wild food: a guide for foragers by Roger Phillips

Get the best foraging recipes in this book

Hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)

Add a few peppery leaves to a winter salad. (Photo: Alamy/N. Cattlin))
Add a few peppery leaves to a winter salad. (Photo: Alamy/N. Cattlin))

A common annual herb with rounded leaves that's considered by most gardeners to be a weed. It can grow through the winter, though usually stays in a compact rosette form close to the ground. Its leaves and flowers have a delicious, peppery, tangy flavour.

How to use it: pick leaves from the middle of the rosette-like plant and wash well to get rid of any dust or grit.  It's pepperiness is good in winter salads (especially when mixed with goat's cheese and beetroot). Or add it to soups, salsa and pesto. 

What to look for:  In winter, you'll often find it growing on bare soil in flower beds and vegetable patches.

Hop (Humulus lupulus)

Look for this plant climbing along hedgerows. (Photo:  D. Fuchs/Wikimedia Commons)
Look for this plant climbing along hedgerows. (Photo: D. Fuchs/Wikimedia Commons)

A creeping, climbing plant in the same family as cannabis.

How to use it: all parts of the plant are edible at certain times of the year. Flowers from female plants (also called seed cones or strobiles) are used mainly as a flavouring and stability agent in beer. They have a bitter, zesty flavour. They can also be used to make teas, tinctures and infusions.  Dried flowers can be stuffed inside pillows to induce sleep. Or use the plant to decorate your home.

What to look for: look for it in hedgerows and clambering up small trees, fences and poles. Its papery green-yellow female flowers (strobiles) are ripe and ready to pick from mid-September and into winter.

Pine (Pinus species)

Dislodgen seeds from open pine cones by shaking them. (Photo: Alamy)
Dislodgen seeds from open pine cones by shaking them. (Photo: Alamy)

A good tree for winter foraging since both needles and seeds from various species of pine trees are edible.

How to use it: collect the needles and the seeds. A tea extracted from pine needles is apparently high in vitamin C, making it a great anti-cold remedy. It also contains vitamin A and beta-carotene. Seeds can be dislodged from open pine cones by shaking them. Seeds can be eaten raw but are usually roasted or toasted.

What to look for: an evergreen coniferous tree but look for young trees as its easier to harvest pine needles. Make absolutely sure that you don’t accidentally harvest the needles from yew.

Make Robin Harwood’s pine needle vinegar

Sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa)

Look for the best crop of chestnuts on large established trees. (Photo: Alamy)
Look for the best crop of chestnuts on large established trees. (Photo: Alamy)

A favourite at this time of year, and a Christmas classic. Sweet chestnut trees were introduced to the UK by the Romans.

How to use it: the nuts can be baked, roasted, boiled or microwaved. Remember to score a cross in them to stop them from exploding when they are cooked. Once cooked and peeled they can be eaten as they are or used in deserts and stuffings. You can also candy them, puree them or store them in syrup.

What to look for: you’ll find the best crop at the foot of large established trees. Trees start dropping nuts from October and into late autumn and early winter.

Wild food: a complete guide for foragers by Roger Phillips

Get the best foraging recipes in this book