April is the start of foraging season, when the lighter, brighter days bring warmer weather and we can start to get outside more. Hazel recommends giving foraging a go for mental health and wellbeing.
I love this time of year. The shorter days are behind us and the long, lovely summer evenings are getting closer each day. With it brings thoughts of bright walks after work and summer holidays.
Each year around this time I am given hope, reminding me that just like winter turns to spring, better days are always around the corner. Spring heralds the growth of new life. This is evident in the daffodils that have sprung in my garden as well as baby lambs that are now starting to bound around fields across the country.
What you will also notice starting to burst into life are the hedgerows, fields, gorse, trees and various seaweeds in the ocean. The landscape in April all of a sudden turns from the sodden, muddy brown of autumn and winter to the green and luscious of spring and summer, in what feels like the blink of an eye. We live in a country which is ideal for the growth of many the edible, wild growing plant species; mild, wet and fertile. Lucky us!
In my family, there was always an element of foraging for most of my life throughout the year, most noticeably blackberry picking in early autumn. Just the thought of it now fills me with nostalgia and happy memories of time with my family, quietly moving up and down the hedgerows, stopping only to dump our bounty into buckets or bowls. Many were eaten with little consideration given to roadside dirt or the odd bug. Oh, to be a child again.
Perhaps the dietitian in me took it to new levels as of late, clearing out entire drawers of the freezer to freeze and store the berries for the year ahead. I see nobody looking at me funny now, cue the price of a bag of frozen berries from the supermarket.
Can foraging for food have a positive impact on our overall wellbeing?
Improvements in stress levels, social cohesion and physical activity brought about by interaction with urban nature such as tress, parks and gardens, can be further enhanced if there is some sort of emotional or sensorial contact with nature itself. (1,2) Foraging is also free of charge and can be a fun and enriching experience.
The month of April is the traditional month for collecting gorse (which tastes like coconut!) and dandelion flowers, reported to start on the 23rd of the month, although there appears to be no hard or fast rule about this. St George’s mushrooms also start on the 23rd, which happens to be St George’s Day.
It is important not to get overexcited as there are a number of poisonous plant species that need to be avoided, but with due care and attention it is certainly possible to forage, at the very least, a tasty and colourful salad.
Favourites to forage
My personal favourites are chickweed, dandelion leaves, gorse and lime leaves, which can be mixed together to make a tasty and interesting looking salad. The normally invasive nettle leaf can be made into a tasty soup, but don’t make the same mistake as I did and pick older leaves, as these will get twisted all around your blender blades and are a pain to remove, forming what feels like a very stubborn rope around the blades!
If you are lucky to live near the coast, look out for serrated wrack, sea spaghetti, sea beet and gutweed.
I hope that this article may inspire you to explore your local area a bit more this coming month and beyond.
Hazel Windsor-Aubry, RD
Hazel is a Band 5 Community Dietitian with Cambridge
and Peterborough NHD Foundation Trust. She enjoys the
variety of practice that her current role allows.
- Lumber R, Richardson M, Sheffield D. Beyond knowing nature: Contact, emotion, compassion, meaning, and beauty are pathways to nature connection. PLoS ONE. 2017;12:e0177186
- Colléony A, Levontin L, Shwartz A. Promoting meaningful and positive nature interactions for visitors to green spaces. Conservation Biology. 2020;34:1373–1382