Dartmoor Foraging: wild food near Melrose Cottage

What is foraging?

Foraging means finding, identifying and harvesting food growing in the wild. You have probably plucked a delicious, fat, juicy blackberry from a bush before, so you are already a forager! This activity is a great way of re-discovering your local area. Foraging for food really makes you slow down and really take in and enjoy your surroundings. Better still, you get free ingredients for your dinner!

People traditionally think of wild mushrooms as the focus of foraging, but the British hedgerow is a treasure trove of delicious leaves, flowers, berries and nuts. There is something to be discovered for every season. Dartmoor is particularly abundant with wild food treasures, and foraging for food here on the breathtaking landscapes of Dartmoor National Park is an experience you won’t forget.

Is foraging fun to do with the family?

In a word, yes!! Just last weekend, I took my five year old on a bike ride (he has just started being able to ride the pedal bike on his own!). We started at the end of the road, getting onto the Granite Way (for more information on cycle routes near Melrose Cottage click here). It is a flat surface and traffic free (perfect for little riders), and both sides are abundant with hedgerows. My son can’t cycle too far in one go anyway and we stopped every so often to enjoy the Autumn sun and fill our tupperware with ripe blackberries for an apple and blackberry crumble for dessert later. My son really enjoyed it and was really proud to have provided part of our dinner!

Seasonal Foraging

As you can imagine, foraging is highly seasonal. Knowing what to look for right now will really help you. You will likely want to have more detailed sources of information, like the Woodland Trust website’s month-by-month guide, which can be accessed here.

Winter – this is obviously a tricky time, but there is still much to be found – nuts like chestnuts, hazelnuts and beech nuts can be gathered (if you get there before the squirrels), and there are still some berries around in those south facing hedges like blackberries, sloes and hawthorn. Some species of mushrooms are also available at this time of year.

Spring – spring is a wonderful season for discovering fresh new greens and edible flowers, and the hedgerows and woods are absolutely bursting with new flavours for you to try. From wild garlic, hawthorn, tender new nettle  leaves to delicious humble dandelion (did you know the whole plant is edible!).

Summer – wow what a season for foraging for your dinner – why not try making some elderflower cordial, or search out some lime blossom, honeysuckle, or pineapple weed. Other summer favourites are chanterelle mushrooms, fat hen (use as a spinach substitute), raspberries and wild strawberries

Autumn  – autumn is a great time for Dartmoor foraging, how about looking for some sloes, blackberries, hairy bittercress, raspberries, rose hips, chestnuts, hazel nuts, and of course autumn is THE wild mushroom season for foragers.

Are there any rules of foraging?

There are are some guidelines here. You should only eat things when you are sure that you know what they are. You should have identified at least three recognisable features of the plant. Do not “just try it” to see if it is edible, as some things can be very dangerous. Do not not access private land where there is no right of way – it is also to illegal to dig things up. Make sure you leave plenty behind, these plants can be vital to the local insect, bird and animal populations – and you want the plant to be able to regenerate for your next visit!

Where can I learn more?

There are some great resources around. We recommend:


  • www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/things-to-do/foraging/
  • www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/foraging
  • www.eatweeds.co.uk
  • www.wildfooduk.com


  • Food for Free (Collins Gem)
  • Hedgerow: River Cottage Handbook No. 7
  • Wild Food UK Foraging Pocket Guide


Foraging Courses Providers close to Melrose Cottage:

  • www.groundupcookeryschool.co.uk
  • www.eatweeds.co.uk
  • www.theforagingfoodie.co.uk

And Finally Something to Try!!

Of course the conclusion of this article: you need to come to Melrose Cottage and try some Dartmoor Foraging! I will leave you with two easy things to try as a “beginner” in the foraging world. You can, I’m sure, identify stinging nettles already – why not head to the nearest nettle patch with some gloves on. Harvest the tender tips – about the first 3 to 4cm. Why not try whipping up a delicious nettle risotto or if you’re feeling adventurous, nettle ravioli! For dessert, why not head to the nearest hedgerow for some blackberries and whip up a quintessentially English apple and blackberry crumble.