Top 10 Things to Forage in Autumn

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Today I’m excited to share a great guest post from a local foraging expert. I have been enjoying following Matt’s instagram feed, and love that I can tag him in a picture and ask for his help in identifying a plant or fungus while out foraging. This is a wonderful time of year to get out there and pick, and I enjoyed reading Matt’s top 10 things to forage in autumn.Top 10 Things to Forage in AutumnI’m often asked about the best things to forage in a given season. In Autumn, there’s lots to choose from, with berries, nuts and fungi of all types in abundance.

For me the ‘best’ things to forage for, as a beginner, are things that can be found, identified and prepared simply and easily.

Of course you have mushrooms like Boletus Edulis (Porcini, Penny Bun, King Bolete) which are delicious and expensive to buy. But if these are not common where you live, you don’t know where to look or how to identify them with ease, you can waste time and energy that could have been used to collect things that are common in your area.

Things you will need:

A pair of scissors, or a good pocket knife.

Some sort of container. I use a wicker basket, but a reusable shopping bag will do.

I would recommend sturdy shoes or boots, long sleeves and pants (trousers) to protect from nettles, thorns and things like poison ivy/oak if you’re in the USA.

Optional: gloves, and a notebook for keeping track of  locations and harvest dates. This can be invaluable for the following years.

Top 10 Things to Forage in Autumn

1. Hazelnuts. IMG_0898There are a good number of species of hazel which produce nuts, but for our purposes they are pretty much interchangeable. This is one you’re going to have to race the squirrels for, and many of you may find you’re too late and all that’s left is a bunch of chewed up shells. With hazel, you want to look for it as part of boundary hedging, in mixed deciduous woodland, or as part of amenity planting. Once you get used to seeing it, check under the branches for the nuts. At first glance a bush may look bare, but if you lift the branches you will often see that they’re laden. The nuts always grow under the leaves. You can eat them when the shells are still green, if they have a developed nut inside, these are really tasty, and sold as ‘cobnuts’ in the UK. You can also dry nuts in a dry dark place or in a dehydrator, then use them dry or roast them. It’s a bumper year in USA and UK which is good because world prices of nuts are up due to the failed Turkish harvest.IMG_0850

2. Apples.
IMG_0863I really don’t know why anyone would buy an apple between late August and October.
Once you’ve tuned in to what grows around you, you’ll notice there’s apple trees everywhere, be they parts of abandoned orchards, amenity planting on common land, and quite often seeded from apple cores. I often see good eating apple trees at the sides of roads and in rest stops that have seeded from discarded cores. Believe it or not I collected over 100 kilos (220lbs) of eating apples from within 3 miles of my house in just a day! Most will be destined for cider (hard cider), others will be eaten as is, or peeled, cored, chopped and frozen for future use.

With apples all you need to know is, if it tastes a bit sour and is quite large it’s probably a cooking apple, so save these for pies. If it’s tasty and palatable, it’s an eater, and if it’s small, sour and astringent, puckering your mouth, it will be a crab apple. Use these for making wine, crab apple and chili jelly, etc.

3. Blackberries
These are synonymous with autumn for many, and even the most inexperienced forager has probably had a go at picking these before. There isn’t really anything you can confuse it with, apart from Black Raspberries in the USA, which are also edible. Avoid picking anywhere where they may have been sprayed with pesticides, or next to very busy roads.

A little tip for checking if they’re actually ripe when the berries are black. Take the berry gently between thumb and index finger and rotate your hand 45 degrees turning your thumb down and inwards towards you. If the berry pops off, it is ripe, if not, leave it be. Many black colored berries aren’t at peak ripeness, so this technique saves getting too many sour berries in your pot. Berries go bad if not used the same day, so if you want to keep these, they must be processed into jams, chutney, wine, or simply frozen as they are for future use.

4. Blackthorn, Sloe berry.
The Sloe is the fruit of the Blackthorn bush (Prunus Spinosa.) This is common in Europe, naturalized and planted as boundary hedging, it’s also widely distributed in the Eastern United States and the Pacific Northwest.

The berries resemble small round plums, and are part of the plum (Prunus) family. The fruits are very astringent, and not good to eat raw. However their virtues are best realized in their use in making Sloe Gin. This is made simply by adding sloes which have been pricked, or slit (or just frozen and thawed) into an empty container to the half way point, topping up with cheap gin (you can also use vodka), and adding a small amount of sugar. This is left for around 3 months, shaking the jar occasionally and then decanted and strained for the end product. It can be sweetened further to taste once it’s matured. The leftover fruit can then be pitted easily and used on ice cream, in pies and Christmas puddings, or my favorite, as centers for Sloe Gin Chocolate Truffles.

5. Sweet Chestnut (Castanea Sativa)
The European Chestnut is, as the name suggests mainly prevalent in Europe, but is present in the USA as an introduced species in some Eastern States.

This has to be my favorite edible food at this time of year. The trees are large and have very distinctive waxy green, highly serrated leaves, and spiky nut casings. Immature trees will drop their casings early, with undeveloped nut casings inside. Look for large established trees, which will drop their nuts around October. They can be scored, blanched and peeled, to be frozen or used fresh in cakes, and stuffing etc. My favorite way is simply to score and roast, in fact I have them for breakfast with a good pot of coffee for weeks in season.

6. Beech Nut (Mast)
The Beech tree produces a nut referred to as Beech Mast. This nut is one of the more underrated of our native wild foods. Beech trees produce nut casings every year, but only have ‘full’ nuts every 3-5 years, so you may have to search a bit for these, when you find them they will be abundant.

They can be fiddly to process, which is probably why they aren’t as popular as they should be. Simply dry roast these in an oven in the shell, then place between two tea towels and rub them to shell. They’re similar to pine nuts in size and fat content. They can be cold pressed to extract the oil if you rake up large quantities, it’s a popular oil in France.

7. Giant Puffball (Calvatia Gigantia)Giant Puffball MushroomThe puffball is of the easiest of fungi for beginners to identify. It’s common in Europe and the USA. This large white round fungi can resemble a soccer ball. It’s quite soft, and is edible as long as the insides are solid white in color. They grow in fields and hedgerows, and can’t really be confused with anything else. Simply fry up slices with butter and garlic, or fritter them in a seasoned batter. They also freeze well.

8. Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus)2014-08-14 08.14.09-1This large, fleshy bracket fungus grows mostly on dead or dying oak trees, sometimes on cherry and other deciduous trees. It’s bright and distinctive in color, growing in yellow/orange shelves from the tree. As the name suggests, it has the texture and some say flavor of chicken. I tend to use to it in risottos and stews where I want firm texture and to hold onto any flavors added.

A word of caution: A small amount should be tested before large scale consumption, as a very small minority may experience a reaction to this fungi. I’ve not met anyone who has, but this is the warning in the books so best to be cautious.

9. Rose HipsIMG_0853Rose hips are one of the highest Vitamin C per weight fruits you can forage. They’re the fruit of any rose variety, and it’s the flesh of the fruit you use, discarding the irritating seeds. They were collected in the UK during the war to make a traditional rose hip syrup, to prevent scurvy in the population. Syrup or jelly is the way to go with these, and either wild dog rose varieties, or the commonly planted Japanese Rose (Rosa Rugosa) will work for this. A good nutrition packed pick-me-up on a winters day.

10. Elderberries
Elderberries are one of the quintessential sights of the season, with the dark purple almost black clusters of berries drooping under their own weight being a welcome sight for human and animal foragers alike. Look for a medium sized tree or shrub with distinctive rough bark, mid green colored pinnate leaves with 5-9 leaflets.
Elderberries are packed with vitamins and antioxidants. Due to their high vitamin C content they are often used in a sweetened spiced winter tonic for the cold dark nights of winter. Their rich deep and slightly tannic flavor lends itself well for wine making, and also in vinegars and sweet vinaigrettes. In addition they can be used in pies and jams, on their own or combined with other fruit. If you are interested in natural plant dyes, elderberry its a very potent red/purple dye, so be careful when preparing your berries and preferably wear an apron.

For more information, tips and hints check out my Facebook page or my Twitter feed.

Matt Normansell Bio PicMatthew is a Foraging and Wild Food guide based in the North West of England. He has been foraging since he was a child, and took inspiration from the herbalists and foragers in his mother’s family. His Great Great Grandmother Annie Tallet was a prominent herbalist and healer in the Midlands for many years. After focusing on foraging as a passion for the last 10 years Matthew set up Eden Wild Food in 2012 and started offering both public group courses, and private foraging classes.

Thanks for all of these great tips, Matt! And happy foraging to all of you! I hope you can get out there and find some wonderful foods!

Common Sense Caution: Don’t go around eating plants you are not familiar with. Do some research first to make sure you know what it is. Google image search is your friend! I have a good collection of foraging books to help me spot edibles and avoid toxic plants. Here are a few I recommend: Food for Free, Foraging and Feasting, The Forager’s Harvest.

If you are interested in more foraging posts and ideas, you can check out my foraging board on Pinterest , and click here to see foraging posts on And Here We Are….

Top 10 Things to Forage in Autumn  And Here We Are...

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29 Responses to Top 10 Things to Forage in Autumn

  1. Anna @Green Talk September 12, 2014 at 2:27 pm #

    Can you use rose hips from any rose plant?

    • Matthew September 12, 2014 at 9:00 pm #

      Hi Anna, yes you can use any Rose species, the wild ones are usually a type of dog rose. There is also Rosa Rugosa which is a common amentity planting species that has larger round/saucer shaped hips which are nice.

  2. Liene K September 12, 2014 at 4:59 pm #

    As chestnuts, hazelnuts and apples aren’t very commonly found in our area, my favorite is black walnuts. There are plenty of hickories around as well, but it can be more different to distinguish between species, some which have bitter nuts.

    • Nevie Bleu October 22, 2017 at 3:52 pm #

      When I lived in North Carolina, muscadine grapes seemed like they grew EVERYWHERE. Is that the case in South Carolina too? I never see them anywhere else–even at the store–but they were a’plenty down there, both on wild vines and in stores. I also remember quite a bit of sassafras.

  3. Matthew September 12, 2014 at 8:58 pm #

    Walnuts and Hickories are nice finds either way. It’s the joy of foraging, using whats local, with every list, even the commonest items will be scarce or non existent in some areas, i tried to be as general as I could. where abouts are you from?

    • Liene K September 13, 2014 at 12:19 am #

      South Carolina, USA. Of course you have to look at what is in your area. I enjoyed the post, thanks!

      • Matthew September 13, 2014 at 4:38 am #

        Nice. I have friends in that area. My brother lives up in Gettysburg, PA. Do you get Wineberries where you are?

  4. Joanna September 13, 2014 at 4:38 am #

    I think an underrated berry is Mountain Ash or Rowan, it makes a wonderful tart jam that goes nicely with pork. Here in Latvia the trees are laden this year. It is another one that is good for the winter cold and flu season.

  5. Matthew September 13, 2014 at 4:41 am #

    Yes, Its another one I considered including, I make Jelly and I also make Rowan ‘schnapps’ (vodka) which is good. Have to try and best the birds to them most years.

  6. imgrowinginhisgrace September 14, 2014 at 3:31 pm #

    I would LOVE to see the giant puffball used in a recipe–with pictures. There are abundant here and everyone says they are edible, but can’t find anyway to prepare them. Any good posts that you use to prepare them that you would like to pass along to us?

  7. Issy September 14, 2014 at 5:48 pm #

    Matthew this is a wonderful article and I’ve made some useful notes! Thank you

    One other point I’d like to share as an owner of property filled with many of the fruits, berries, nuts you’ve mentioned is this:

    Before foraging PLEASE ask at the home nearest your site or in large ag areas even at the town hall as to who the property owner is to obtain (or find withheld) permission. Many of my Spring and Summer hours are spent in caring for the trees, bushes and plants on the land that fruit or nut. Many hours of work pay the taxes on the land. Many of my winter months depend upon gathering and canning/freezing/drying these foods from my property. Some helps feed my retired parents. Some feeds my animals.

    I’m often happy to consider sharing any excess after my needs are met! BUT it’s oh so important that foragers understand that ‘no house in sight’ does not equal abandoned property. I think it’s an honest mistake – often when out scouting it’s difficult to to imagine acres of land with no house for miles being owned/taxed/cared for/essential owner food stuffs when coming out from the suburbs or the city. Look for posted signs, honor them.

    I mention this not to be a wet blanket or discourage foraging. Yet it’s a real and important part of the forage education and process. Uninvited/unpermissioned foraging is coming to a point where I and my land owning neighbors are finding it to be a growing (no pun intended lol) concern and problem.

    Please help those new to foraging add this step to responsible foraging/gathering!

    Thanks to all for reading my thoughts here –
    Again, thank you Matthew for a great article and Ariana, I’m SO looking forward to strolling thru your site!

  8. Matthew September 14, 2014 at 6:29 pm #

    Hi Issy, of course consider the laws locally in your area, however in the UK, any plants, fruit, nuts, fungi growing wild on ANY land is fair game to forage, (theft act 1968 sect 4 subsection 3) as long as its collected for personal use and not commerical purposes. I always encourage responsible foraging, and to only take a little and spread out your collecting as much as possible. If you are talking about orchards or things you are obviously actively growing an cultivating, I would of course encourage everyone to leave these alone, as that would be theft.

  9. Elaine September 17, 2014 at 1:59 am #

    We are a foraging family as well. We are in NE PA. Here are a few more items to add to your list for fall : pears (early Bartlett and late season Sickle), Quince, late season raspberries, papinky (sp?) mushrooms, sheepshead mushrooms, and even some late season peaches.
    We are fortunate to have a lot of friends who have many of these items growing somewhere on their land (whether intentional or not) and call us every year to let us know when the harvest is nearing. Of course, they are all generously “paid” back with jars of goodies as a “thank you”.
    Happy Harvest!

    • Matthew September 17, 2014 at 10:43 pm #

      Im in the UK and not familiar with the common names you refer to for the mushrooms, I could have done a top 20, but didnt want to overload people and it needed to be stuff that was mostly relevant UK/USA (we dont get peaches here). My brother actually lives in PA, hoping to get over some point, love to go berry picking there for Black Raspberry and Wineberries, neither of which we get here. Also Saskatoons/service berries/juneberries

  10. Liz Shaw September 17, 2014 at 3:58 am #

    Re: Chicken of the Woods. Make sure you cook them thoroughly! I make a wonderful noodle casserole whenever I am lucky enough to find a nice shelf of mushrooms. I always chopped and sautéed the mushroom in butter before mixing it with the noodles, cream, and mixed cheeses. We found one on our way home from a long trip when we stopped to stretch our legs out in the woods. I was tired after we got home and took a short cut, assuming the mushroom would be properly cooked while baking. It tasted wonderful but we barely made it through dinner when we became really sick. My husband and I both spent the night throwing up violently. It’s the only time we ever had a reaction to Chicken of the Woods. They are wonderful, with delightful texture, amazing taste, but make sure you cook them properly.

  11. Matthew September 17, 2014 at 10:41 pm #

    Liz, what tree did you take the Chicken of the Woods from. I find reactions tend to be more from tree as opposed to cooking, but i usually cook mine pretty well. I blanche it first usually then use it in my desired preparation. I usually cook all mushrooms well anyway, as any raw or undercooked mushrooms in any quantity can be a struggle for the digestive system.

  12. gail brewer October 24, 2016 at 12:52 pm #

    hi matthew my name is gail and would like to add that I don’t have a working printer due to the cost of ink and also suffer with stress quite badly I have done some foraging before and would like some advice on weeds and berrys which are safe enough to use for edible use that might of use sometime sooner thanks for your time gail brewer

  13. Marti April 18, 2018 at 1:19 pm #

    I find blackberries ripen in mid summer not fall.I have lived in Indiana and Arkansas and July seems the predominant ripening time for blackberries. Blackraspberries ripen close or just before in Indiana. As well as dewberries which are black and look like blackberries but grow on briars lying closer to the ground.

  14. Liz October 23, 2018 at 10:40 am #

    Here on the east coast mid-Atlantic region elderberries ripen in July. By autumn they are way gone!!


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