For the next part of our Digital Detox series, we had the pleasure of heading out into the woods for a few hours with Fern Freud to experience one of her wild foraging walks.
Fern grew up in a family of foragers, gathering food and hunting for mushrooms with her dad on the Sussex Downs. She’s since gone on to perfect her craft, running workshops and classes and sharing her knowledge with others, so that they too can experience the joy of foraging slowly, safely and sustainably.
Whether she’s cooking up magnolia fritters, harvesting mugwort leaves for homemade ice cream or making eco -friendly washing up liquid with old ivy leaves, Fern really knows her stuff when it comes to nature’s recipes.
As part of our Digital Detox series running throughout September, we thought joining Fern for one of her foraging walks would be a great way to forget the online world exists for a while, slow down, make like our ancestors and reconnect with the land.
From identifying autumn edibles such as berries, nuts, mushrooms and hedgerow herbs, to harvesting responsibly, here’s how the team got on hanging out in mother nature’s larder with Foraged By Fern. Alexa, play Folklore…
If you’re looking to expand your food knowledge, begin your own foraging journey or simply do something a bit different for a family activity, corporate event or special occasion, book one of Fern’s guided courses and find out what ingredients you can discover, right on your doorstep.
She offers private foraging courses for small groups, encompassing a 2hr walk rounded off with a delicious wild picnic using all the delicious ingredients you’ve gathered along the way.
What a joy (and career highlight haha) it was to spend our Tuesday morning foraging on the South Downs with Fern. Having grown up around the area, it felt nostalgic and comforting to be back in my neck of the woods, literally. We started off with the all-important health and safety talk – a reminder to only eat and forage what you can clearly identify, forage responsibly and leave the rest for mama nature. We had all but crossed the dusty car park before we stumbled upon some pineapple weed (or wild chamomile). These simple yellow flower heads are commonly found on disturbed ground such as pathways and roadsides, but Fern mentioned being cautious of where you harvest because of pollution / toxic weed killer. The general rule of thumb is to forage away from cars in a clean location, to avoid the risk but don’t let that put you off, these guys can be infused for iced teas, used in salads or – my personal fave – in a wild cocktail with ground ivy and rum.
We then ambled over the hills and gathered around some hawthorn berries. Personally, I’m always been a tad nervous about picking wild berries (juicy blackberries aside) ever since my primary school pal ingested a handful on one particularly adventurous Disney-esque lunchtime and wound up in hospital. She was fine but it got me thinking if only she’d picked hawthorns ay! Rookie error. Along the way, Fern gave us some key checkpoints for identifying all the edibles. With the haws, we were looking for a dark green hand-shaped serrated leaf, similar to an oak, thorns and ruby red berries with a stone in the middle. They taste a little bit like a savoury apple but are best when cooked and you can make all sorts with them from jellies and hawthorn berry ketchup to chutney or vinegar.
It’s just crazy to think on all the walks I’ve done, I’ve probably just toddled past all these, completely oblivious to their uses and superfood properties. Lareese
I could harp on about all the discoveries we made in one little patch of the South Downs, from yarrow (soldier’s woundwort, I bloody love the names it’s like Harry Potter) to mugwort (great for menstruation cramps but one to avoid for pregnant people). It’s just crazy to think on all the walks I’ve done, I’ve probably just toddled past all these, completely oblivious to their uses and superfood properties. Nature really is a babe, isn’t she?!
Talking of babes, Fern not only knows her stuff when it comes to the law of the land and identifying edibles, she’s also an incredible storyteller, combining her practical workshops with folklore, history and mythology. It was fascinating stuff and a real learning experience as well as a treat for the mind.
Any workshop that’s rounded off with homemade rose & lemon cake on a picnic blanket gets full marks from me. Huge thank you to the lovely Fern for hanging out with us for a few hours and sharing her foraging pearls of wisdom with us. Having seen what the beginning of autumn can offer up, it’s safe to say I’ve caught the foraging bug and immediately want to book in another one for springtime.
I didn’t know what to expect when I found out we would be going foraging, other than the odd blackberry I very rarely know what you can and can’t pick when out on a walk and I have absolutely no idea what you could make with said pickings. I’d had a look at Fern’s Instagram in the car on the way and I must say everything she was making looked delicious so I couldn’t wait to get involved. Fern gave us a rundown of what to expect when we started and gave us a fair bit of warning about the dangers of foraging as a surprising amount of plants in the UK can be toxic or deadly – who knew?! She also mentioned that some plants in the UK are protected so if have a good look at those before setting off and if you’re ever in doubt there are plenty of Facebook groups that will help you identify if something should be picked or not. Old laws allow people to forage public land, but if there are ever any signs that ask you not to, you should follow those first.
The experience as a whole was absolutely fantastic, for so many reasons, the first being general identification of herbs/fruits/food – Fern gave us a great checklist for each thing so that you could make sure all things were checked off before confirming it is what you think it is. This could be leaf pattern, scent, where it usually grows, style of flower/head and so many more. We were also told about all the incredible things we could do with each item, one of the first things we saw was pineapple weed which is also known as natures camomile, Fern explained how we could make it into a tea, making sure to cover the hot water with a plate so none of the infusion escapes. She also told us how to infuse it with rum to make a pineapple mojito!
For me, the best thing about Fern’s workshop was learning about the history and old wives tails related to some of the things we found.Danielle
For me, the best thing about Fern’s workshop was learning about the history and old wives tails related to some of the things we found. The second thing we encountered was Mugwort and we learnt all about its healing properties, how it’s great in hot chocolate, can be used in massage oil, and you may see walkers pop it in their shoes to help ease any pain in their feet! We also learnt that Jon the Baptist used to wear a girdle made of mugwort for its magical purposes, which is fascinating.
Everything we found came with so many interesting facts and details, and it was a joy to listen to Fern share her knowledge with us, she is quite an encyclopedia for all things foraging and I would implore anyone to book a workshop whether you have a keen interest in foraging or not!
I went into this experience as a total newbie and with absolutely no idea what to expect from foraging- something that feels so unlike anything I’ve done before- but I was so pleasantly surprised and haven’t stopped raving about it to friends and family since! I hate to say it but I thought compared to the yoga which I had loved so much, foraging might be a little less engaging and not something I would be overly interested in, but that really couldn’t have been further from the truth. Fern is so personable and really makes you eager and interested from the start and even from her first introductions to foraging and the basic dos and don’ts I was sold on the concept! Initially, Fern went over the basic warnings about toxic and dangerous plants in the UK which was certainly a reality check as I hadn’t realised quite how serious the effects of ingesting these plants could be, and even from this point, it was clear that her wealth of knowledge on this subject is truly unmatched.
We were so lucky to go foraging during September’s 3-day heatwave and exploring the South Downs in the sunshine was such a lovely way to connect with nature and just made me feel super grateful for my surroundings and how peaceful everything felt- it was perfect for a digital detox! The experience lasted maybe 90 minutes in total and from start to finish I was learning so much new information in the form of anecdotes, facts about how to use each plant and the history behind them and their benefits in past society too. Fern is an absolute powerhouse of knowledge and there was no question she could not answer or detail she didn’t know- I felt very safe to pick and even try some berries in her company and again was just in awe of talent and passion for the subject which was so infectious throughout the experience.
It was crazy to me that all of these plants and their history are so readily available to see and learn about yet before this experience I had never considered it.Charlotte
For some reason prior to the walk, I felt like we would really have to be searching for plants we could learn about or pick and that a bit like bird watching perhaps it was going to be a bit of a waiting game to find anything good, but it seemed every corner we turned or new tree or plant we came across had a story and use in cooking or medicine. It was crazy to me that all of these plants and their history are so readily available to see and learn about yet before this experience I had never considered it. Fern really opened my eyes to this whole new world and I feel like a countryside walk will never be the same again!
We finished the experience with some absolutely delicious vegan rose and lemon cake made with the addition of some ingredients Fern had foraged, and it couldn’t have been more tasty or full circle to get to experience the fruits of her labour if you will. I have been recommending foraging to all my loved ones and would love to go on another of Fern’s workshops because there are infinite things to learn and try and it was just such a joyful way to spend a couple of hours. Truly the perfect DD activity.