Discover the Secrets of Foraging: A Beginner's Guide to Harvesting Nature's Bounty, an interview with Megan from Terra Vitum

Discover the Secrets of Foraging: A Beginner's Guide to Harvesting Nature's Bounty, an interview with Megan from Terra Vitum

An interview with Megan from Terra Vitum, a passionate forager and advocate for wild living. Read to uncover Megan's top tips for getting started with foraging as a beginner.
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Earlier this month we had the pleasure of chatting with Megan from Terra Vitum, a passionate forager and advocate for wild living. In this interview, Megan shares her wisdom and insights on the art of foraging, its connection to wellness and sustainability, and provides valuable tips for beginners looking to start their own foraging journey. 

In this beginner's guide Megan will uncover top tips on foraging, a time-honored practice that connects us with the earth and its array of edible treasures. From wild berries and mushrooms to herbs and greens, Megan talks through her favourite items to forage, how to forage and what to do with your foraged goods. In this guide, you will learn the essentials of getting started with foraging, including tips on learning how to identify different plant species and gathering them safely and sustainably. Plus, Megan provides insights into the nutritional and health benefits of foraged foods, as well as some of her favourite ways to cook and preserve foraged treats. Whether you're a nature enthusiast, a food lover, or simply looking to explore a new hobby, this guide is your key to unlocking the art of foraging. 

Discover Terra Vitum’s workshops and courses and other unique Sussex experiences on Resident Artisan and shop their artisan tea range alongside other Sussex food and drink products. 

The Journey to Foraging: Megan's Story

Megan's love for foraging began in her childhood, where she fondly remembers exploring nature with her grandparents in North Wales. These outings, filled with collecting wild fruits and herbs, ingrained in her the understanding that humans have an inherent need to be connected with nature. Today, Megan channels her passion for foraging by sharing her knowledge and experiences through Terra Vitum's platform - offering a range of foraging and wild living courses alongside an apothecary shop. The vision is to build a community of like-minded individuals seeking a deeper connection with the natural world.

Megan's Approach to Foraging

Megan’s overarching goal is to teach the average person how to live slower and live hand in hand with nature. 

Megan acknowledges some of the bad press surrounding foraging, based on the minority that don’t follow proper foraging practices. However, she passionately argues that the activity, far from being detrimental, can actually help create a profound connection with the environment. Engaging in foraging, according to Megan, can cultivate a strong sense of responsibility for nature and the environment. She illustrates this by highlighting how through mushroom picking, foragers become integrated into the ecological cycle, aiding in the spread of spores and actually promoting further growth of the crop.

These experiences, Megan explains, prompts a significant shift in mindset. Foragers evolve to view themselves as guardians of the land, nurturing a desire to protect and preserve their foraging grounds. The essence of foraging, as Megan articulates, lies not in the quantity gathered but in the mindfulness of the act. It's about engaging with the ecosystem respectfully, ensuring its health and longevity. Through her teachings, Megan seeks to instill a deeper appreciation for nature's balance, urging a thoughtful, measured interaction with the environment. Foragers often understand the land they spend time in more than anyone else. 

The health and wellbeing benefits of foraging

Megan shares a perspective that many will find relatable: the healing power of nature. She often turns to the tranquility of the woods to lift her spirits, sometimes spending over 12 hours immersed in the natural environment. According to Megan, there's a noticeable shift in how you feel when you can start to identify the plants around you, adding a deeper sense of purpose to your strolls in nature.

In addition to the emotional benefits, Megan is an advocate for the health advantages of eating foraged foods. She notes that wild foods are rich in antioxidants and boast a higher content of both macro and micro nutrients, essential for physical and mental well-being. She also highlights the environmental aspect of foraging – these foods have zero food miles, making them an obviously more sustainable choice. 

Sustainable foraging practices

Foraging is legal in the UK but there are important rules that Megan shares should be followed:

  • Adhere to the Countryside Code: This is fundamental. Respecting the environment and rural areas is paramount.
  • Avoid Damage: Be gentle with the areas you forage in. The goal is to leave nature as undisturbed as possible.
  • Harvesting Rules: Remember, never uproot a plant and only take what grows above ground.
  • The Four Fs: Stick to foraging fruit, foliage, flora, and fungus. This simplifies what you should and shouldn't pick.
  • Limit Your Harvest: A good practice is to never take more than 10% of what's there. This ensures sustainability and that there's plenty left for others and wildlife.
  • Protected Species: Be sure to avoid picking protected plants and fungi. You can find a list of these on the government's website.
  • Seek Permission: Whenever possible, ask the landowner for permission to forage. This is both courteous and often leads to discovering the best spots and building good relationships.
  • Nature Reserves: Generally, foraging in nature reserves is a no-go, unless there's explicit permission for specific items like elderflower.

Megan has found that organizations like the Woodland Trust are often receptive to foraging enquiries. She also often contacts local farmers, who are usually happy to allow foraging on their land.

A fun fact from Megan about foraging in the UK involves English bluebells. Despite being a common sight in many gardens, English bluebells are highly protected. Uprooting one can lead to fines, and in extreme cases of repeat offenses, even imprisonment. However, don’t panic, this doesn't apply to relocating bluebells within your own garden(!) But be cautious – uprooting bluebells in the wild, especially in woods, is a strict no-no.

Seasonal Foraging Tips from Terra Vitum

Megan states that contrary to popular belief, there's an abundance to discover when foraging at the current time of year, winter. Just recently, a winter walk yielded about 25 different edible species in just an hour. It goes to show that every season has its bounty; you just need to know what to look for.

A great tip from Megan for aspiring foragers is to pick an interesting plant or fungus, sketch it, and learn about it through drawing it. Whether it's edible or toxic, you're gaining valuable knowledge either way. This practice is Megan’s favourite way to improve plant identification skills. 

Megan goes on to share her seasonal favourites. In winter, she's particularly fond of mushrooms like the enoki (also known as velvet shank, or in Latin, Flamulina velutipes). Winter also brings the emergence of nettle shoots and wood avens with their clove-like flavour.

Spring shifts focus to shoots like wild garlic and jack-by-the-hedge, along with cherry blossoms (sakura in Japanese). These blossoms, known for their sweet, floral flavor, are versatile; Megan has even made cherry blossom wine and tea from them, praising their multitude of skin benefits. Turkish delight made from apple blossom is another spring favourite.

Summer is fragrant with flowers and the emergence of berries like elderflowers. However, Megan believes autumn is the real bounty season, overflowing with elderberries, blackberries, rose hips, hawthorns, and a variety of mushrooms like summer chanterelles and porcini.

Megan's passion peaks in early October, her favorite foraging time, which coincidentally aligns with her birthday. She describes this period as the best for mushroom hunting, a time when she immerses herself fully in the woods, blocking out her diary with nothing but foraging. 

Foraging in different landscapes

Megan cites how the UK's terrain offers a rich tapestry of foraging opportunities. A prime example is the hedgerows, an integral part of British heritage, which she refers to as "nature's supermarket." With an estimated half a million miles of hedgerow in the UK, these hedgerows are accessible treasure troves of edible plants.

She also shares that the majority of meadow flowers have some form of utility, whether it be medicinal, like St. John's Wort, or culinary, such as Lady's Smock, a UK flower with a wasabi-like flavour.

Megan also mentions coastal foraging, particularly prevalent in her home region of West Sussex. She states that every type of UK seaweed is edible, albeit varying in taste. The coastline also yields unique finds like Alexanders, sea beet, and sea kale, which are particularly abundant during certain times of the year.

Methods of preserving and processing foraged foods 

We then moved on to discuss the preservation techniques that can be utilised to maximise the bounty of foraging. Megan emphasised the indispensable value of a dehydrator, describing it as a foragers "best friend". This device, she explained, is particularly effective for preserving mushrooms, which when dehydrated, retain their quality and can be easily rehydrated to their original size.

Megan also highlighted the traditional method of air-drying, especially for herbs. By simply hanging them upside down in an airing cupboard, they dry perfectly, allowing their flavours to be savoured throughout the year. Beyond drying, she touched on the importance of pickling and fermenting, skills she considers essential for any forager. Techniques like wild sauerkraut and wild kimchi not only preserve the food but also enhance its nutritional value, with these items remaining edible for extended periods.

Megan also shared her fondness for creating unique infusions, such as gorse vinegar, which she noted was one of her favourites. 

Terra Vitum produce their own range of foraged tea blends including Forest Wanderer Foraged Tea (Peppermint, Spearmint, Lemon, Orange, Hibiscus, Pine), Enchanted Meadow Foraged Tea (Rose petal, Cherry blossom, Rosehip, Strawberry, Meadowsweet) and Stargazer Foraged Tea (Chamomile, Hops flower , Lavender , Lemon)

Terra Vitum Foraged Tea

Shop Terra Vitum's tea range. 

The future of foraging with Terra Vitum

Megan shared Terra Vitum's aspirations to continue building a foraging community. She spoke of her desire to create a space where both novices and seasoned foragers can converge, exchange knowledge, and engage in foraging activities together. Recognising a gap in the current landscape, where online groups prevail but in-person gatherings are scarce, Megan envisions Terra Vitum as a hub for these enthusiasts to connect and explore nature collaboratively.

Megan emphasised that Terra Vitum’s offerings are designed to be accessible to all, regardless of their experience level. The organisation not only focuses on teaching foraging techniques but also imparts knowledge on how to utilise the harvested items. This approach includes workshops on cooking and preserving foraged goods, equipping participants with skills to transform their finds into meals and preserved foods.

Highlighting the dynamic nature of foraging, Megan pointed out that each course at Terra Vitum is unique, reflecting the ever-changing seasons and diverse ecosystems. Their foraging walks typically span across five different ecosystems, offering a rich and varied experience. This diversity ensures that every foraging journey with Terra Vitum is distinct, providing a continuous learning curve for participants. Megan’s vision for Terra Vitum is not just about teaching foraging as a skill but nurturing it as a sustainable, evolving practice that integrates seamlessly with daily life and culinary experiences.

Discover Terra Vitum’s workshops and courses and other unique Sussex experiences on Resident Artisan and shop their artisan tea range alongside other Sussex food and drink products. 

Huge thanks to Megan from Terra Vitum for chatting with us, it was a pleasure to chat to someone so knowledgeable and passionate about their field. 

Foraging with Terra Vitum