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identifying summer trees - online workshop

How To Identify Native Trees (FREE Online Workshop)

Learn to see the trees from the wood.

Want to boost your Tree ID skills this summer? Do you struggle to know your alders from your elders, your hawthorn from your blackthorn? Join our FREE workshop online and let us help you.

James Kendall, Bushcraft Instructor and author of The Complete Tree ID Course, will be hosting a live webinar workshop where you can learn tips & tricks to identifying a range of native and common tree species here in the UK.

We’re offering this workshop online to anyone and everyone who is interested in finding out more about the trees around them.

YOUR WORKSHOP INCLUDES:

* Native & common tree identification

* Using leaves, fruits, flowers, bark and other summer signs

* Get Tree ID cheat sheets to download

* Discover 3 key hacks to help identify any tree

* Book recommendations

* Join in our Q&A Session

The workshop will last 1hr and will be hosted via Zoom.

 

HOW TO BOOK

It’s FREE to join this workshop. So, all you need to do in advance is register for your free place in advance. Once registered you will be sent the link to the Zoom meeting via email.

REGISTER FOR YOUR PLACE HERE

Event details

Date: July 7, 2022

Time: 7:30 pm – 8:30 pm

Venue: Zoom Meeting

Cost: FREE!

kickstart your winter tree id skills

Your Tutor: James Kendall

James is the Head Bushcraft Instructor at Woodland Classroom, having worked in outdoor education & conservation for over 10 years. James’ approach to teaching steers students toward fostering a deeper connection with nature through understanding the landscape around us; “Bushcraft skills are an effective way to do this as we learn how to make use of natural materials and live lightly with the land, whilst also connecting with our own ancient past by seeing the land through the eyes of our ancestors.”

James previously manage the largest community woodland in Wales, 300 acres of mixed conifers and broadleaves and in 2017 James received the Bushcraft Competency Certificate awarded through the Institute for Outdoor Learning after 2 years of teaching experience and practical study. He is also a member of the IOL Bushcraft Professional Practise Group. The group aims to promote best practice in the growing industry of bushcraft activity providers.

james kendall - bushcraft & foraging tutor
win the complete tree id course

Become a Tree Expert

During this workshop you will also learn about our much more extensive online course; The Complete Tree ID Course. Go from clueless to confident on your journey to becoming a tree expert, featuring up to 35 species of native & common trees, all taught by James Kendall.

You will learn key principles of tree identification, which are easy to remember and can be applied to any tree you encounter. You will have videos, photo galleries and tree ID cheat sheets at your fingertips.

This course will take you through every native tree species in the UK in all 4 seasons; winter, spring, summer and autumn. You will learn not only how to identify trees by their leaves but also by their bark, buds, seeds & more.

We will be offering all attendees of this free workshop a special discount offer to sign up to the full course. So, if you want to know more, don’t forget to register for your place.

Skills you will learn

During this workshop you will learn a range of skills, including…

null

Reading the Landscape

null

Nature Connection

null

Tree & Plant identification

Understanding Habitats

Understanding Habitats

Book now

This workshop is totally FREE and is open to anyone. Simply follow the link to register for the workshop on Zoom and you will be sent the link so you can join the meeting.

11 easy wild garlic recipes - blog

11 Easy Wild Garlic Recipes

Spring has sprung and with it comes one of the edible plants for the forager, wild garlic (Allium ursinum). Most people who have dabbled in foraging will know wild garlic (or ramsons) as a great plant to start with as it’s simple to recognise and use in cooking. It’s one of our absolute favourite wild foods. Not only because it tastes great but because it’s so versatile. So, it’s a shame that the main recipe you see online again and again is wild garlic pesto. There’s so much more to it than that, as you’ll see. We’ve done the trial and error, so you don’t have to and in this blog we have made a list of our top 11 recipes for you to try at home. And yes, pesto is included below too.

If you prefer to watch rather than read, you should have a look at our video 11 Easy Wild Garlic Recipes here, where we go into even more detail on ingredients, quantities and methods. We also put together a spicy Indian banquet bursting with wild garlic flavour. Check it out!

Every part of this plant is edible; leaves, stem, flower and bulb. So with that in mind there’s a bunch of ways we can use the plant. As a general rule, if you’re cooking wild garlic you want to treat it like spinach, don’t over cook it but throw it into a dish near the end so it doesn’t wilt too much and lose it’s flavour and goodness. Now, on with the recipes…

 

Recipe 1: Sandwich, Toastie or Wrap

Let’s start with something simple, if you haven’t got the time to make a whole meal why not incorporate the goodness of wild garlic into something as easy as a cheese sandwich, toastie or wrap. This way you get all of the benefits without any of the faff. Why not use it as a replacement for lettuce or spinach for a fresh garlicky addition. Don’t use too much – it’s pokey stuff!

wild garlic recipe - toastie

Recipe 2: Wild Green Mayonnaise

This is a super easy way to incorporate all your essential greens into your diet by adding them to a spread. Mayonnaise is a favourite, and I can then add it to sandwiches or use it as a healthy dip. Just shred the wild garlic and stir it into your dip of choice. If you want to push the boat out why not add a few more wild greens; garlic mustard, hairy bittercress, chickweed, nettle (blanch the leaves first) and cleavers are all in season now and are just as good for you! 

 

Recipe 3: Wild Spring Salad

This is another easy recipe to incorporate wild garlic into. If you’re a fan of salads and making them interesting and delicious, why not add some shredded wild garlic? I’ve found that all parts of the plant can be used in the salad to add some interesting flavours and textures. The stems have a real crunch to them and make a substitute for beansprouts. You could substitute lettuce with wild garlic leaves, but you might find you want to bulk it out a little with some shop-bought leaves, or later in the season why not use the wild garlic seeds (lightly toasted) to add a sharp pep of garlic to your salads. 

This is another great recipe to experiment with your wild greens, why not add some cleavers, nettle, ground elder or ground ivy. You could also add some fresh edible wildflowers like primrose, gorse or dog violet to give your salad a pop of colour. 

wild garlic recipe - mayonnaise & salad

 

Recipe 4: Wild Garlic Bread

This is a great way to get some wild food into your kids. Most children love garlic bread and this is a classic recipe that is just so moreish it could quickly become your favourite wild garlic recipe. It’s also unbelievably easy; chop up the leaves fine and mix with butter. Next, simply cut some horizontal slices into a bake-at-home baguette and add a dollop of the garlic butter to each gap. Stick it in the oven as per the pack instructions and you’re done. This of course goes great with Italian food.

wild garlic recipe - garlic bread

Recipe 5: Wild Garlic Pesto

This recipe needs the least description or introduction as you’ll find recipes for this all over the web. It’s such a classic and one of the easiest recipe there is. In a nutshell you replace the basil in your standard pesto recipe with wild garlic to make a subtle garlicky pesto that can be used in a range of ways. Mixed into pasta is the most obvious use but you could spread a little onto a cheese toastie, mix it into a rice dish or as a filling in a pastry. We’ve made our own pestos that bit more wild by replacing the pine nuts for chopped hazelnuts.

wild garlic recipe - pesto

 

Recipe 6: Wild Garlic Kimchi

We think this beats pesto hands down any day. This recipe is one of our favourites of the year, so much so that we even have a whole separate video on how to make this. You can check out that video below and also learn about the fantastic health benefits of eating kimchi. Kimchi is a Korean side dish, traditionally of fermented vegetables with ginger and chilli and is incredibly good for gut health. We’ve substituted the radish and cabbage for wild garlic leaves. 

Fermenting is a fantastic way of preserving and extending the season for wild foods into the whole year. Not only this but the process of preserving our foods is something our ancestors would have practised regularly in order to have the food they would’ve needed to survive winter, it’s an essential skill and connects us with our predecessors and their way of life. It’s often the case that we can put little thought into what we eat, but fermenting foods helps us foster a deeper connection with the earth and importantly, our food. I would highly recommend trying this if you want to enjoy wild garlic beyond spring. A jar of this stuff doesn’t last long in our household.

The reason kimchi is so good for us is that it creates live, healthy bacteria which goes into our gut and aids in digestion, boosting the immune system and overall health of the body. The bacteria encourages everything to function as it should. In order to ensure there is no harmful bacteria fermenting in the kimchi it’s important to sterilise your equipment before you start, this can be done in a hot wash in the dishwasher, but you’ll need a more thorough sterilisation of the jar you’ll be fermenting in.

For this dish you will need a generous helping of wild garlic as it will reduce down quite a lot. If you want the full recipe and step-by-step instructions on how to make this fantastic dish check out our video tutorial here.

 

Recipe 7: Pasta Sauce

This is another really easy way to incorporate healthy greens into your diet with minimal prep time. We’ve made a tomato based sauce, but you can incorporate wild garlic into any pasta dish you want, and with any combination of vegetables, there’s a lot of creative freedom with this recipe. We’ve also chosen to make a batch of this sauce and jar it for later use, which means we pre-cooked the vegetables we added, but you can make enough just for one portion of pasta and simply add it all to a pan. Once left in the fridge this sauce should last for a week or so.

We added fried onions, chopped basil and sun dried tomatoes alongside the garlic to a base of chopped tomatoes, stirred all together and jarred. Alternatively, you could make a pea pesto and stir in your garlic leaves, broccoli, peas and fennel for a vibrant green sauce, or mushroom and garlic leaves with a splash of cream for a warming mushroom sauce. Bear in mind that any dairy products used will mean the sauce won’t keep as long. 

If you pre-make your sauce and add it to the pasta once it has cooked, stir it in for only a couple of minutes, if the wild garlic leaves are cooked for too long they will lose all their structure and goodness. Similarly, if you’re cooking a sauce from scratch, add the garlic leaves last thing so they’ve just wilted.

Recipe 8: Baked Hummus

Just like regular shop bought hummus, this dip goes really well on toast or with some vegetable sticks, but this recipe adds the beautiful taste of wild garlic too. We bake this hummus to soften the sharpness of the raw wild garlic but if you don’t mind strong garlic flavours with your hummus why not give it a go without cooking it. Again, this recipe is very simple, just add some shredded wild garlic leaves into your favourite hummus recipe and bake. 

Baking it also gives the top layer a really lovely crust that adds some lovely texture. As well as adding wild garlic we’ve made this really unique by drizzling a little oil and adding some hazelnuts before baking to really make a showstopper of a dip. If you’re extremely organised you might have foraged and stored your own hazelnuts last autumn but if not (which is most of us) the shop bought ones will do instead. 

 

Recipe 9: Wild Garlic & Elf Cup Stuffed Pepper

These stuffed peppers can be eaten as a side but really they take centre stage, they’re visually very vibrant and beautiful. We use couscous as the main filling and as well as wild garlic we take advantage of another seasonal delight; the scarlet elf cap mushroom (Sarcoscypha austriaca). 

We pre-cooked the couscous and made a batch of the filling so we can make as many stuffed peppers as we want. Just remember when you’re cutting your pepper you want to remove a circle around the stalk and scrape out the seeds without damaging the structure, then simply add your filling and roast in a pan. 

You can switch the filling up as well, why not use rice instead of couscous, or add a little wild garlic pesto and mozzarella for a lovely cheesy filling. 

wild garlic recipe - stuffed pepper & saag aloo

 

Recipe 10: Wild Saag Aloo

This is one of our favourite additions to the Indian feast we prepared, its delicious and the wild garlic really enhances the flavour of all the spices. We swap out the spinach you would typically put in this dish for the wild garlic, so you do need quite a lot as it will reduce as it cooks. Equally this would work very well using nettle instead of spinach. You can get the full recipe and method by watching the video.

As a side dish this goes really well with our other Indian themed recipes; the chicken tikka parcels, stuffed peppers and pakoras. If you want this as more of a main attraction why not have this on some naan bread with mango chutney. Let us know how you get on with this dish.

 

Recipe 11: Chicken Tikka Parcels

This one is a little different, using the wild garlic in a new way. This is a really interesting way to incorporate wild garlic into a meal; wrap garlic leaves around strips of chicken to make a parcel that can be fried in a pan, cooked on a bbq or roasted directly on hot coals over an open fire.

Marinade diced chicken in tikka paste with a little oil. Next pick the largest wild garlic leaves you can find wrap several layers around a few chunks of chicken. The wrapped leaves can be pinned into place with cocktail sticks but if you want to be authentically wild you can whittle a pointed end onto foraged sticks as a makeshift skewer. Once cooked, any burnt outer leaves can be peeled away, leaving a succulent garlicky parcel which surrounds the juicy chicken. If you prefer you can substitute chicken breasts for a vegetarian alternative. 

The fantastic thing about this dish is that you can use any combination of spices to make it fit with a range of cuisines, the tikka curry powder we use in this recipe makes it a perfect addition to a foraged Indian feast. You could also try making a herb mix of rosemary, oregano, thyme and basil to make a side for an Italian dish or turmeric, cumin and nutmeg as part of a mezze platter.

For anyone who loves simple, outdoor cooking, using the leaves in this way eliminates the need for a pan or grill. The leaves and skewers used are all biodegradable of course and any waste can go back to the woods. This recipe really feels like a connection to our ancestors and how they would’ve cooked, it’s simple and connects us to our roots, so give it a go.

 

Discover More Wild Food

If all this talk of foraging has your mouth watering then you can find more inspiration from us with more good wild food stuff including; blogs, videos, outdoor courses and online courses too. If you haven’t checked out our YouTube channel already, be sure to do that here.

You can immerse yourself in the world of foraging through our outdoor courses hosted in beautiful National Trust estate woodlands in North-East Wales. Or if that’s too far afield for you we also host regular online workshops, live through Zoom where we focus on wild foods of the season and give you delicious recipe ideas, foraging tips, and expertise from special guest speakers. If this all sounds interesting, check out what’s coming up on our Events page right here.

Another way to get instant access to a whole backlog of wild food & foraging videos, recipes and pre-recorded workshops is to join our Tribe over on Patreon. In return for supporting our mission, our patrons get access to loads of exclusive resources. You can join the Tribe from as little as the price of a cup of dandelion coffee, just £3.60 per month. Find out about all the benefits right here.

 

Until next time, good luck with your own foraging journey.

 

James & Lea 

how to identify conifers - online workshop in tree identification

How To Identify Conifers (Online Workshop)

Learn to see the trees from the wood.

Confused by conifers? Perplexed by pines? Struggling with spruce? In this workshop you will go from clueless to confident in being able to identify between our native and common non-native conifers.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by a sea of green forestry trees, one tree can look the same as another. But if you learn to look closer you will discover easy to spot signs with which you can tell species apart. Join James Kendall, creator of The Complete Tree ID Course, as he takes you through his tips, tricks, rhymes and hints for telling commonly seen conifers from each other.

Our online workshops started in the first lockdown and have continued to be a hit ever since, as people want to learn more about the natural world around them. Each month we host online workshops with a whole host of nature-based subjects including foraging, tree lore, woodcraft skills and wild medicine.

A ticket costs just £7 per household. These events are selling quickly, so grab your place whilst you can 🙂 Everyone has loved these workshops so far and they’ve been really popular.

YOUR WORKSHOP INCLUDES:

* Understand easy differences between pine, spruce, fir & more

* Get to know Britain’s three native conifers

* Gain confidence in identifying non-native conifers of forestry

* Discover conifers that break the rules

* Dive into foraging & wild food uses for conifers

* Unlock traditional and modern uses of conifers

* Workshop Giveaway: WIN a Guide to Woodland Trees, Flowers & Fungi

* Join in our Q&A Session

The workshop will last 1hr and will be hosted via Zoom. Once you book into the workshop then you will receive an email from Zoom with details of how to access the workshop a couple of days before the event.

 

HOW TO BOOK

The cost is £7 per household. So, feel free to cram as many family members around the screen as you can 🙂

Please note, tickets are non-refundable.

Event details

Date: February 10, 2022

Time: 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm

Venue: Zoom Meeting

Cost: £7

how to identify conifers

Your Tutor: James Kendall

James is the Head Bushcraft Instructor at Woodland Classroom, having worked in outdoor education & conservation for over 10 years. James’ approach to teaching steers students toward fostering a deeper connection with nature through understanding the landscape around us; “Bushcraft skills are an effective way to do this as we learn how to make use of natural materials and live lightly with the land, whilst also connecting with our own ancient past by seeing the land through the eyes of our ancestors.”

James previously manage the largest community woodland in Wales, 300 acres of mixed conifers and broadleaves and in 2017 James received the Bushcraft Competency Certificate awarded through the Institute for Outdoor Learning after 2 years of teaching experience and practical study. He is also a member of the IOL Bushcraft Professional Practise Group. The group aims to promote best practice in the growing industry of bushcraft activity providers.

james kendall - bushcraft & foraging tutor
how to identify UK conifers workshop - tree identification
field studies council woodland guide fold out chart

WIN This Tree Identification Guide

When you book onto this workshop you will be entered into a prize draw to win some top swag!

We will be giving away a copy of The Field Studies Council’s Guide to Woodlands; Trees, Flowers & Fungi. 

This full colour fold-out guide features 61 species of trees, wild flowers, ferns and fungi of woodland.

A woodland walk is a wonderful way to get outdoors and explore nature. And with the help of this guide, there’s something to see all year round. Beautiful colour illustrations show the key features to look out for. Concise accompanying text on the reverse side covers the height, identification notes and likely habitat of each species.

Identifying woodland trees is easiest in the late spring and summer, using leaves, fruits and seeds. But even without their leaves in their winter, many woodland trees can be recognised from their twigs, buds and bark. A concise guide to identifying deciduous trees in winter is a special extra feature.

Skills you will learn

During this workshop you will learn a range of skills, including…

null

Reading the Landscape

null

Nature Connection

null

Tree & Plant identification

Understanding Habitats

Understanding Habitats

Book now

This workshop costs just £7 per household and is open to anyone. Children are welcome to attend with their families, though please note the content will be taught at an adult level. You can read our Event Terms & Conditions here.

how to identify trees in winter - free workshop

Kickstart Your Winter Tree ID Skills (FREE Online Workshop)

Learn to see the trees from the wood.

Want to boost your Tree ID skills in winter? Do you struggle to know your alders from your elders, your hawthorn from your blackthorn? Join our FREE workshop online and let us help you.

James Kendall, Bushcraft Instructor and author of The Complete Tree ID Course, will be hosting a live webinar workshop where you can learn tips & tricks to identifying a range of tree species here in the UK in the season of winter, when the trees don’t have their leaves on to help us recognise them.

We’re offering this workshop online to anyone and everyone who is interested in finding out more about the trees around them.

YOUR WORKSHOP INCLUDES:

* Recognising native & common tree species

* Using buds, bark, leaf litter & other winter signs

* Get Tree ID cheat sheets to download

* Discover 3 key hacks to help identify any tree

* Book recommendations

* Join in our Q&A Session

The workshop will last 1hr and will be hosted via Zoom.

 

HOW TO BOOK

It’s FREE to join this workshop. So, all you need to do in advance is register for your free place in advance. Once registered you will be sent the link to the Zoom meeting via email.

REGISTER FOR YOUR PLACE HERE

Event details

Date: January 20, 2022

Time: 7:30 pm – 8:30 pm

Venue: Zoom Meeting

Cost: FREE!

kickstart your winter tree id skills

Your Tutor: James Kendall

James is the Head Bushcraft Instructor at Woodland Classroom, having worked in outdoor education & conservation for over 10 years. James’ approach to teaching steers students toward fostering a deeper connection with nature through understanding the landscape around us; “Bushcraft skills are an effective way to do this as we learn how to make use of natural materials and live lightly with the land, whilst also connecting with our own ancient past by seeing the land through the eyes of our ancestors.”

James previously manage the largest community woodland in Wales, 300 acres of mixed conifers and broadleaves and in 2017 James received the Bushcraft Competency Certificate awarded through the Institute for Outdoor Learning after 2 years of teaching experience and practical study. He is also a member of the IOL Bushcraft Professional Practise Group. The group aims to promote best practice in the growing industry of bushcraft activity providers.

james kendall - bushcraft & foraging tutor
win the complete tree id course

Become a Tree Expert

During this workshop you will also learn about our much more extensive online course; The Complete Tree ID Course. Go from clueless to confident on your journey to becoming a tree expert, featuring up to 35 species of native & common trees, all taught by James Kendall.

You will learn key principles of tree identification, which are easy to remember and can be applied to any tree you encounter. You will have videos, photo galleries and tree ID cheat sheets at your fingertips.

This course will take you through every native tree species in the UK in all 4 seasons; winter, spring, summer and autumn. You will learn not only how to identify trees by their leaves but also by their bark, buds, seeds & more.

We will be offering all attendees of this free workshop a special discount offer to sign up to the full course. So, if you want to know more, don’t forget to register for your place.

Skills you will learn

During this workshop you will learn a range of skills, including…

null

Reading the Landscape

null

Nature Connection

null

Tree & Plant identification

Understanding Habitats

Understanding Habitats

Book now

This workshop is totally FREE and is open to anyone. Simply follow the link to register for the workshop on Zoom and you will be sent the link so you can join the meeting.

how to identify native conifers UK

Which Conifer Trees Are Native to Britain?

Are you confused by conifers and flummoxed by firs? In this article you’re going to get to know the native conifer trees of Britain & Ireland and learn the top five key features you need to look for so that you can easily recognise them in the countryside and tell them apart from the many non-native conifers you may find.

Conifers are not rare in this country, you can find them everywhere. As a general rule, they are also evergreen (though there is an exception, the Larch) so they hang on to their foliage right through our winter. With the majority of our native trees being broadleaves, losing their leaves in autumn, this makes a conifer easy to spot from a mile off.

But are you looking at one of our native conifer trees or is it one of the many non-native species which have been introduced to this country?

I am hosting an online workshop How To Identify Conifers where I will break down the key features of both our native and common non-native conifers. So, if you are perplexed by pines or stumped by spruce then you should join me for that.

 

What is a Conifer?

Conifers are a very old group of trees that includes firs, cedars, cypresses, junipers, kauri, larches, pines, hemlocks, redwoods, spruces and yews. As a rule, conifers bare cones, though some don’t look much like cones as we think of them. The other key feature they share is they have very small leaves in the form of needles or scales.

With the exception of some Scots Pine in Scotland and a few Yew woodlands, you will not comes across a natural forest of conifer trees in the UK and Ireland. They are most likely planted non-native species, usually for timber production or as a shelter-belt woodland.

When we picture a conifer, we usually have a Christmas tree in mind, which is typically a Spruce. But there’s more to conifers than simply this conical cone-baring form. Especially when it comes to our own natives.

how to identify conifers

Above: Conifers can come in a variety of weird and wonderful forms.

 

How Many Native Conifers Do We Have in the UK & Ireland?

Well the good news here is that we have only three native conifers. By native, we mean a species which have been naturally present on these isles since the last Ice Age and before we became disconnected from the continent. Our three native conifers are Scots Pine, Juniper and Yew.

Take a trip around the globe and you could be dealing with up to 800 conifer species. So, we’re quite lucky in the UK & Ireland that we only have three to tackle.

It’s not just the trees featured in this article that you could well see on your country walk though. There are several species and families of conifer trees that are very commonly planted here, either for forestry or in country estates and parks for their sheer beauty. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Larch, Spruce, Firs and Hemlock could be part of the natural make of our landscape but they are all guests from exotic lands.

So, let’s get to know our three natives and pick out the key identifying features you need to look for.

 

Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris)

There are several pines which has been introduced to this country including the Corsican Pine (Pinus nigra var. maritima) and Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contora ssp. latifolia) to name a couple, but we have only one native and the clue is in the name, Scots Pine. However, don’t be fooled, this tree isn’t found only in Scotland, you could see it anywhere. In its natural range though it does favour uplands and poor soils. The oldest Scots Pine in the UK can be found in Scotland in the Caledonian Forest.

how to identify scots pine - pinus sylvestris

Left: Needles are in pairs, joined at their base. Middle: A ripe cone, still closed. Right: A mature cone having dropped its seeds.

Before we get into the specific details of Scots Pine, it’s worth mentioning a feature that is unique to pines. If you follow a single pine needle back to its base, where it joins the twig, you will discover it is joined to one or more other needles. Pine needles come in twos, threes or fives. This is important because conifers like spruce have needles which are attached singly to the twig.

I was told this handy little rhyme by Dave Watson of Woodland Survival Crafts to help me remember this rule; “If it’s a pair, it’s a pine, but not all pines are pairs.” By using this rhyme we can eliminate other families of conifers and know that we are looking at a pine. So, that leads to the question, how do we know it’s a Scots Pine?

To identify the Scots Pine there’s a few key features to look for:

  1. Needles come in pairs, joined at their base to the twig. Needles are approx 5 to 7.5cm in length. This is important as a commonly planted non-native, the Corsican Pine, also has needles in pairs, but they are significantly longer. Corsican Pine needles can grow to 15cm long.
  2. Needles often have a twist to them.
  3. Mature bark is a warm brown to orange colour with a craggy character. Also, look for a band of orange on the main trunk about a third to two-thirds up the tree. This is especially visible in clear sunlight.
  4. Pine cones. These are the typical cones used for Christmas decorations that you are probably familiar with. They take two years to mature. Cones are green and conical in their first year on the branch. In their second year they become more rounded and brown-grey in colour.
  5. Mature trees have a habit of spreading  and flattening out in their crown, so losing the “Christmas tree” conical shape we think of when picturing a conifer.

 

 

how to identify scots pine - pinus sylvestris

Left: Look for an orange band on the trunk some way up the tree. Middle: Bark is craggy and covered in plates. Right: The crown of mature trees flatten out.

 

Juniper (Juniperus communis)

You might know this tree best from its berries, or rather what’s its berries are used to flavour… gin.

This is by far the least common of our three native conifers. It is mostly a tree of upland areas, but you can find it formally planted in country estate gardens where it can be trimmed to shape. It’s worth noting though that Juniper is probably the most widespread tree species in the world, found from the Arctic to the Mediterranean.

how to identify juniper - juniperus communis

Left: Typically a low-growing and spreading tree. Middle: Ripe berries are blue to black in colour. Right: Needles grow in threes. They are very spiky.

In the UK, Juniper tends to favour chalk and limestone sites.

To identify Juniper you’re looking for the following things:

  1. Typically a low-growing, sprawling shrub of a tree. Though not always.
  2. Needles are small (up to 2cm long), very spiky to touch and they grow in threes.
  3. The mature bark is a reddish-brown colour which has a peeling habit.
  4. Berries. When mature they are dark blue/black. They are small and spherical. When young they are green in colour. You will only find them on the female trees. So, this feature can be a little unreliable.
  5. Crush a berry between you fingers, it will smell of gin. This also works with the twigs & foliage, but be careful, it’s spiky!

The ripe fruit of the female Juniper are generally called berries, but they are actually classed as cones.

There are several cultivated varieties of Juniper which you can pick up in your local garden centre.

how to identify juniper - juniperus communis

Left: Bark is reddish-brown and peeling. Middle: Young berries are blue/green. Right: Juniper can be an upright, single-trunked tree, but this is less common.

 

Yew (Taxus baccata)

We can lay claim to some of the most spectacular Yew trees in the world, as they are the oldest living organisms in the UK. It’s thought that some are as old as five thousand years! There is hot debate as to which is the oldest living Yew, but the most likely candidates, in my opinion, are in Wales.

how to identify yew - taxus baccata

Left: Yews are often found in churchayrds. Middle: Needles are soft to touch. Right: Bark is patchy with reds, browns & purples.

You are most likely to find a Yew in your local churchyard, looming over the gravestones. Many of these trees predate the church they are paired with.

To identify the Yew tree you’re looking for a few key things:

  1. Glossy needles are up to 4cm long. They are arranged flat, along green twigs.
  2. The needles are soft to the touch, unlike spikier spruce trees.
  3. The mature bark of Yew is quite beautiful. Look for red-brown bark with a peeling habit that can show patches of oranges, purples and blood red. When wet, patches of the bark can look like they’re bleeding.
  4. The bright pink/red oval berries of the Yew are very different from anything else you’ll find on a conifer. You will only find these on female trees, so don’t rely on this alone.
  5. Mature trees will typically have more than one stem, growing from the base.

Yew trees don’t have cones. This makes them easy to distinguish from pine, spruce and fir.

how to identify yew - taxus baccata

Left: Pink/red berries are unmistakable. Middle: Needles arranged flat, on green twigs. Right: Bark is peeling and full of character.

 

Discover More About Trees

It can be so interesting to really look in to the details of our native trees and notice the changes that they undergo throughout the four seasons. That’s just what I’ve created for my FREE introductory online course called Kickstart Your Tree ID Skills. Here you will find a whole host of resources to take you from clueless to confident on your way to really knowing your trees.

REGISTER FOR THE FREE COURSE HERE

kickstart your tree id skills, free online course

When you sign up to this free mini-course you’ll be identifying common trees with video tutorials and photo galleries at your fingertips. Start your journey to becoming a fully fledged Tree Expert today. The course includes Tree ID Cheat Sheets which you can download and take outdoors with you.

“I’ve been frustrated for so long trying to learn my trees myself and haven’t gotten far. This course answered everything and has seriously upped my game.” Dr. Patrick Alexander

 

Happy tree hunting folks.

James

free winter tree id guide to UK & Ireland

FREE Winter Tree ID Guide

Many of us might well be able to spot an oak in winter by looking for fallen acorns or the familiar leaves, but could you tell me the difference between blackthorn and hawthorn in winter just by looking at the buds? Or do you know which trees give themselves away in winter by their bark? We might be able to identify trees in summer when their leaves are on but winter is a whole different ball game.

For anyone looking to improve their tree identification skills winter provides us with many distinctive signs such as buds, bark, twigs and fallen leaf litter that we can use to recognise our native and common tree species. The clues are all there if you know how to look.

In this blog I’ll introduce you to some of clues to look out for in winter and break down the differences between common trees which often get confused. You can get outdoors and spot these clues for yourself with a free download I’ve created; Winter Trees Guide, which you can get your hands on just below.

free winter tree id guide to download

By the way, if you love trees, but struggle to tell one species from another, then you could enrol in my FREE Tree Identification Course online. More details can be found at the end of the article.

 

Bud Arrangement: The BIG Giveaway

One of the first things you can ask a tree when you are trying to identify it in winter is this; “Are the buds arranged alternately or in opposite pairs?”

This is absolutely key to nailing the species of tree as once you’ve answered that question it allows you to eliminate a whole bunch of species from your enquiry.

The majority of native tree species in Britain have their buds arranged alternately along the branch.

One last thing to remember; it’s important to select a young healthy twig to answer this question because as a branch matures it will often self-select the healthiest of the twigs to grow on and will drop it’s near partner. So, you can be looking at an older branch and thinking that they definitely don’t grow in opposite pairs, but then on closer inspection you might well notice the old scar left over from where it’s opposite equivalent was self-selected to be dropped by the tree in favour of it’s partner.

When you become practised at this you will begin to start noticing the bud arrangement from a distance, as you look at the form of tree. This is when tree identification can become very satisfying and you can really start showing off.

In the Free Winter Tree ID Guide I’ve grouped alternate budding trees separate from opposite budding trees for easy reference.

 

Blackthorn vs. Hawthorn

Let’s take two very common trees which often get confused. Not only are their names similar, but they also are thorny, shrubby trees which populate our hedgerows, often growing side by side.

To help confuse matters both these species have alternate buds and the buds are very small and grow in cluster at the end of the twig. So, we need to look at other clues to help us out.

hawthorn and blackthorn winter tree identification

Above: Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) on the left, Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) on the right. The difference is clear.

The first thing to look for is leaf litter below the tree. As you can see from the picture, the leaves shapes are very different. However, this method is unreliable when you’re looking at a dense hedgerow and the two species are intertwined. How can you tell which tree the leaf has fallen from? Luckily, there are other signs we can go to also.

identifying blackthorn and hawthorn in winter

Above: Blackthorn on the left, Hawthorn on the right. Bark is a feature you can use year round to identify a tree.

Looking at the bark is going to be useful here as, like the leaf litter, they are very different. The bark of blackthorn, as its name suggests, is very dark and seems to soak up the light. It is also generally quite smooth. The bark of hawthorn is much more grey to brown and fissures readily, being much more craggy.

As well as the bark you can look at the thorns, which typically you will see a lot more of on blackthorn than you will compared to hawthorn. The last sign to help us here is the autumn fruits, which can often be found still hanging on in winter.

comparing blackthorn and hawthorn in winter

Above: On the left, Blackthorn can hang on to a few withered & dried sloes in winter. On the right, hawthorns often has smaller, deep red berries on show in winter.

The autumn fruit of blackthorn is the sloe. A good size fruit, around 1.5cm diameter and purple to black in colour. In winter though they are shrivelled and looking much worse for wear, with most of them having fallen already. Hawthorn in comparison holds onto it’s berries better in winter. Look for smaller, dark red berries, with an ovoid shape, growing in sparse clusters. As they dry out they darken in colour.

 

Looking Under The Tree

Have a good kick about in the leaf litter under a tree and you might find another big hint to what species you’re looking at. The old saying goes “the apple never falls far from the tree” and that’s good news for us in this case. I’m talking about fallen fruits and nut cases, many of which can still be found in the depths of winter, if not in the best condition.

winter tree identification: fallen fruits and nuts

Top Left: Crab Apples. Mid Top: Sweet Chestnut. Top Right: Hazelnuts, nibbled by wildlife. Bottom Left: Conkers from Horse Chestnut. Mid Bottom: Beech mast and leaf litter. Bottom Right: A bract from a Lime tree.

Some trees, like the Crab Apple, have a dead giveaway with the fallen, rotting fruits. Look under an established hazelnut and you’ll most likely find empty nut shells, nibbled away by rodents and birds. Then there’s tree like out three native Limes which have special leaves called bracts, which look like nothing else you’ll find on the woodland floor and can only belong to a Lime tree. Beech mast is very reliable under mature trees and you’ll find yourself crunching in underfoot as it carpets the woodland floor. There’s much to be gained by looking down.

Now this only works if there’s something to find and also you should be wary of relying on this too heavily where the tree is crowded with others as  what you’re looking at may have fallen from it’s neighbour.

By the far the most reliable method of winter tree identification is to begin with a branch and study a healthy twig and it’s buds. That way we can be sure we’re investigating the right tree and the knowledge of bud and twig is transferable no matter whether the ground below is humous or concrete.

 

Get Your FREE Winter Tree Guide

I’ve created a handy guide you can use when you’re out and about looking at trees during winter. The guide features 18 native and common British trees which have buds, twigs and leaf litter that you might already be familiar with but also there’s other signs here that you’ve probably never noticed before. I’ve laid out similar looking species side by side so that you can easily distinguish between them.

The guide puts the focus firmly on the winter buds but you’ll also see smaller images featuring other clues you can look for in each species such as old fruits, leaf litter, nut cases, bark and catkins. Where I’ve included these they act as dead giveaways to which tree species you’re looking at.

I hope you find it useful on your journey to understanding the trees around us.

DOWNLOAD YOUR GUIDE HERE

 

Discover more About Trees

It can be so interesting to really look in to the details of our native trees and notice the changes that they undergo throughout the four seasons. That’s just what I’ve created for my FREE introductory online course called Kickstart Your Tree ID Skills. Here you will find a whole host of resources to take you from clueless to confident on your way to really knowing your trees.

REGISTER FOR THE FREE COURSE HERE

kickstart your tree id skills, free online course

When you sign up to this free mini-course you’ll be identifying common trees with video tutorials and photo galleries at your fingertips. Start your journey to becoming a fully fledged Tree Expert today. The course includes Tree ID Cheat Sheets which you can download and take outdoors with you.

“I’ve been frustrated for so long trying to learn my trees myself and haven’t gotten far. This course answered everything and has seriously upped my game.” Dr. Patrick Alexander

 

Happy tree hunting folks.

James

make boozy berry chocolates for christmas

Wild Boozy Berry Chocolates

So, you’ve made your sloe gin and your blackberry brandy back in the autumn and you’re now ready to bottle up the drinks to give as gifts for Christmas. But wait! Don’t throw away those berries. You could make divine festive chocolates that will leave you wanting more.

In this article we will show you two easy-to-make and indulgent recipes for our Wild Boozy Berry Chocolates which make great use of your spirit-soaked hedgerow fruits. This is one of our favourite recipes of the whole year.

These chocolates will be the talk of any Christmas gathering with friends or will make a perfect surprise flourish to round off Christmas dinner. You could even wash them down with a tot of blackberry brandy or elderberry vodka. Just remember, they’re not for kids 😉

make your own christmas chocolates wild food & foraging

Above: The brandy-soaked berries in these chocolates are complimented by the orange zest and cinnamon. We added some edible gold spray for a final flourish.

Making Hedgerow Spirits

As outdoor educators, 2020 saw us locked down, unable to run many of our woodland courses and forced to stay close to home for the majority of the year, consequently we have been exploring our local green spaces and (like so many people) really getting further into the fascinating world of wild food and foraging. We have been preserving wild greens, cooking up foraged meals and discovering so many edible plants all around us like never before.

In the spring we were enjoying wild garlic pesto and nettle soup, in the summer it was dandelion honey and elderflower cordial. Autumn has bought us an abundance of berries and one wild food recipe that most people have heard of is sloe gin. It’s a foragers classic and if you’ve never made it for yourself, do give it a go. It’s so simple. If you want a recommend method for making this yourself, head over to the River Cottage website for a simple how-to.

The possibilities of hedgerow spirits go way beyond simply sloe gin though. We have made all sorts of recipes, using vodka, brandy, gin and whiskey. Any of the autumn berries can be used, and any mix, depending on what you have available or an experiment of different flavours together. All of these autumn foraged fruits work well; sloe, bullace, damson, haws, blackberries, rosehips and elderberries. 

making hedgerow spirits - wild food & foraging

Above: The sloe gin and blackberry brandy is all bottled up, but we have some boozy berries left over. Don’t get rid of them just yet.

Waste Not, Want Not

Many people would chuck the alcohol-soaked fruits away once it’s time to strain out their hedgerow spirits, but this would be a BIG mistake. We used a whole host of hedgerow berries in our chocolates which has been gathered since summer; wild cherries, blackberries, wild raspberries, wild strawberry, sloe, bilberries, redcurrant and bullace. But you can use whatever fruits you have soaked in alcohol already.

Don’t use elderberries in your chocolates as the seeds can give you an upset stomach if eaten without cooking first. Be sure also to remove any large stones from fruits such as sloe, bullace and cherry too.

Any of the spirits will work for this recipe, but we love brandy-soaked fruit the best with chocolate. Rum would also be a good option.

wild food & foraging: autumn fruits

Above: Use any of these autumn fruits in your hedgerow spirits and chocolates. Sloe, elderberry, rosehip, blackberry, hawthorn and bilberry.

Recipe 1: Boozy Berry, Fruit & Nut Chocolates

Boozy fruit – stones removed from the flesh, as needed

Hazelnuts – Roughly chopped

70% Dark Chocolate – use good quality chocolate, you won’t regret it

Icing sugar – for decoration

 

Recipe 2: Boozy Berry, Orange & Cinnamon Chocolates

Boozy fruit – again, remove the stones where you need to

Grated orange zest

Cinnamon powder (to taste)

70% Dark Chocolate – use the good stuff

Edible Gold Glitter Spray – for decoration

 

Method

  1. Cut the flesh from your boozy fruit and discard any stones or inedible pips. Set the fruit aside in a bowl for now.
  2. Bring a small pan of water to the boil and rest another bowl over the pan to create a double-boiler. Break up the chocolate and slowly melt it in the dry pan.
  3. Take a clean ice-cube tray and fill each section halfway with the other ingredients; either fruit, orange zest and cinnamon or fruit and hazelnuts.
  4. Next, gently pour the melted chocolate into each section of the ice tray until the ingredients are well covered.
  5. Place the tray in the fridge for 1-2 hours to allow them to set.
  6. Push chocolates out of the tray and for a little sparkle you can either dust some icing sugar over them or give them a splash of edible gold spray.
  7. Lastly, eat them and be merry!
boozy berry chocolates

Above: These boozy chocolates contain not only brandy-soaked hedgerow berries but also hazelnuts, for an indulgent Christmas treat.

Discover More Wild Food

If all this talk of wild food and foraging has whetted your appetite then you can take your learning further with us through the range of courses we offer.

You can immerse yourself in the world of foraging through our outdoor courses hosted in beautiful National Trust estate woodlands in North-East Wales. Or if that’s too far afield for you we also host regular online workshops, live through Zoom where we focus on wild foods of the season and give you delicious recipe ideas, foraging tips and expertise from special guest speakers. If this all sounds interesting, check out what’s coming up on our Events page right here.

Another way to get instant access to a whole backlog of wild food & foraging videos, recipes and recorded workshops is to join our Tribe over on Patreon. In return for supporting our mission, our patrons get access loads of exclusive resources. You can join the Tribe from as little as £3.60 per month. Find out about all the benefits right here.

Until next time, good luck with your own foraging journey.

Lea

bushcraft skills course in north wales

My Weekend in the Woods

Have you ever wanted to learn skills that would help you thrive in the wild, from how to read the landscape to lighting a fire with natural materials? My name is Emily Fox and I was asked to write about my experience attending a Bushcraft Skills Weekend with Woodland Classroom.

Woodland Classroom host outdoor courses that cover everything from tree identification, foraging and outdoor survival skills, but in reality those lines often blur as there is so much cross-over in these subjects, so I was looking forward to a little of everything. In this blog I’ll be taking you along with me as I tell you what I got up to in my weekend in the woods. To check out what other outdoor courses we have coming up click here. 

I’m already a pretty outdoorsy person, I’m really into my climbing and love hiking, especially around Snowdonia and the Lake District.

I spend a lot of time hiking and running around in the woods wherever possible and have even managed a little wild camping, so I’m used to being outdoors. I saw the bushcraft weekend as an opportunity to really step up my skill level and become better at understanding the land around me and how to survive if I found myself short on anything on a wild camp or out in the woods. It was something I’d not really done before so I was excited to see what skills I could learn. Having arrived late on the Friday evening though I didn’t know it would be straight into the deep end!

I was offered the option to sleep out in what looked like the ultimate den of sticks… my answer was, of course, yes. My tent, stayed in the backpack.

natural lean-to survival shelter

Above: My home from home for the weekend. Notice the bed of fresh brush which kept me off the cold floor.

Waking Up In A House Made of Sticks

Waking up on Saturday morning after a full, busy week of fast-paced work and modern living to the sun filtering through the pine trees as I lay on a bed of bracken under the canopy of the lean-to shelter was the most relaxing start to the weekend I’ve ever had. It put me right in the zone. I’d jumped at the chance to come and help at a bushcraft weekend in Wales as it sounded like the perfect getaway, and I was even more excited when I was offered an outdoor shelter to sleep in for the night. My lean-to was made of just sticks, leaves and branches, not a plastic tarp in sight, but despite it having rained the whole day before this natural shelter was bone dry and I slept like a baby the whole night!

After introducing ourselves to the group James, our Head Instructor, took us into the woods and asked us to look at our surroundings and share what we could tell about the landscape around us. I was asked to read the landscape; what did I notice about the age of the trees, did I recognise any plant species, how might the land-use have changed over time and where could water possibly be found? This was all about waking up our inner-ancestor and looking at the land through ancient eyes, those people that relied on the land for their survival. We were then tasked with going and having a look to see what natural materials we could gather that could be useful to us. Spruce resin for fire building, blackberries for eating, flexible willow branches for weaving and spruce needles for natural medicine were all things students brought back.

making survival shelters

Above: Constructing a kennel shelter. The whole thing is held up by just 3 poles. No rope is used.

Sharp Tools & Shelters

The first activity was to whittle a tent peg from greenwood, something that would come in handy later. James showed us safe ways to use a knife, cutting techniques and knife grips to use in making the peg. I was pleased with my finished peg and tucked it into my backpack for tomorrow. Having shown we were safe with the knives we were allowed to keep them on us for the weekend. Next we were onto natural shelter building, similar to the one I’d slept in last night.

The group was split into two and each team was guided through making a different style of lean-to we split into two groups and got to work building different types of lean-to shelters. James showed us how to use bundles of bracken, like thatching, to make a layered waterproof covering to keep the shelters dry. Working in smaller groups let us be super involved in each activity and allowed us to get to know the people we were working with a lot better. Using these materials was time-consuming, compared to putting up a tent, but they were also surprisingly effective and I got a real sense of achievement from creating this structure. It’s an empowering experience and I can see why bushcraft skills can be addictive – the idea of being able to fend for yourself, accessing “secret” knowledge.

whittling skills on a bushcraft course

Above: Other folks on the course very happy with their brand new tent pegs.

Playing with Fire

After lunch at basecamp we went back into the woods to start on fire making. We began by looking at all the components we needed to actually light and sustain a fire. The three essential aspects of a fire are heat, fuel and oxygen. I would need all of these things in abundance to keep my fire healthy. I experimented with lighting fires using modern fire-steel and traditional flint & steel. I was given cotton wall and char-cloth (made my baking natural fabrics) and I soon saw that without any substantial fuel the flame only lasted for a few seconds before dying off.

I learned that by adding an accelerant, either something I could bring with me like vaseline or something gathered from the woods, such as spruce resin. My little fire lasted a lot longer, around thirty seconds instead. We then used this principle to find natural tinder, kindling and accelerants before building our own fires, gradually building our firewood thickness until we got from a small flame to our own roaring campfire that could sustain us through the night if needed.

It really is true that once you have a simple roof over your head and a fire going, you can feel at home anywhere. The cup of tea helped.

 

Identifying Trees in the Dark?!

Just as the sun was setting James ran a night-time tree identification walk. Now this sounds intriguing; how can we possible identify trees in the dark? We took a stroll in the darkening woods to see if we could hone our skills, with James teaching us how to recognise trees based on just the leaf shapes, texture of the bark and shape of the tree against the sky. There were some really interesting conversations about how we each recognised certain trees. For example, someone commented on the fact that the oak tree was easy to identify by its outline because it was often used on pub signs. James encouraged us to closely examine the trees we came across; see what the leaves felt like, how the branches were structured, all whilst encouraging us to draw on what knowledge we already had. I was also encouraged to engage my other senses. I discovered that I could recognise a mature beech with my eyes shut as I could hear the crunch of the thick layer of beech mast beneath my feet – result! James was giving out ‘bushcraft points’ to anyone with correct answers. I earned 5 bushcraft points for remembering that holly leaves further up the tree aren’t spiky because animals don’t graze on them, then lost another two for excessive gloating, oops!

 

Easy Like Sunday Morning

Another comfortable night in my stick home, with the tawny owls hoots for company. James had explained that by crafting a raised bed from, logs brash and bracken layered up that it raised my body off the cold ground and so added a lot of insulation. It’s said that layers below you are much more valuable than a layer on top when sleeping on the earth.

I started Sunday with a nature-awareness exercise, called the Sit Spot. James talked to us about connecting with nature by taking a moment to sit outside and quietly observe what was happening around us, without expectation or agenda. With that we each slunk off into the woods to find a quiet comfortable spot. I sat for 20 minutes to take in everything going on around me before coming back and reporting what we had seen, heard or felt. It was lovely to start the day by connecting deeply with our environment. Tis is a real contrast to the attitude I adopt when hiking where the purpose of being outdoors is to get from one place to another, rather than simply allowing myself and nature to be.

water filtering and billy can cooking

Above: Hanging out billy can above the fire using campcraft skills. Filtering dirty water using natural materials.

Making My Ultimate Woodland Getaway

The majority of today was all about putting together the skills we had learnt so far. The goal was to be able to set up our own shelters, start a fire and make a cup of tea in our camps. I would need to use my knife for cutting, shelter building skills, I’d need a way to hang my billy can over the fire and I’d need plenty of firewood. Lots to be getting on with.

The first activity was to filter water using natural materials we could find in the woods as well as artificial ones to. We would not be drinking the water we filtered aa this should only be done in a real situation, but it was good to see the principles at work. We then worked on making natural cordage using nettles and bramble. This cordage could be used for our shelters or for hanging our billy can. James showed us how to identify the most suitable bits of plant to use and how to dry and braid the strands to make a strong cord which could be used for years.

Since yesterday we all made a natural shelter, today we were given a one-person tarp (called a basha) to rig over our makeshift camps. James introduced me to a couple of knots for getting it all taught. Our group decided to combine the tarp alongside the lean-to I slept out in so we had a covered area for our outdoor fire – very cosy indeed. Our whittled tent pegs and natural cordage came in handy here and we saw how strong this natural fibre really was when put to the test of holding up our shelter.

Next we worked we turned to campcraft skills with the challenge of creating something that could be used to hang our billy can for boiling our brew over the fire. I worked with a couple of others, each of us made a different part of the frame from hazel wood before moving the various components over to our camp. Each group came up with a totally different way of solving the problem which was good to see. My trusty tent peg came in handy to anchor the pot pole. I used my wild cord to make the billy can adjustable so we could lower it down or back up depending on how intense we wanted the boil.

natural cordage and survival shelter

Above: We combined paracord with our bramble cord to tie off our shelter. Matt looking very content in his woodland home.

Making Fire… in Heavy Rain!

It was time for the big finish, practising ancient fire by friction skills. Something I had read about and seen on YouTube but not done myself yet. Now it’s very important that certain components of this traditional fire-starting kit be kept bone dry. We were all set, feeling somewhat confident… and then the heavens opened! We were to make our fires using bow drills and due to the rain coming down we decided to work in teams to increase our chances of success rather than everyone struggling individually in unideal conditions. I get the feeling this is how our ancestors would have pulled together in a real situation… so it’s not cheating.

Once James showed us the technique I was surprised how quickly we achieved smoke and the beginnings of an ember. James tressed how success comes not from powering through to eventual success but using good technique and communication with each other to ensure the best chance of making fire. Unfortunately, for a beginner like me, these were not ideal conditions. The rain was getting heavier and this made it hard for us to create any sparks or for a flame to catch in our tinder nest, but with a little help, we eventually managed to get a roaring fire going and enjoyed a well-earned hot cup of tea from our billy can. Job done! 

fire by friction skills course

Above: Me working with my group on fire-by-friction to get a good ember for our fire.

Home & Dry

At the end of the day, we had practiced the skills to go out into the woods and thrive on what we could find around us in a sustainable and nature-focused way.

There was something very rewarding about managing to make the bow drilling a success despite the elements being against us. We were shouting when we finally got it going it was an amazing feeling and even though we were all pretty tired at the end of the weekend I definitely felt like I had learnt so much. It was more than just learning skills to use outdoors, it was changing the way I thought about nature and being creative with how I solved any problems I might face if I was in the woods without certain tools. I’ve definitely caught the bushcraft bug.

 

Ready For Your Own Adventure?

I can highly recommend this course and I’m looking forward to attending more in the future, especially the Wild Food and Foraging Day. If you’re looking for a quality and fun experience like this then do check out our upcoming courses.

Woodland Classroom host outdoor courses on bushcraft skills, wild food & foraging, nature connection and tree identification all surrounded by the beautiful National Trust estate woodland of Erddig and Chirk Castle in North-East Wales. Courses are available for adult learners, families and private bookings. Get in touch if you’d like to know more.

SEE OUR UPCOMING COURSES HERE

Hope to see you in the woods,

Emily

Emily Fox is our Outdoor Activities Assistant, on placement to Woodland Classroom for 12 months. She hopes one day to run her own outdoor activity business where she can share her passion with others.

how to forage sea buckthorn - wild food

How To Forage Sea Buckthorn – Nature’s Superfood

Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) is one of our littlest known but most beautiful trees. Not only do they give a stunning display of colour, the berries sure do pack a tropical punch. The juice has to be one of the most memorable and refreshing flavours in the wold of UK wild food. When they fruit, the combination of the bright orange berries against the silvery green leaves make them look almost Mediterranean. So, if you want to feel like you’re kicking back on a sunny beach with a tropical drink in the depths of winter, we’ll give you the closest thing with some delicious sea buckthorn recipes. It’s a a wild food that’s well worth getting to know.

Getting these berries off the tree can be a little troublesome. You might have guessed from the name of this tree that there’s thorns to deal with. I’m here to help though and I’ve included a video which shows the easiest ways I’ve found to harvest the berries. You’ll get tips and tricks to filtering out leaf debris, so give it a watch. These are tried and tested methods so you can see how well each works for yourself.

If you’ve watched the video you might be thinking; “that seems like a lot of work for some fruit juice.” But the nutritional benefit of these little gems is unbelievable! They truly are a superfood. They contain high levels of vitamin C, around 5 times more than oranges, high levels of antioxidants as well as omega 3 and 6. Importantly they contain A, B, C and E vitamins including B12. Scientific trials have found that sea buckthorn is effective in treating tumours, lung diseases and gastric distress. They also help reduce inflammation and can treat heart diseases and improve blood vessel function, so get drinking it!

how to identify sea buckthorn

Above: This female sea buckthorn was found in an old sand & gravel quarry, far from the coast.

Where & When Can I Find Sea Buckthorn

Finding one of these amazing trees is not always the easiest thing. They are not nationally common, but could be locally common in your area. Generally, sea buckthorn is restricted to coastal areas or particularly gravelly soil so if you’re near a beach make sure to have a scout around as they have been purposely planted in many areas to help stabilise sand dunes. With that in mind they can also sometimes be found planted up in retail parks and roadside verges where they provide that stabilisation for the ground but also quick ground cover. Keep your eyes peeled.

Sea buckthorn is a deciduous shrub that has silvery-green leaves similar in appearance to rosemary. The leaves also remind us of a smaller version of willow leaves. The shrub also grows thick spines along the branches which is a good indicator of the species into the winter when the leaves fall. 

The dense clusters of bright orange berries are a dead giveaway to positive identification. Look for a silvery sheen close up on the berry skins too. The berries begin to fruit around August and September but it’s best to leave them till they’ve all turned from green to orange. As you’ll see from my video, early to mid autumn is the best time of year to harvest the berries as they are more firm and will get damaged less when picking. The later in the season you go, the more delicate the berries become. You can still harvest them into late autumn/early winter but it will be a messier job as the juice gets everywhere.

This tree is dioecious, which means it has separate male and female trees. Only the females produce the berries. So, don’t be surprised if you come across a specimen in the right season but with no berries. Look around the surrounding area for a female in fruit.

sea buckthorn wild food & foraging recipes

Above: Notice the leaves grow in a whorl around the whole twig. They have a silvery sheen to them.

How do I Process Sea Buckthorn

As the name suggests the sea buckthorn is a spiny shrub so a thick pair of gloves is helpful for one of the methods of collecting the berries. When the berries are ripe they tend to burst very easily, which does make collecting them a little tricky, but we’ve got some proven methods to remove the berries that we’ve tried so you don’t have to.

The first method, which I prefer, involves cutting off the tips of branches which are heavy with berries. Although this can seem quite destructive, this is a tree which grows back fast, so you can cut with confidence. It’s good practise to always take only what you need and leave what you can for wildlife.

  • Pop the cut branches in a bag.
  • When you’re home, put the branches on a tea towel outdoors, in a place where creepy crawlies can escape.
  • Later, place the berry-heavy bunches in a double layered bin bag and leaving in the freezer for a couple of days.
  • Once the berries have fully frozen remove the bin bag and beat it with a stick, this will separate them from the branch without bursting them.
  • Lastly you’ll need to separate the whole berries from any other debris that has been loosened in the bag. Watch the video for tips on how to do this effectively.

The second method is a little messier but is a quick way of collecting the juice of the berries. This method is best done later in the season when the berries are at their ripest. 

  • Put a clean food bucket under the branch you want to collect the juice from.
  • Wearing a thick pair of rubber gloves, squeeze along the branch in a downward motion, toward the tip. This squishes the berries as you go and avoids you getting spiked. The juice runs into the bucket below.
  • When you get home, the juice will need straining as lots of leaf and branch debris will probably fall into the bucket during the collection process. 

With either of these methods, make sure you’re not wearing anything you would mind getting berry juice on or even wear an apron.

foraging for sea buckthorn

Above: Using the “bag & freezer” method to separate the berries.

how to process sea buckthorn berries

Above: Processing the juice from the berries. I used a potato ricer.

What Can I Make with Sea Buckthorn

Sea buckthorn has a notoriously tart taste so I would recommend sweetening it before eating, unless you like an intense sharp and sour hit – I dare you to give it a try raw. If you want to get an idea of the kind of sharp citrusy flavour the processed juice of the berry gives then pick one straight from the tree, it’s very refreshing… if a little tart. The recipe I made was a sweet sea buckthorn juice and it was a very refreshing and very healthy addition to my breakfast. 

For this recipe you can get away with using the squeeze method as mentioned above, as all you really need is the juice. Make sure you strain the juice through a sieve or muslin cloth if you want to be super thorough. You will need:

  • Sea buckthorn juice
  • Runny honey to taste
  • A sterilised container with a lid for storage

In a saucepan, heat the juice and honey together on a low heat. Stir well to make sure the honey melts into the juice. When the juice is as sweet as you want, take the pan off the heat and leave to cool before bottling in a sterilised jar. 

As well as complimenting your morning eggs you could try adding the juice to some sparkling white wine to make sea bucks fizz, or with lemonade to make a refreshing cordial. You could also consider using sea buckthorn for jam, or you could reduce the juice by cooking it for longer and adding sugar to make a sea buckthorn syrup. In Northern Europe, it’s popular as an accompaniment to fish as it is similar in sharpness to lemon.

Making a fruit leather would be a good way of preserving the goodness of the berries right through the year. To do this; gently simmer the juice down to a thick syrup, combine it with hawthorn berry pulp which has been similarly boiled down, spread the mixture thinly onto greaseproof paper and then dry it over several hours gently in a dehydrator, on an oven on a low heat with the door slightly ajar to allow airflow. The purpose of the hawthorn berries (called haws) is to provide a binding quality to the leather, as on its own the buckthorn juice may struggle to hold together. The haws also have their own major health benefits. A fruit leather not only preserves the vitamins but hold the taste too.

sea buckthorn wild food & foraging recipes

Above: The juice or berries can be used to make a range of tangy foods like jam, sauce, cordial or fruit leather.

Discover More Wild Food

If all this talk of wild food and foraging has whetted your appetite then you can take your learning further with us through the range of courses we offer.

You can immerse yourself in the world of foraging through our outdoor courses hosted in beautiful National Trust estate woodlands in North-East Wales. Or if that’s too far afield for you we also host regular online workshops, live through Zoom where we focus on wild foods of the season and give you delicious recipe ideas, foraging tips and expertise from special guest speakers. If this all sounds interesting, check out what’s coming up on our Events page right here.

Another way to get instant access to a whole backlog of wild food & foraging videos, recipes and recorded workshops is to join our Tribe over on Patreon. In return for supporting our mission, our patrons get access loads of exclusive resources. You can join the Tribe from as little as £3.60 per month. Find out about all the benefits right here.

Until next time, good luck with your own foraging journey.

James

ten trees you can eat - wild food & foraging

Ten Trees You Can Eat

When you’re walking in the woods have you ever wondered which trees you could eat? Of course, I mean the tree’s berries, nuts, leaves and fruit. Chewing on wood is strictly for beavers only. Trees are a great source of wild food and in this article we’re going to take a look at ten of the best native and common British trees which you can forage from as well as giving you some inspiring recipe ideas using these natural ingredients.

Before we get going with the list, if you’re someone who loves trees but struggles to know what you’re looking at on your country walk, you could start building your tree identification skills today by signing up to our free online course, titled Kickstart Your Tree ID Skills. You’d be joining thousands of other students who want to know more about the trees around them. You can enroll for free right here.

Now, on with the top ten list, starting in no particular order with…

 

1. Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa)

Sweet chestnuts are something you typically associate with Christmas (cue Bing Crosby singing here) but in the UK you can forage for your own chestnuts around the middle of October. These really are a top nut and I don’t think we utilise them enough outside of the festive season, there are so many tasty recipes you can use them in. Our home-grown wild nuts tend to be on the smaller side compared to other parts of Europe, as in this country they are at the edge of their natural range. Shop-bought chestnuts tend to be grown in warmer climes such as Italy, Spain, and Croatia.

sweet chestnut tree foraging

Above: Sweet Chestnuts are not just for Christmas. Try roasting them in their shells in the embers of a campfire. Yum!

The casing of the sweet chestnut is easily recognisable by the long, densely packed spikes, and if you’ve ever been curious enough to pick one up you know how delicately they need to be handled to avoid being speared. You can tell when the chestnuts are ripe because the casing will be large and green, heading towards a lighter brown colour. They will also begin to split open as they ripen, and you can often see the shell of the chestnut through the cracks in the casing. The nuts grow in threes inside the spiked case. The shells are, as you would expect, a chestnut brown colour, topped with a white tuft of hairs. When foraging for these nuts make sure you use thick gloves to pry them open.

Taking a step back to look at the whole tree; another indicator you’re looking at sweet chestnut is the trunk itself. On mature trees deep fissures develop that tend to twist and spiral up the trunk. This is a more obvious distinction going into autumn when the tree begins to lose its leaves.

When it comes to cooking with sweet chestnuts the most traditional use is roasting. Firstly, pierce the shell with a knife to prevent them popping and roast them in an oven at 200°c for 30 minutes. My favourite way to cook them is more simple, and connects us with our ancestors; roasting the nut (in their shells) directly in the embers of a campfire. Once cooked, leave to cool for a few minutes then peel the shells off and eat. Other tasty uses for chestnuts are in stuffing, added into brownies or cheesecakes. They add a fantastic sweet nutty taste to anything you add them to, so alternatively you could try pairing them with something salty like a soy sauce glaze, as well as to supplement your sweet dishes.

 

2. Beech (Fagus sylvatica)

Often called the “queen of British trees” Beech are one of our most magnificent trees. They can grow up to, and sometimes exceed 40 meters height. There’s a beech tree in my village that’s so large you can see it from about a mile away, it’s loved by everyone and has such a magnificent canopy, it’s not hard to see why. You often find these trees on very chalky areas, and they can be identified by their grey-brown bark and iconic nuts that grow in October, with spiky basing that splits open to reveal the smooth pyramid shaped nuts. 

beech nuts - tree foraging

Above: Beech nuts are small but worth the effort. A great snack whilst out on a stroll. Inset: Young leaves make a tangy addition to salads in spring.

As well as being beautiful beech trees have two seasons in the year when parts can be harvested for food. Firstly, around May when new leaves emerge they can be eaten straight off the twig or put into salads or sandwiches. They have a tangy, almost acidic flavour. You’re looking for the lighter green slightly hairy leaves, before they darken in colour and develop an unpalatable, waxy surface. 

In October, it’s the beech nuts which drop to the ground and can be collected for our table. The casing (called mast) splits open and will often drop off the tree with the nuts inside meaning it’s relatively easy to collect them, although you may have to rummage around on the ground a little to find the nuts under the leaf litter. Inside the mast can be up to 3 nuts each in their own triangular brown shell.

Beech nuts are a good source of protein, contain lots of healthy oils and taste a little like hazelnuts making them amazing for both sweet and savoury dishes. It’s advised that you don’t eat too many raw as they contains tannins which can cause an upset stomach, although not everyone has a negative reaction to raw beech nuts but it’s best to be cautious. They’re small though, so collecting that many would be quite a feat. Cooking or soaking removes this toxin and makes them safe to eat en masse, so try toasting them to add to salads or using as a cake topping as an alternative to hazelnuts. I like them best as a snack on the go whilst walking.

 

3. Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)

Blackthorns are a favourite of many as they give us the fruit used to make sloe gin. Around autumn there’s excitement in the foraging community as everyone rushes to make their annual batch of sloe gin ready to replace the previous years which will inevitably be either drunk or given as a Christmas present. A friend proudly declared that this Christmas he’ll be opening a bottle he made five years ago! 

sloes and blackthorn - tree foraging

Above: Everyone has heard of sloe gin, but did you know you can use the gin soaked sloes to make boozy chocolates. We dare you to try it.

The blackthorn tree can be identified by their almost black branches (hence the name) and large thorns which can cause a nasty infection if spiked so be very careful when harvesting your sloes, some thick gloves are recommended! In March the blackthorn is the first tree to make its presence known as it erupts en masse in our hedgerows with a show of white blossom. The flowers make for an incredibly beautiful contrast to the black spines. Blackthorn is a tough old tree with a habit of spreading quickly into open space, making it an unwelcome guest with landowners who like things tidy. It follows that with this tough, thorny tree, that seems to be telling us to “look but don’t touch” it would bear such sour fruits that when eaten raw don’t exactly endear themselves to us. They are worth collecting though as alcohol transforms their flavour.

The blackthorn is part of the plum family so this gives us a clue that there’s some good stuff to be had from the fruits. From September onward the sloes take on a dark blue colour as they ripen. The classic recipe, sloe gin, is made using fresh sloes, pricked with a fork, packed into a jar with gin and sugar. Shake this every day to help the sugar dissolve and then after at least a month (longer is better) strain off the berries and bottle the liquid, ready for a Christmas gift or to go on the sdhelf and left for a year before drinking. Also, did you know that the leaves can also be infused with alcohol and are at their best around June and July.

Interestingly sloe stones have been found at many archaeological sites which suggests our ancestors valued this fruit highly as well; it’s lovely to think that the blackthorn has connected us to our ancestors for thousands of years. Try boiling your sloes down to turn them into a jam or syrup, they’re naturally a little tart so it’s best to have a sweet aspect to each recipe such as reducing with sugar or treacle to make a delicious tart filling. If making sloe gin or other alcohol infusion is something you want to give a go, remember this top tip; try saving your soaked sloes to coat in chocolate. This makes for a perfect present for friends and family at Christmas time.

 

4. Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

I don’t know about you, but I always see the arrival of Hawthorns as the official start of autumn. The iconic red berry a sight you’re likely familiar with as they grow in abundance along roadsides and in hedgerows. Hawthorn trees are one of our most common trees as they can thrive almost anywhere and are popular in hedges as they make a thorny stock-proof barrier which has vigorous regrowth when cut back. Head out to your local green space, you might be surprised by how many hawthorn trees you can find.

hawthorn - tree foraging

Above: They might not taste like much on their own but as a cooking ingredient they work very well. We made spicy hawthorn relish.

Hawthorns in Autumn are easy to identify, with large bunches of deep red oval berries, known as haws. They can be seen from September onward and can persist on the tree right through winter after the leaves have fallen. One of the earliest identifiers for this tree in our calendar year can be seen in early spring when the bright green leaves with between 3-5 jagged lobes, looking somewhat similar to parsley, explode in our hedgerows after the white blossom of blackthorn. In April and May look for a show of beautiful flowers blooming from this tree. They resemble cherry blossom, with a strong scent of almonds, 5 small white petals and pink stamens. 

Back in autumn with the berries; you could eat a single haw and be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about as there’s not much taste to them. But that couldn’t be more wrong, this is such a versatile food source that not enough people know about. Where the haws shine is as an ingredient rather than a food on its own. Haws contain a single stone which needs to be removed before they can be eaten. This can be a time consuming process, but the reward is worth it. These berries can be used to make everything from jam, ketchup, relish and even wine; boiling and straining can be a quicker way of removing the stones than individually de-stoning each fruit. Although they’re fairly plain in flavour they have a similar texture to avocados, making them an eco-friendly substitute to use in guacamole.

As well as making some delicious foods, the haws are incredibly good for you. They can increase the blood flow to the heart, helping prevent heart attacks as well as reducing irregular heartbeats. This isn’t a new discovery either, haws have been used to treat heart conditions as early as the 17th century. If you are on heart medication, seek advice form a professional herbalist before eating them.

 

5. Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides)

Sea buckthorn is incredibly beautiful when the tree is fruiting; with gorgeous bunches of bright orange berries surrounded by silvery green leaves that heavily resemble rosemary. The fruit of this tree is citrusy but does require some sweetening as it has a naturally sharp almost bitter flavour, similar to the acidity of a grapefruit. In terms of flavour, this is about as tropical as it gets for native tree foraging. If you don’t mind a bit of work and being spiked by thorns, then you’re in for a treat that packs a mighty punch.

sea buckthorn - tree foraging

Above: If you want a juice that packs a serious punch for both taste and health, try Sea Buckthorn.

Unfortunately, the sea buckthorn isn’t very common and is normally only found near the coastline or in very gravely areas. However, you might find it along roadsides and in retail parks or industrial estates, where it can be planted as cover. If you discover one of these trees locally make a note of it and be sure to give it a visit when it’s fruiting! These beautiful berries come into fruit around September to early October and are best picked after all the berries on the tree turn from green to orange as it’s when they’re at their most ripe. The tricky part of collecting the berries of the sea buckthorn is how prone they are to bursting when picking, meaning you could get juice on your clothes so make sure you’re not wearing your favourite white shirt when collecting these.

There are two main ways you can collect the berries; if you’re not too bothered about the whole berry and are happy with just the juice, which is the best part in my opinion, you can use some very thick rubber gloves to squeeze down a branch to collect the juice into a bucket. This will need straining once you get home to remove any bits of leaf or debris that you’ll also find in your bucket. This is the fastest way to collect the juice, but works best when the berries are a little softer later in the season. Another method is to snip off twigs that have berry clusters. Take them home and leave them outside on a towel or some tissue to allow any creepy crawlies to escape before putting them in a bin liner and bunging them in the freezer overnight. Once the berries are frozen beat the bag to dislodge them from the branch and then pick out the branches and leaves. This is my preferred method.

You can strain the berries to make a nutritious fruit juice, although some sweetening is recommended, try adding honey as a healthier alternative to sugar. To make a cordial, reduce the juice by simmering and add sugar. Dilute with water and serve with ice, or use neat added to sparkling wine to make a sea bucks fizz! As well as being delicious, sea buckthorn hailed as a superfood, being packed with vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin A, B and C and is proven to preventing tumours, ulcers and detoxify the liver.

 

6. Elder (Sambucus nigra)

Whenever I think of summer elderflower cordial always springs to mind. Its subtle sweetness reminds me of hot breezy days. The elder tree has got to be in the top ten wild foods of the UK as it provides two delicacies for us to enjoy. The flowers which bloom in June and the berries which ripen around August to September. If you have a shrub in your garden I would recommend not taking all the flowers as you’ll then be stuck without any berries later on. Leave some to mature and you get to enjoy both harvests.

elderberry - tree foraging

Above: Elderberries are packed full of good things. Our favourite recipe is Elderberry Elixir, made with honey, brandy and warming spices.

Whilst elderberries are easily recognisable, the spray of creamy-white summer flowers are easy to mistake for other similar looking trees. Make sure you’re not accidentally picking flowers from a Rowan or Wayfaring tree as they look similar when in bloom. Get to know the whole tree. The leaves of the elder are jagged around the edge and typically have five large leaflets on each leaf. The flowers themselves are very small and grow in dense bunches that tend to grow upwards in fairly uniform, flat formation. The stems will droop down when the flowers turn into the berries. 

Elderflower cordial is an obvious classic recipe for the elder but there are so many more ways you can use the flowers. Try infusing them into Turkish delight or sorbets for a sweet treat or using them to flavour panna cotta or yoghurt. Don’t feel limited by traditional uses for elderflower cordial either, use the cordial to flavour cakes and tray bakes or add to sparkling wine. 

Come the autumn, the berries are well worth your attention. Not only does their juice taste great but they’re good for our health too, making an excellent immune system booster. Be sure to use any freshly picked berries quickly as they don’t tend to last for very long once they’ve been picked. Try cooking them to make jam, using them to make a coulis for a pudding topping, or mixing with honey and spices to make a warming elderberry elixir – this is our personal favourite. The deep purple syrup is very striking when drizzled on cheesecake. Some more unusual uses for elderberries are to make vinegar and fruit leather.

Do be aware that the seeds in the berries contain a small amount of cyanide, so you don’t want to eat the berries raw, they must be cooked. We remove the seeds and flesh by straining the cooked berries through a muslin cloth.

 

7. Hazel (Corylus avellana)

Hazel, as you can probably guess, gives us the hazelnut; something so commonly used in modern processed foods you may forget that you can forage for them yourself. How does the idea of making your own hazelnut chocolate spread sound? When identifying a hazel, you’re more likely to find one in shrub form rather than a full tree, with several stems sprouting from the base rather than one single trunk. In summer the leaves are large and round with a serrated edge. At the tips of the yellow-brown branches you’ll also see large green buds. When searching for a hazelnuts the best place to look is hedgerows and woodland edges. The nuts tend not to grow as well in deeper woodland as they get shaded out by taller trees.

hazelnuts - tree foraging

Above: Make your own nutty chocolate spread from hazelnuts, if you can beat the squirrels to them.

The best time of year for hazelnuts is the back end of August and into September. When you find them they might appear fairly green. These are unripe but can still be eaten. They are best when the shells have turned nut brown. They tend to grow in clusters and the nuts will have a frilly green bract around them, almost making them look like they’re wearing hats. Ripe nuts will fall from the tree but make sure you crack open the casing of a few nuts before you collect loads as often  the tree will discard any nuts that haven’t been successful to focus on growing others. Nobody wants to go home to find they’ve actually been carrying empty shells.

The other issue to content with is the Grey Squirrel who will harvest all the nuts from your favourite hazel tree before they ripen. Aside from the obvious solution to this problem (squirrel pie anyone?) you could try netting a small tree (easier said than done) or look for a tree in an urban space where squirrels aren’t present. This is where I’ve had the most success myself.

Hazelnuts give us so many possibilities. They make a nutritious addition to cakes and bakes. They compliment chocolate really nicely so you could try incorporating them into a batch of cookies which are sure to go down a treat. For something more low-key you could always sprinkle chopped hazelnuts onto a bowl of muesli or porridge for a healthy breakfast to kickstart your day with plenty of energy. Possibly a more unusual way of using the nuts would be to blend them into some homemade green pesto for extra crunch and depth of flavour, you could even try toasting them first. 

The good news is that these delicious nuts are really good for you as well, supporting a healthy heart and helping to reduce cholesterol. They’re also full of vitamin E which helps maintain a healthy immune system, so there’s no need to feel bad about snacking on this treat. 

 

8. Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) 

Otherwise known as Mountain Ash, this tree grows not only in high places, as it’s name suggests, but can also be found in hedgerows, scrubland and urban spaces. When flowering, rowan is easily mistaken for the elderflower as they have similar sized white flowers sitting on a flat bed, called an umbel. Once these flowers mature to fruit though the difference becomes very obvious. Rowan produces striking red berries instead of the purple-black of elder. The berries are also larger and persist on the tree long after the elderberries have dried up. Another similar feature are the leaves. Rowan has more leaflets per leaf than elder. Anywhere between 11 – 17 leaflets, opposed to elder typical 5-7.

rowan berries - tree foraging

Above: The most famous recipe for these berries is Rowan Jelly, which includes Crab Apple. It goes great with game.

It’s these juicy red berries that we’re looking to forage. You can find them on the tree as early as late July. September onwards is the main season though. Don’t be tempted to eat these berries right off the tree as they need to be cooked before they’re edible, otherwise they can cause severe indigestion due to the ascorbic acid they contain. The most traditional recipe for this unusual berry is rowan berry jelly, often paired here with crab apples as the pectin tends to thicken the jelly and make sure it sets properly.The crabs are also sweetening the jelly.

To make a jelly add equal quantities of chopped apple and rowan to a pan and simmer in water for 20 minutes. Strain in a muslin cloth over a bowl for at least 4 hours, allowing the juice to drip into the bowl, if you squeeze the mix then the jam will be cloudy. Harvest the liquid and for every 600ml of fluid, add 450g sugar and the juice of one lemon and boil again for 10 minutes. You can test when it’s ready by putting a spoonful on a chilled plate; if the jelly wrinkles when you squidge it with your finger its ready to be put into a sterilised jar. This jelly is perfect to accompany meats or even something like cheesecake to add a tart splash of colour to your pate. 

Interestingly, rowan berry flour is used in Russian baking, which gives bread a slight tang and adds a lot of nutrition. Rowan berries can also be added into chutneys, soups, and ketchups to add a depth of flavour, although it is worth adding a source of sweetness to counteract the tartness they naturally have. This is one berry that I’ve not actually gotten round to cooking with myself at the time of writing, but the jelly recipe is one that has persisted through time so it must be worthwhile. Let me know how you get on.

 

9. Crab Apple (Malus sylvestris)


Crab apples are a bit tricky, as the sourness of these wild fruits tends to catch people off guard. I still remember the shock of biting into one and finding out just how sour they were for the first time! Fortunately, there are still numerous ways you can use the crab apple and sweeten it to make it more digestible.

crab apple - tree foraging

Above: From these humble beginnings, all our cultivated apples came. The crab apple deserves some respect.

Unlike cooking apples, the crab apple is small, often only reaching around 3cm in diameter. This may be why they are so tart, as the flavour is concentrated in a smaller fruit. Crab apple trees are often found in hedgerows, woodland clearings and around farmland. The leaves are ovular with a finely toothed margin. The apples can be stored for several months before they become unusable, keep them somewhere cool and dry and you can always come back to them when your other foraging projects are done.

Like the rowan, crab apple is often used in jellies to offset the sharpness of flavour and I would follow a similar recipe to the rowan berry jelly above. There are many more ways to use them though. They can be sliced and dehydrated in an oven to make dried apple slices, which tend to be a lot sweeter and make a delicious snack on walks or part of a healthy breakfast when mixed with yoghurt and nuts. They can also be used as an ingredient in fruit leather which is always very popular with kids. For grown ups, how about this liqueur? Add layers of sliced crab apples to a jar, sprinkling sugar in between each layer and then covering with vodka. Leave for a year before draining; a long time I know but you should have a bottle ready for the following Christmas.

Other ideas for the crab apple include juicing them, crab apple butter, adding them to pickles or chutneys, or in a mixed fruit pie or crumble. Their tartness adds an unexpected bite to sweet puddings, so give it a go.

 

10. Guelder-Rose (Viburnum opulus)

The guelder-rose  was previously known as swamp elder, which to me is a more appropriate name as it describes this shrubby tree much better. Native to the UK the guelder-rose can be identified in the summer by its serrated three lobed leaves, which are similar looking to maple leaves, and are slightly hairy on the underside. Similar again to the elder and rowan the guelder-rose has umbels of white flowers that bloom around May to July. Look closer and you’ll see that a cluster of larger petalled flowers are surrounded by a ring of smaller flowers. Very striking indeed. In autumn these flowers mature to small shiny red berries, similar in appearance to cranberries which sometimes gives it the nickname European cranberry bush.

guelder rose - tree foraging

Above: A less well known wild food, these berries make a tasty, tangy jam which goes great on toast.

When searching for this berry look in damp places along riversides, scrubland, and hedgerows; it tends to have a habit of spreading if left unattended. When preparing the berries make sure they’re cooked before eating them as they can be slightly toxic if eaten raw, so don’t eat them straight off the tree. The berries need to be prepared in a similar way to rowan, as they are also fairly bitter. They do work well in jellies and jams. Try adding them with rowan berries and crab apples for a tangy addition to toast and porridge or add a dollop to your Sunday roast. Often it’s best to wait for the first frost of the year before collecting the berries as it tends to sweeten them, but you could always pop them in the freezer for the same effect if you can’t wait. I made jam and although when cooking the aroma wasn’t all that appetising, the resulting jam was very good.

As well as being used as a source of food the bark of the tree has been used for hundreds of years to soothe menstrual cramps as the bark has sedative and antispasmodic properties. This is probably due to the chemical viopudial, a compound that lowers blood pressure relaxes smooth muscle, which also means it’s useful in alleviating hiccups and stomach aches. However, it is worth saying that there have been no medical trials to confirm these properties or in what quantities it should be consumed, so I wouldn’t advise just peeling off bits of bark to use, especially if you’re not confident on your identification. Seek the advice of a professional herbalist if you want to take this further.

 

Where Can You Find These Trees?

Now this all sounds good on paper but how you do go about recognising these tree species and finding the right habitats where they grow?

I have created a FREE online Tree Identification course called Kickstart Your Tree ID Skills, which you can enroll on today and start improving your skills so you can find these wild foods for yourself. The course will also show you how to identify trees at other times of the year; winter, spring and summer. Here you will learn about buds, flowers, leaves, bark and other useful identifying signs so you can really get to know our native trees all year round. Sound good to you? Register for free right here.

free tree identification course

Sign up to our free course today and watch videos, download cheat sheets and access photo galleries.

You can also download a copy of my FREE Autumn Tree Guide which you can view on your phone whilst out and about. It features many of the species in this blog with quality pictures of the fruits, berries and nuts. You can grab your copy of that guide right here.

So, there’s my list, not so much a definitive top ten, as there are a couple of omissions here of native trees which produce some fantastic wild foods at times of the year other than autumn. Perhaps I’ll make that absolute top ten list later down the line. Certainly birch sap syrup, wych elm seeds wild cherries are all worth a mention.

I hope you found this article inspiring and I’d love to hear if you make anything with the wild foods featured. If you want more good stuff from us you could subscribe to our YouTube Channel where we post videos about trees, wild food and nature connection.

Happy foraging,

James

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