Back to nature with food foraging

AFTER handing over the reins to our catering managers for a few months I’m really pleased to be back in the driving seat of the National Trust’s In Season columns.

Wild food expert Rob Caton leading a course on surviving in the wild

AFTER handing over the reins to our catering managers for a few months I’m really pleased to be back in the driving seat of the National Trust’s In Season columns.

I’m really excited about the columns this year because I’m taking them outdoors!

Every two weeks I’ll be either food foraging at the Trust’s outdoor places with wild food expert Rob Caton, or learning about allotment gardening with the Trust’s kitchen gardener at Gibside – Sue Adamson.

For this week we’ll take a look at food foraging with Rob, who I met for the first time in a café branded as “England’s last café” in the tiny village of Rochester which is situated on the A68 past Otterburn.

I admit to Rob that apart from blackberries, the only food foraging I have tried was at the age of four when I learned about sorrel. My Grandma was horrified when, out for a walk one day, I started stuffing my face full of green leaves. “It’s all right Grandma, it’s only sorrel” I told her through the chomps.

I don’t think I could identify sorrel any more which is a shame as I think I quite liked it. And this is what Rob is going to help me with.

Rob is an outdoor expert who runs a company from his base up in the borders of Northumberland called Wild Harmony.

Ex military and a former National Trust warden, Rob offers people the chance to learn about survival in the outdoors – anything from shelter building and making a fire to animal tracking and of course, wild food foraging.

Rob’s hobbies, interests and the training he offers sounds similar to what you’d expect to see from Bear Grylls or Bruce Parry, but a lot of the events run by Wild Harmony are for families and younger people.

You don’t need to be an expert to take part, just turn up with enthusiasm and a sense of humour!

I hope these columns will be similar to Rob’s events in that they are for novices like myself, individuals and families alike, who have never tried food foraging or who have done very little. This is my, and your, introduction to searching for the fruits of our countryside.

Every four weeks Rob will show me what to look for and where – concentrating on the three “F”s: flowers, foliage and fruit – and give me some top tips to ensure I positively identify the food so I don’t poison myself! We’ll taste and sometimes cook the food we forage out in the wild and offer recipe suggestions for cooking the food at home so you can give it a try.

Our foraging days will be more about finding wild food to flavour recipes rather than cooking whole recipes from food we find in the wild.

Food foraging is a great way to get out and about in the countryside with your family – to taste food that is so fresh, seasonal and best of all free. As far as Rob’s concerned, you can forage for food all year round although he does admit some things don’t taste too good.

On the freezing cold morning that I met Rob I asked whether he could take me to find something to eat right then, to which he suggested making a hobo fishing kit and catching a fish in the nearby lake, which sadly I didn’t have time for.

Anyway, it’s good to be back and please look out for my column on the March 4 when Rob and I will be looking for Sorrel at Wallington near Cambo in Northumberland.

To find out more about the National Trust or Wild Harmony, log on to: and

Your guide to outdoor events with the National Trust or Wild Harmony

WILD Winter Shelter Building with Wild Harmony, Fri, Feb 11, to Sun, Feb 13.

This course is designed to give you a winter woodland living experience. You will construct a shelter from natural materials to sleep in over the weekend. £155 per person. To book your place contact Rob on 01830 520168 or

BUSHCRAFT Bonding with the National Trust, Gibside, Rowlands Gill, Gateshead, Sunday Feb 13 – 12-3pm.

An antidote to Valentine's Day: meet new people and have a laugh while learning skills. £8 per person including refreshments. Booking essential on 01207 541820. Normal admission applies.

10 top tips for safe wild food foraging

1. Wear sensible clothing – don’t wear shorts to wade through nettle patches.

2. Essential tools – drinking water, small scissors to cut plants, a good pocket ID book, a gathering bag, gloves and a small first aid kit.

3. Make sure you positively identify your harvest – only eat things if you are 100% sure it is what you think it is!

4. Don’t eat things that grow by a busy roadside or on industrial estates where the ground is contaminated.

5. Only take what you need – don’t strip the land bare of all that you find.

6. Intolerances – always do a tolerance test first before eating lots of one crop – you may be allergic! Test by taking a small bite and look for allergic reactions around the lips and gums.

7. Keep a small amount of your harvest so it can be identified in the event of an upset stomach.

8. Check out the law – it is illegal to uproot any wild plant without the land owner’s permission.

9. Be considerate of particular animals in their breeding season.

10.  Look for further tips and advice – there any many websites such as who give great wild food foraging tips!


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