Summer is the best time to get out foraging, as there is plenty of variety to choose from. I took a stroll in the woods and gathered a variety of common plants perfect for consumption, this will recount those plants to you, how to identify them and any uses they may have.
Elder: Sambucus nigra
Elder is a common species, found in most deciduous woods and along hedgerows. They produce umbels, or clusters of small white flowers and black berries. The stems have a large spongy pith in the middle, and the bark is very furrowed and corky.
The flowers can be eaten straight off the tree, possessing a sweet flavour, which is good added raw to salads. The flowers can also be dipped in batter and then deep fried to make a fritter.
The berries can be eaten raw, but it is best to cook them if possible as they contain chemicals that can induce nausea and vomiting if eaten in large quantities. The berries should be picked when they begin to hang upside down. An edible fungus, called Jews Ear can also be found growing on Elder trees, but as with all species of fungi extreme care must be taken when foraging as some can be very poisonous to humans.
Burdock: Arctium minus
Probably one of the best sources of carbs that can be foraged for in woodlands in the British Isles. Somewhat resembling rhubarb, with big heart shaped leaves, and stems that can grow 3 feet high. The root can be dug up, it is best to dig up the roots in early spring or in fall, as this is when the most energy will be stored in the root.
The root has a mild nutty and earthy taste, handled and cooked the same way you would a carrot. Requiring washing and some peeling before being cooked. The stems of the plant can also be eaten, although they can be quite bitter, especially as they age.
Sloe (black thorn): Prunus spinosa
Sloe berries grow on a shrubby tree, standing maybe 6 feet high when fully grown, the marble sized berries become a dark blue almost purple berry when ripe. They are perfectly safe to consume straight off the tree, but they can be very very tart, so are best added to pies and jams in combination with other fruits, as cooking helps remove some of the sour flavour. Famously sloe berries are the vital ingredient in sloe gin.
Sloe berries were also used in ancient times as a dye, turning wool and other fabrics shades of pink. Sloe berry stones have been excavated in large quantities from archaeological sites, suggesting they were commonly used for this purpose, as they are not very palatable raw.
Hawthorn: Crataegus monogyna
A small tree, very common along hedgerows and in open woodlands as well as scrubland. A small lobed leaf, that grows on very rough spiny branches. The early leaves can be eaten straight off the tree and mixed with any other spring edibles in a salad as can the flowers.
The berries, sometimes called haws, begin appearing from mid to late summer. The small red berries grow in bunches, and when ripe become a deep red colour. Hawthorn is a good plant for anyone interested in long term self-reliance, as the berries contain pectin. The high pectin content causes haws to set if they are mashed up and left to dry, creating a fruit leather. This becomes a perfect way to store fruit in one was living off grid. Other berries can then be mixed in with the mashed haws to provide some variety in flavour, this would allow someone to store fruits for use over winter.
Stinging Nettle: Urtica dioica
This plant really needs no introduction. As common across the UK as any plant could ever become, however very much so underutilised. Rich in micro-nutrients they are a good supplement to any diet. They require singing or boiling to soften or remove the stinging hairs, but once that is done they are good to eat. However, they lack calories, so a very large amount would be required to sustain a person for any period of time.
Nettles provide some of the best and easiest to use natural fibres for cordage making. Due to their simple structure, all that is required is the removal of the inner pith. The leftover outer shell can then be twisted or braided into a very strong string.
Blackberry (Bramble): Rubus fruticosus
About as common as nettles, although much more mainstream in our modern diets. This delicious berry can be eaten straight off the bush or used in any combination of recipes. It is very good combined with haws to make a fruit leather, as mentioned above, which is incredibly useful for the woodsman.
The younger green stems of brambles can be made into cordage with a very high tensile strength. Requiring a little bit more work than nettles, as the outer layer and inner pith must be removed before the fibres can be fashioned into string. The advantage to using brambles is that the lengths of fibre are much longer, meaning less time spent splicing new lengths into your string, which helps to improve the overall strength of the string.