Foraging. What could be more wholesome and holistic. With the right attitude, guidance and research, anyone can take part and enjoy seeking out natural treasures. Foraging is connects us with nature and the outdoors and enables us to find nutritious foods in the wild. These foods supply our bodies with the goodness they need to thrive. This exchange in energy replenishes not only your body, but your mind too and nurtures that feeling of being at one with the Earth.
Ireland, although small, provides an oasis for foragers whether it be a new hobby or a lifelong passion. Ireland is home to an abundance of edible, robust perennial plants and weeds and has a rich variety of coastal vegetation and seaweed.
Irish inhabitants have been foraging for these edible plants for hundreds of years however, unfortunately much of the traditional knowledge was lost during times of famine.
In recent years people have taken a notion of rediscovery and are back out in the wild exploring the vast number of plants and herbs that are available all over this beautiful country.
Foraging itself can be defined as searching for food resources that grow in the wild. We now understand that as wild as foraging may seem, we have to forage consciously and respectfully as to not deplete areas of their natural resources. We must harvest plants and weeds in such a way that new sprouts are able to grow, allowing stocks to naturally be replenished.
This guide has been compiled by local foraging experts and enthusiasts Lucianne Hare (Donegal), Robert Kennedy (Longford), and Rachel O’Sullivan (Sligo).
Read on for a list of recipes for foraged wild plants and seaweeds in Ireland
Dandelion Leaves and stalks, Fresh Hawthorn Leaves and flowers, Curly Dock Leaves and Wild Garlic.
Dandelions are easy to spot and are often considered a pest. Entirely edible, the roots can be used to make a coffee (more on that later). The leaves, stalks and even flowers (though they are less tasty) can be used to make a delicious fresh salad. Dandelion leaves taste slightly bitter (similar to arugula or rocket), and are best cultivated March – June.
Fresh Hawthorn Leaves and flowers are collected from Hawthorn trees, widely found across Ireland (for the superstitious, be sure not to collect from any fairy trees!). Young leaves, flower buds and berries are all edible. Harvest leaves in April and May (and berries in September and October). They can be a nice addition to spruce up a salad. Learn more here.
Wild garlic is easy to find and use – see more below. When finely chopped, you can add these to salads (or other recipes) for flavouring.
Curly Dock Leaves are found throughout Ireland, and have a lemony, sour flavour. Younger dock leaves are generally the most lemony. Harvest in spring and early summer in Ireland. You can use them to zest up a salad, or you can cook them and add to a stir-fry or soup, stew, or homemade farmer’s cheese. Curly dock leaves are long, thin, and lemony. Learn more here.
Wild Garlic, Stinging Nettles (full nettle minus root), Sea spaghetti.
Wild Garlic is easy to spot – just use your nose! They are best found in spring and early summer in wooded or shaded areas. The entire plant is edible, most people go directly for the bulbs, consume in small quantities as they can be hard to digest.
Stinging nettles are found in nearly every field in Ireland. Be careful when collecting – wear gloves to keep from stinging. You’ll need to carefully remove the stingers before pureeing the leaves and stem (not the root).
Sea spaghetti is found along the shores of Ireland. Watch our video to learn how to forage sea spaghetti in Ireland.
Many plants can be made into a pesto. This is certainly the easiest recipe in which to use foraged ingredients. To make a pesto, you’ll need a processor in order to mince all of the ingredients. All pestos require a base of greens or leaves, some kind of nut (pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, whatever you like), and olive oil. Cheese is optional but generally preferred.
Wood Sorrell is a leafy green plant easily found in Ireland, and can be made into an excellent pesto that is superb on fish. Slightly resembling a shamrock, it has 3 heart-shaped leaves per stalk, with a crease down the centre. With a bright, zesty taste, the wood sorrell tastes a bit like lemons.
The versatile and easily accessible Wild Garlic strikes again. Wild garlic, blended with nuts and olive oil makes a superb pesto. Wild garlic pesto is lovely with cheese and crackers, use sparingly as it has a strong taste.
Wild Mint has narrow pointed leaves and lilac-blue flowers (in season), and grows in damp places. Wild mint, just like mint purchased in shops, has a distinctive smell and taste. As with most teas, wash the leaves and let soak into a tea)
Stinging Nettles: Stinging nettles are a common sight in Ireland, and because of their stings, they are one of the first plants you learn…usually so you can avoid them! As with stinging nettle soup, you’ll first have to collect your leaves (wearing protective gloves). Once you have a handful, first wash your leaves, then soak them and then finally strain them for tea. Infusing the nettles in boiling water will make them unable to sting you (drying or crushing them will do the same thing).
Bramble leaf tea: The bramble, the plant that produces blackberries in late summer/autumn, also has an edible leaf that can be strained for tea. It has a light taste, and is easy to drink. First, collect some – you’ll need at least a large handful for a pot of tea – and then wash the leaves. Because they need to be steeped for a longer time than, say, mint, we recommend steeping them directly in a pot for at least 10-15 mins instead of straining them for individual cups.
Roasted Dandelion Root: Dandelion root can be used to make an all-natural, ersatz coffee-like beverage (minus the caffeine of course). You’ll have to harvest dandelion roots – at least 30 for enough to fill a French press. Then, chopped, roasted and ground up, steep in hot water to use as a coffee alternative. Learn how to forage and prepare dandelion roots with our video below.
The Irish coast is also full of edible seaweeds such as Kelp, Carrageen, Dilisk and Sea Spaghetti. Seaweeds are classed as super foods because they are packed with vitamins and minerals.
Irish Sea Spaghetti recipes:
Sea Spaghetti (Himanthalia elongata) is a nice foraged plant to start with as it is very distinguishable and can be used in a diverse range of recipes. Sea Spaghetti is commonly found on lower shore lines around wave exposed coasts. Its appearance is similar to spaghetti and after washing and boiling, it also forms a similar texture.
The best time to forage for Sea Spaghetti is springtime, as this is when it is most tender and tasty! Add it as a pasta alternative or chop it up and put it in a stir-fry, salad or soup. Learn more about how to foraging for and cooking Sea Spaghetti in our video.
Sweet, wild blackberries which grow on brambles in hedgerows and in fields throughout Ireland. They are ripe from July onwards depending on weather.
Raspberries are also fairly common and easily recognisable berry in Ireland and ripe in the late summer – July and August.
County Wexford is known for its strawberry production but there are also wild strawberries in Ireland – they are smaller and less sweet, but still very nice. They ripen in the early summer, or late spring.
Bilberries are another common berry found in Ireland (though not often in the supermarket) and are safe to eat – they are small, acidic, round and blue-purple, and found on bushes in heathland and low mountainside – resembling but not to be confused with blueberries.
The dark, blue-black elderberries grow in clusters, and have a tart taste. Avoid eating them raw. Instead, they make very nice jams, chutneys and cordials – or even wine.
There are many edible types of mushrooms in Ireland, but there are also many that could be poisonous. If this is something that interests you, we recommend taking a mushroom foraging class or workshop – we offer this on our Foodie Tour of Ireland.
Or, we can build a wild mushroom foraging experience in to other private itineraries.
Elderberries, elderflowers, and apples are all readily available wild Irish plants that can be easily made into cordials or fermented to make into wines, without expensive brewing or distilling equipment.
One of our favourites to make is elderflower wine, which is easy to make, and the ingredients are both abundant and free! Elderflowers can be found in hedgerows across Ireland, and resemble white clusters of dainty, tiny flowers, best foraged in midsummer. The recipe that we’ve used can be found here.
Elderflower can be used to make into a cordial, and mixed with sparkling water, or into prosecco or champagne as a sweetener/flavouring.
Elderberry (not to be confused with elderflower) can also be used to make a cordial, mixed with water, sugar and cinnamon. There are many recipes out there, like this one for example.
Wild foraging is an exciting and wholesome activity for anyone of any age or background. It is extremely important to note that you should only harvest and consume plants if you are 100% certain that it is okay to do so. Whilst the suggestions mentioned here are generally quite easy to distinguish, other edible plants / seaweeds may be tricker to identify and can look very similar to harmful ones. If you’re not comfortable doing this yourself, wild foraging workshops led by experts are always a good option.
If in doubt, please always err on the side of caution.
This article has been put together with the help of foraging experts Lucianne Hare of Co Donegal, Robert Kennedy of Co Longford and Rachel O’Sullivan of Co Sligo).