How to Forage for Food in the Fall

Two Methods:The foods you might find foraging and what to do with themPreserving your finds

When fall (autumn) arrives, it's the time for bountiful harvests of the foods that have grown through summer. Foraging is one means for finding food for free courtesy of nature - basically you're rummaging through nature's larder! And if you're the kind of person who enjoys making preserves, canning, jams and the like, you might just be able to enjoy some of your foraging results through the winter as well.

This article explores some of the foods you might be able to find in your local area during the fall season, as well as providing some practical tips on what to look out for and how to use the foods.


  1. Image titled Forage for Food in the Fall Step 1
    Be knowledgeable about the foods you're foraging. Above all, it's very important that you're absolutely certain that you're collecting food that is edible and safe. Mushrooms can be deadly if they're not the edible kind as many are poisonous, and the best avoidance of ending up with a poisonous look alike mushroom is doing a spore print ( Spore Print! ).
    Select the wrong chestnut and you've got yourself something entirely inedible and unpleasant. Even not knowing whether or not foods have been sprayed for weed control is important if you want to avoid pesticides and poisons. If you don't know whether or not a food you find in the wild is safe, the advice is to not collect or eat it. Alternatively, you could ask for local advice from people who do know or go along with an expert forager who is well versed in what's safe and delicious to forage for in your area. David Fischer has a great mushroom and edible guide or the National Audubon Society has several guides as well.
    • If a nut is damaged, has been bitten by a squirrel or other animal, or has been broken in the fall from its tree, smash it and leave it for the birds and squirrels. It should not be used for food.
    • A plant identification guide can be helpful. However, even with this it is not always clear and local knowledge may be the only assurance when you're comparing photos with the foods you've gathered.
    • Avoid foraging where there is likely to be contamination from traffic, pollution or agricultural run-off. This means being particularly careful around streams, roadsides and near industrial sites. Also consider that certain edibles are good to eat if grown on certain vegetation, like the sulfur shelf mushroom is ok grown on certain trees, but not on others.
  2. Image titled Forage for Food in the Fall Step 2
    Be considerate. As well as ensuring that the food is safe and good to eat, ensure that it's legal to collect the food from the places you're going to and that it's free-for-all. If you're rummaging through a local farmer's produce, they're not going to be too happy and if they catch you, you could be prosecuted for trespassing and theft.

    Where food is abundant and freely available, don't be a hog; only take what you need and can use and leave plenty for other foragers and for the animals that need these foods to survive.
    Eat prolific species and be sure to leave endangered species well alone. If possible, follow the mantra of "take half, leave half" so that the plants continue to grow and reproduce. [1]
    • Obtain permission from the owner of the land before gathering food items from land that is owned privately. The rules on entering land vary depending on your jurisdiction and some countries are more tied up in private ownership than others, so it pays to know your rights with respect to roaming around private and public lands.

      There are some good websites outlining the laws relevant to foraging, so take a moment to read them.
  3. Image titled Forage for Food in the Fall Step 3
    Dress appropriately. If the weather is cool, be sure to dress warmly; at this time of year layering can be helpful to enable you to cool down or warm up quickly, dependent on weather changes.
    • Wear good walking shoes as you may encounter mud, prickles, animals and the like. It's always a good idea to have gloves to protect your hands from thorns, stains, allergic reactions and beasts that might be lurking where you're sticking your hands.
    • You may find it helpful to carry a cane or walking stick. This can be used to maintain balance and to poke about to find food or to measure depth before treading somewhere that isn't clear.
    • The warmer part of the day is around 12:30pm to 2:30pm or choose days when it's not raining and the sun is guaranteed to be shining. In early fall this won't be such an issue but as the season progresses and the cooler weather sets in, you'll be more comfortable foraging when it's warmer.
  4. Image titled Forage for Food in the Fall Step 4
    Take along adequate containers. Take along suitable items for holding the food, such as baskets, buckets, bowls or plastic bags. Plastic bags can be easily folded up and placed into your pockets, making it possible to carry more foods as you find them.
    • If you can, take a bike. This will allow you to cover greater distances and also provides an excellent source of carrying food if you add a pannier or similar carry item.
  5. Image titled Forage for Food in the Fall Step 5
    Get into a regular routine. If you're only going foraging as a one-off, then it's likely you're just trying it out for fun. However, if you're serious about stocking your winter larder or about eating fresh foods from nature regularly through fall, then you'll need to be out checking every few days.

    Try to go out every two to three days to find newly fallen nuts, ripened fruits and ready-to-pick seeds and herbs. You can cultivate areas of naturally occurring produce throughout the year.
    • When you get started in foraging, simply try noticing what wild foods are about you as you're walking through the woods, fields and local countryside. A big part of foraging for wild food is learning to spot it and knowing what can be taken and eaten from specific locations.

Method 1
The foods you might find foraging and what to do with them

  1. Image titled Forage for Food in the Fall Step 6
    Prepare foods before eating or cooking with them. Whatever food you find, be sure to prepare them before storage or use. Some handy things to bear in mind include:
    • If the food is wet, allow it to dry before storing or it will risk rotting.
    • Wash dirt and debris off food before cooking or eating and remove any parts that are unsuitable for consumption or blemished. Allow for drying of any washed foods before storage.
    • You may need to remove outer shells, husks or other layers of protection prior to storage or use but what you remove is dependent on the food found.
    • Some foods will perish quickly, such as berries, so they need to be either eaten fresh or quickly turned into jams, preserves or sauces for longer term storage.
  2. Image titled Forage for Food in the Fall Step 7
    Go mushroom picking. Mushrooms are a typical find in the fall season. Chanterelles (also known as "forest gold") are found in a number of forest locations but their whereabouts is often a carefully guarded local secret![2]

    Other mushrooms usually around in the fall include giant puffballs, ceps, oyster mushrooms, hedgehog fungus, field blewits and horse or Portobello mushrooms (these latter have many poisonous look-alikes, so be careful).[3] Mushrooms can be eaten simply raw in salads, cooked in butter or made into soup, pate, risotto, vegetarian burgers and more.
  3. Image titled Forage for Food in the Fall Step 8
    Collect apples. Apples are ready for picking during the fall season and there are plenty of varieties. Finding apple trees for foraging depends on where you live but there are plenty of apple growers who are happy to open their orchards for self-picking for a small fee, so you can still take advantage of gathering your own under those constraints if you can't find wild-growing trees. Once collected, there is an abundance of things you can do with the apple in your cooking, including making apple pies, apple crumble, applesauce and even making cider from them.
  4. Image titled Forage for Food in the Fall Step 9
    Find wild fruits such as plums, crab apples and persimmons. These ripen for autumn harvesting and are often found growing in the wild. Crab apples make delicious crab apple jelly or chutney, while persimmons are delicious eaten when ripe. Plums can be eaten as they are or turned into puddings, cakes, jam, chutney and even wine.
  5. Image titled Forage for Food in the Fall Step 10
    Pick berries. There are various berries ready for picking in the fall. Depending on where you live, these include blackberries, wild cherries, lingonberries berries, elderberries, sloe berries, mulberries and sea buckthorn.
    Wild cherries are smaller than their domesticated counterparts but avoid the very bitter ones as these can contain trace amounts of cyanide.[3]

    Berries can be turned into pies and tarts, jams, jellies, sauces, chutneys, smoothies, puddings, desserts and baked into cakes and cookies. And don't forget to add them homemade ice cream!
    • See How to forage for blackberries for more information on getting them in the wild. Some recipes include How to make a blackberry pie and How to make a blackberry cobbler.
    • Sloe berries can be used to make sloe gin.
    • Be aware that the leaves and stems of elderberries are toxic and some people also suffer adverse reactions to eating the raw berries.[2] Wear gloves when picking and cook the berries if in doubt.
  6. Image titled Forage for Food in the Fall Step 11
    Gather nuts and seeds. Many nuts and seeds ripen in the fall and provided you get to them before the squirrels and other local wildlife does, you can stock up your larder with some delicious finds. Just be sure to take only what you need and leave plenty for the animals who rely on these energy-packed sources of food. You can always rely on "foraging" by picking-your-own at a nut grower's farm.
    • Walnuts and pecans: These nuts can be hard to find in the wild, depending on where you are but they can be found more often in parks and gardens. For more ideas, see:
    • Hazelnuts: These are usually found August to October, on hazel trees. They can be harvested from the ground but only if the squirrels haven't beaten you to it. They're best enjoyed fresh, added to granola (muesli) or baked into cookies or muffins.

      Hazelnuts can also be ground into a flour for use in baking breads, cakes and nut roasts and roasted for eating as they are.
    • Acorns and sweet chestnuts: Just be sure to collect the right ones as some acorns are dreadfully bitter and only sweet chestnuts are edible, not any other type of chestnut. Acorns are best turned into flour (see How to make acorn flour).
    • Pine nuts: in some places you may be able to get the edible pine nuts but be aware that birds and wildlife also enjoy these treats and may have removed them before you! A tree net can reserve you a choice tree or two, though! See How to roast pine nuts and How to shell pine nuts for more information.
  7. Image titled Forage for Food in the Fall Step 12
    Look for herbs and greens. Wild herbs and greens are a good source of leaves, seeds and remedies for the expert forager. Many are found all year round, while some are better in autumn or only available then. Again, it's important to know what you're picking but provided you're certain, there are lots of possible options growing in the wild, including:
    • Dandelions: these can be collected for their leaves for salads and tea and their roots for roasting and turning into dandelion coffee. The roots are best in autumn while the leaves are best in spring but they are available all year round.[3]
    • Dill and fennel: Collect the seeds for use in cooking through the winter and the leaves and bulbs can be eaten too. You can also try making dill bread, dill pickles, roasted fennel and fennel and nashi pear salad.
    • Burdock, chickweed, purslane are some of the other plants you'll find growing in the wild that can be used in salads, dips, sandwich fillings and cooked dishes.
  8. Image titled Forage for Food in the Fall Step 13
    Enjoy the bounty of your rose bushes. Rose petals and rose hips are ready for picking in fall and if you have rose bushes in your own garden, you won't have far to look for them. For rose hips, they are best collected after the first frost, while rose petals can be collected at any time before they fall.
    • How to use rose hips in cookery
    • How to make rose petal jam, rose tea, rose butter.
    • For rose petals that have already fallen to the ground, gather them for making potpourri, rose scented balls or beads and other rose crafts.
  9. Image titled Forage for Food in the Fall Step 14
    Go hunting. If you're a hunter, various places have hunting seasons open during fall. This can be a good means to stock your freezer with fresh game meat that will keep you going through the winter.

Method 2
Preserving your finds

  1. Image titled Forage for Food in the Fall Step 15
    Decide which foods you'll try to store. While it's nice to eat some of the foraged food fresh, it's also great to be able to keep some of it for enjoying through the lean winter months. This section provides some suggestions on keeping the foraged items for longer.
  2. Image titled Forage for Food in the Fall Step 16
    Dry the food. Drying or dehydrating the food can be a good long-term storage method and it's a method that works with many foods. Some examples include:
  3. Image titled Forage for Food in the Fall Step 17
    Freeze the food. This method is especially useful for meats, berries and nuts. If freezing fruits and vegetables, many will need to be prepared first by blanching or transforming into a sauce or similar, so read up on the specifics of the food you'd like to freeze.
  4. Image titled Forage for Food in the Fall Step 18
    Make jams and preserves. The basics of making jam are covered in How to make jam but it's also important to know the setting point of different fruits in order to be able to successfully make jams from a variety of fruits, so it's recommended that you read How to test the pectin content of fruit as well.
  5. Image titled Forage for Food in the Fall Step 19
    Make pickles, chutneys and sauces. Herbs and seeds are great additions to flavor the harvest produce when it's turned into pickles, chutneys and sauces.
  6. Image titled Forage for Food in the Fall Step 20
    Bake. Baked goods won't last long unless they're frozen but baking can be a lovely way to share your foraging finds with friends and family once your own larder is full. Bake pies, cakes, cookies and tarts using the berries and fruits you've gathered.
  7. Image titled Forage for Food in the Fall Step 21
    Enjoy the good life of your harvest throughout the winter. And consider sharing your love of foraging with others - invite over some friends for a feast consisting of your wild gatherings and surprise them with how it is possible to supplement your diet direct from the local wilds!


  • Try to find places where foraging isn't already occurring in large amounts. Places close to town will likely already be well foraged and you'll need to get out further to find good spots that are reasonably untouched.
  • Some organizations, clubs and societies hold foraging workshops. Check online to find one near you.
  • When walking and searching for food, don't forget to watch where you're treading. Be careful of holes, rocks, bogs, etc. that could cause you to fall or sink and don't tread where plants are growing or delicate.
  • Take your children or grandchildren along with you. They love to help and it's good for them to see that it's possible to get food straight from nature. And the exercise and outdoor air is good for all.
  • Consider taking a freshly baked food item to a landowner who gave you permission to forage. This is a wonderful way to say thank you and they're more likely to agree to give you permission for foraging again the following year.
  • Give a pie or some cookies you've made using the foraged food to a homeless or hungry person; share the bounty around.


  • Be sure you know what the nuts look like that are edible.
  • Don't pick or eat plants, fruit, seeds or berries unless you are sure they are edible. If you don't know, don't even bother with it.
  • Tread lightly, don't overdo the collecting and remember that animals need the food to survive. There is a reason agriculture happened and with our large populations, foraging alone could never sustain every human being, so be considerate when collecting what you do take.

Things You'll Need

  • Large storage bowl or basket, or other containers
  • Papers and a place to spread out nuts for them to dry and be cleaned
  • Two or three gathering bags for each person involved in the gathering
  • Information on what it's safe to gather
  • Information on where it's permissible and ideal to forage

Sources and Citations

Show more... (3)

Article Info

Featured Article

Categories: Featured Articles | Food Selection and Storage