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Foraging for wild food: do you forage near roads?

Posted by on Friday 6 May 2011 in wild food | 18 comments

I’ve got a question for anyone who forages/enjoys wild food – do you forage near roads? And if so, how near?

It’s obviously much less of an issue for people foraging in woods or the countryside but it’s an important issue for us urban dwellers as, well, just about everywhere is near a road.

I started thinking about this issue a few weeks ago when the empty bank at the end of our side street was *covered* in sunny yellow dandelions (6ft away from a busy commuter-packed A-road) and the plum-ish tree in the car park of our local supermarket was white with blossom. There are plenty of dandelions around elsewhere, further away from pollution and dog pee, so there really wasn’t a dilemma about those, but the plums, when they come in, are a rarer and more desirable beast. Last year, when John first spotted them, a few people in our lives expressed concern about picking them because of the exposure to exhaust fumes – one person was concerned about the chemical impact on the body, another more bothered about the residue creating a slightly metallic taste in the resulting jam or wine — so John left them be. But on the other hand, I’ve heard other people pick road side fruit and use it without (seemingly) any concern whatsoever.

So if you forage for wild food, what are your rules/guidelines? How close is too close to the road for you? Does it depend on the busy-ness of the road? Or the scarcity of the plant/fruit? Or does it depend on how long the plant/fruit has taken to grow etc? Would love to hear from experts and newbies alike :)


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  1. John Wooldridge

    Interesting point Louisa and perhaps one that more people should give some thought to. Taking road side ‘produce’ may not have much affect if any but I wouldn’t be to sure about the build up of chemicals over a period of time with continued roadside foraging. Personally, and I’m a tad new to this, I take what plants that I recognise as edible (a small but growing list :o) ) as far as way from urban areas as is possible in this crowded island of ours. One thing though, I find there is something deeply satisfying about wild foraging and the more That I learn about it the more that I enjoy it.

    • louisa

      It is deeply satisfying isn’t it? Not just the picking but the being able to identify stuff in the first place. I try to pick away from roads too – it’s more fun looking around in the woods anyway – but those plums are still might tempting…

  2. Pebbledash

    You might find this useful: http://www.fathen.org/conduct.htm (great website for all sorts of foraging info), also check this site: http://www.eatweeds.co.uk

    I would always avoid picking near busy roads and areas of high pollution, it’s simply not worth the risk.

    • louisa

      Hi Pebbledash – thanks for the links. I already read eatweeds but while I hadn’t seen fathen’s code of conduct before, I do tend to stick to those rules too.

      How near is too near those busy roads or areas of high pollution? I’ve read somewhere that the pollution level drops considerably six feet away from the road/path of the cars — would you be happy picking stuff 6ft away from busy roads? Or does it need to be further away for you?

      • Pebbledash

        Hi Louisa,
        Personally, I wouldn’t pick near a busy road at all. That includes the verges and hedgerows either side, and the other side of hedgerows away from the traffic. I avoid picking near to roads at all, but appreciate that in urban areas that makes foraging more limited. It’s not always an easy choice, is it!

  3. Maria

    I have been put off picking crab apples and blackberries before as they were right next to a busy A-road… but have wondered if I was being unnecessarily cautious.

  4. Nikki

    I’m lucky because we live so close to woodland but I do sometimes see things next to the road and always hesitate in a ‘should I/shouldn’t I’ moment. My partner has far less concerns and last year got some giant mushrooms from the roadside – though he did say they were a bit ‘funky’ lol.

  5. Lynsey aka Swirlyarts

    We got stuck in a traffic jam once next to Lake Windermere and at one point we were stopped next to some blackberries. Matt leant out of the window and picked a whole load! They tasted fine to us (we ate some there and then and saved the rest for jam) Interestingly we had just been to Kendal and picked loads of blackberries we found growing in the car park we parked in – got two tubs full! My sister and her boyfriend forage quite a lot and they don’t seem to be too fussed about where they pick from but they do have access to great countryside as they live in Lancaster.

  6. Linda

    If the alternative is commercially grown food with all the pesticides and things included then I’ll go for washing road side foragings!

    • louisa

      Thanks for such interesting comments so far :)

      Over on Twitter, Strowger said he: “never had any problem with eating fruit from beside roads. don’t believe road vehicles pollute significantly anymore – not like when we were kids and car exhaust was a killer. would worry slightly about whether land was contaminated in urban locations”.

  7. Jono / Real Men Sow

    Interesting post.

    I’ve picked fruit (damsons etc) from the roadside, and elderflower too, but not stuff at ground level.

    I don’t know why, but I have this thing about not foraging at ground level-ish by a road, but for whatever reason I’ll take fruit out of trees.

    There’s not logic to this by the way!

  8. damnthebroccoli

    I’m not sure in such an urban environment as Leeds you can ever escape the pollution and possibly even out in the country now.

    The main thing I would do is wash everything thoroughly and if concerned about chemical build up, do not process the goods in any way as this will only lead to concentrating them.

    That said, we harvest from anywhere we find including a plum tree nicely secluded next to a main junction!

    I would not advise anything from ground level next to a road as this will receive a higher than normal dose of anything as in wet conditions spray is more likely to carry it onto the verges, particularly some of the nastier particulates that don’t stay airbourne.

  9. Tracey

    Unleaded petrol is thought by some to be worse than leaded because of the benzine so I wouldn’t forage near busy roads.
    However, look at it this way:
    Anything we don’t pick is recycled by the environment. It is eaten by birds and wild animals and the seeds are scattered throughout the countryside to produce more trees/bushes! Anything that falls to the earth is good foraging for ants/slugs/snails etc and they all have their place in our ecology too, not to mention the nourishment of plant roots as fruit/berries compost down into the soil. Nothing is wasted!

  10. HouseCat

    I won’t pick right up near the road; sometimes you can actually see the dusty grey exhaust residue on the plants, and while that will wash off, I wonder about what has seeped into the plants themselves. Anything beyond about 10 to 15 fifteen feet from not-too-busy road I will pick, and I leave anything near major roads for the birds. I wonder how much pollution gets into the animal food chain from plants by roads.

  11. LD

    Found this information interesting when wondering whether roadside picking was safe or not. http://archive.food.gov.uk/maff/archive/food/infsheet/2000/no199/199multi.htm Conclusion is that it’s no worse than chemical heavy metal contamination found in commercially produced food.

    • bob lo

      lots of farms are actually near highways which is way worse than a major road, so you have to that in to consideration and make your own choice. personally, i would take the major road instead of commercial produced produce due to the fact, I live in a rainy area which probably washes the residue to an extent

  12. Graham M

    lets go to the science rather than lay logic (which I do all the time) University of Bangor have researched this you might find this interesting



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