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Take a bite out of autumn with these foraging books

Get out into the hedgerows and embrace nature, says Ella Walker

Natural goodness: mushrooms are popular with foragers
Natural goodness: mushrooms are popular with foragers

From Sweden to Switzerland, in Europe it's pretty ordinary to nip out into the woods to collect lingonberries for jam, or pick wild mushrooms to fry in lots (and lots) of butter to pile high on toast.

What else would you be doing as summer comes to an end anyway?

Meanwhile, here, many of us - especially those constrained by urban environments - feel smug just being able to correctly identify blackberries.

But as autumn saunters nearer, prompting crab apple trees to sprout their nubbly fruits, and chanterelles to pop plumply from the earth, why not make this the season you finally boost your cooking with locally foraged fare?

We're not recommending you go gathering without back-up or having done your research though - one dodgy mushroom and things can go seriously awry.

Instead, pack one of these expertly written books and, wherever you live, your dinner guests will be able to eat without fear of being poisoned...

1. The Forager's Calendar by John Wright (Profile Books, £16.99)

This "seasonal guide to nature's wild harvests" comes courtesy of John Wright, River Cottage's resident forager

Month-by-month, it takes you through what edibles should be available and where, with photographs for each (particularly helpful when it comes to mushrooms - which to the uneducated eye, can all look evil).

Detailed without being overwhelming and beautifully illustrated, it's a foraging bible, even if the idea of frying ants makes us feel queasy.

2. The Edible City: A Year Of Wild Food by John Rensten (Boxtree, £12.99)

Ideal for those who live in a concrete jungle, Edible City sees urban forager John Rensten rummage along canal paths and roadsides, through gardens and parks, for nettles and three-cornered leeks, winter purslane and wild garlic to transform into dishes in the kitchen.

You'll never look at metropolitan scrubland and verges the same way again. Rensten makes clear there are snacks to be found everywhere.

3. The New Complete Guide To Self-Sufficiency by John Seymour (DK, £25)

In this updated version of John Seymour's classic and decades-old self-sufficiency manual, you will find a chapter dedicated to food from the wild. It covers everything from game and seafood to nuts, berries and, of course, mushrooms.

4. Useful Verses by Richard Osmond (Picador, £9.99)

Less a practical guide, more a literary companion piece to the world of foraging, Useful Versus is professional forager Richard Osmond's poetic ode to the plants he hunts down. It's not overly wordy and annoyingly worthy though. In fact, it's rather dark and witty.

5. Root To Stem by Alex Laird (Penguin Life, £9.99)

Offering a more holistic approach to wild food and cutting waste, author Alex Laird's Root To Stem is a seasonal guide to eating, cooking, foraging and taking care of your wellbeing.

Nettle detoxes and the benefits of eating every bit of a plant - from leafy fronds to gnarly root systems - abound, as well as guidance on finding and growing the herbs you need for treating minor ailments.

6. A Modern Herbal by Alys Fowler (Michael Joseph, £20)

Gardener and writer Alys Fowler infuses each page of this herb compendium with lore, understanding and green-fingered know-how. Its aim is to show you how easy everyday herbalism is and equip you with the knowledge to harvest everything you need from hedgerows and meadows to make teas, cold cures, bath time infusions and much more.

Covering the eco and health benefits of using the likes of angelica, chervil and meadowsweet, it's informative, enthusiastic and taps into ancient botanical secrets, ones we ought not to forget.

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