Tanya Anderson, the green-fingered brains behind local business Lovely Greens, which specialises in locally produced and sourced body, beauty and homeware products, tells us what her best berry picks on the Isle of Man are for this Autumn...

It’s the middle of October, and while the days are getting colder and darker, there are still beautiful bright days to enjoy. Each one is an opportunity to enjoy our beautiful Manx countryside and perhaps pick some of the wild fruits and berries adorning hedgerows. There are blackberries, elderberries, and rosehips, just waiting to find their way into your basket and homemade preserves and tipples.

Where should you go to forage on the Isle of Man, though? Any berries hanging over a public footpath, such as the Raad ny Follian or Millenium Way, are fair game. A walk along a country lane is another idea, and public nature areas, such as plantations, around reservoirs, and glens, are another. I’d avoid foraging in areas of a public planting that look cultivated or tidy, but wilder areas away from towns (and traffic pollution) are generally okay. 

Foraging is both fun and an authentic way to get a taste of what’s local and in-season. Sweet, bitter, oniony, succulent, and even spicy – you can find it all in the Manx countryside if you know what you’re looking for.  However, as a beginner, stick to easy to identify wild foods, especially those that are in abundance. It’s all too easy to take more than your fair share or to damage plants accidentally, though, so please follow the foraging code:

  • Don’t pick or eat any wild food that you cannot identify with 100% certainty
  • Remember that birds and wild animals rely on berries and wild foods to survive. Take only a little and leave the rest for nature. 
  • If wild food is accessible from a footpath or an area with public access, it’s most likely forage-able unless you’re in an ASSI (Areas of Special Scientific Interest). In that case, there may be a ban on picking berries or any vegetation. When foraging on private land, ask permission before entering or foraging.
  • Never dig up plants unless you have the landowner’s permission, and don’t take all of a plant’s leaves, flowers, nuts, seeds, or fruit. Doing this can harm the plant or its potential to reproduce.
  • Some wild plants are protected and must never be disturbed without official permission from the government. Protected plants on the Isle of Man are listed in Schedule 7 of the Wildlife Act 1990 and include cranberries and juniper.

One of the easiest berries to identify is the blackberry. Even if you’ve never picked them before, you know what to look for, since they’re so common in shops and desserts. They begin as white to pink flowers in spring, that change into small green berries that then develop into juicy blackberries in late summer. They grow on thorny bramble, and you can find them on wasteland, along fences, and in hedgerows.

Blackberries tend to be sweeter in late summer and early autumn, and the tradition is to stop picking them after Michaelmas, the 29th of September. Cooler temperatures tend to sap the flavour out of the berries but by all means, nibble on any that you find and if they taste great, go ahead and pick. One way to sweeten up blackberries and make a delicious autumn drink is to make homemade blackberry gin.

A berry that will keep you healthy over the winter is the vitamin c rich rosehip. As wild roses lose their petals, their base swells and changes in color to orange or red. You don’t eat them fresh, but the firm flesh can be cooked or infused to create fruity and delicious drinks. Pick them from now until early winter and use them to make rosehip syrup or, even better, rosehip tea.

Another easy to find berry on the Isle of Man is the elderberry. They tend to grow in hedgerows or at the edges of woodland where it opens up to a field or road. In spring, shrubby elder trees produce sprays of sweet-smelling elderflowers that are tasty in their own right. These flowers change into sprays of green, then juicy dark-colored berries. They, too, are rich in vitamin c and gorgeous wild flavour. Though you shouldn’t eat the berries or juice of the berries raw, you can cook them and then use the juice to make wine, syrup, or one of my favourites, elderberry jelly

There are plenty of other berries and wild foods to forage this time of the year on the Isle of Man, but starting with an easy one is the best introduction. Pick a small bowl of blackberries, rosehips, or elderberries, and take them home to experiment with in the kitchen. Make a batch of preserves or a berry compote to serve over pancakes or ice cream. There are quite a few recipes and ideas on Lovely Greens to help you and from other foragers here on the glorious Isle of Man.