Category: Winter

Scarlett Elf Cups

Scarlett Elf Cups - an edible winter fungus
Scarlett Elf Cups – an edible winter fungus

There are lots of these beautiful Scarlet Elf Cups fungi about at the moment in damp deciduous woods. The contrast of their deep red colour and the dusting of snow last week made me reach for my camera.

Fungi are listed in the books as edible, poisonous or inedible. The latter usually means they are either tough, like trying to eat your shoe, or have no flavour. Some books put these into the inedible camp, but I, and many others, think they are rather good (not too far from a raw Field Mushroom). Some mushrooms, in the same way as Kidney beans, need to be cooked before you can eat them. However, I am unaware of any problems from eating these raw. As with any wild food take a nibble first to make sure you don’t have any adverse reaction. Frying quickly retains the colour – so throw into a stir fry at the last minute. You could serve with white fish to show off their colour or sprinkle on top of nettle soup. They can be added to stews though the colour goes. Raw, the shape lends itself to being stuffed – cooked egg with any of other spring wild foods such as Three Cornered Leek, Wild Garlic flowers, Pennywort, Hairy Bittercress or other herbs. You could also poach them in a reduction made from onion or chicken stock.

Foraging for Christmas

While foraging to most people is about food, you can also forage for non-edible items from the hedgerow, wood and shore. My runner bean poles and pea sticks are all hazels out of the hedgerow, bits of drift wood make nice ornaments (or light-fittings – hello sister!) and, as it is the Christmas period, sources of decoration for the house and table can easily be found in the garden or not too far from home. Like wild food, you can buy them already made, but the fun (for adults and kids) is in the gathering and making. Spending money on Pine cones seems as mad to a forager as buying nettles!

"Cone and holly" by Petr Kratochvil - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
“Cone and holly” by Petr Kratochvil – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

What to gather

The usual foraging “good manners” apply – pick a bit here and a bit there, only take some of what is common etc.

  • Old Man’s Beard
  • Seed heads
  • Bare or lichen-covered twigs
  • Branches
  • Ivy*
  • Holly*
  • Mistletoe*
  • Pine or evergreen foliage (Conifers, Laurel*, Holm Oak, Yew* etc).
  • Garden herbs – Sage, Rosemary etc.
  • Pine / Larch / Fir cones
  • Rose hips*
  • Ornamental crab apples – reds, pinks and yellows
  • Hawthorn berries
  • Chestnuts – in husks or taken out (not Horse Chestnuts)
  • Hazelnuts
  • Walnuts
  • Moss

*NB – Leaves and berries of these are poisonous (some fatal) if consumed! Do not bring into the house if you have children or pets. Rose hips contain seeds with hairs on that are an irritant (childhood “itching powder”).


Other things you might need

  • Garden wire
  • Metallic spray paints or glitter – gold, silver, red or white
  • Flax cord, ribbon, hessian, raffia or twine for decoration

What to do / make

  • Wreaths
  • Tree decorations – spray them or tie ribbons, add a thread or wire loop to hang on the tree
  • General decorations – make a longer “string”  to hang on pictures, the bookshelf, banister etc
  • Napkin rings
  • Table decorations – fill small jars, glasses or pretty ice-cream dishes with nuts, berries or arrangements
  • Present decorations – tie around the necks of jars and bottles of home-made jam and sloe gin
  • Decorate a branch – add lights and tree decorations
  • Cake decorations (avoid poisonous species!)