Autumn in the Woods

Hawthorn berries covering a tree.

I love autumn. I love the smell, the colours of the leaves, the way the light falls. There is a lovely smell in the air which reminds me of bonfires and wet leaves. What I really love is watching squirrels rushing around gathering nuts, they really make me smile. I’m not so keen on the cold wind and the long dark nights but I am learning to live with them. After all, apart from moving to another country where it is summer, what can I do about it?

Blackberries ripening on a bush.

Usually September has reasonable weather which makes it easier to enjoy stomping among the fallen leaves. Although they don’t usually come down in great quantities until the end of October. This month often has sunny days too. But by November and Bonfire night, when the clocks have gone back it really does feel like winter is on its way.

The autumn woods offer a bounty of berries and fruit for us to harvest. Blackberries, crab apples, elderberries, rose hips, hawthorns, sloes and so many mushrooms. Much as I would love to, I don’t collect mushrooms, it is hard to tell which are poisonous and which are edible, so I leave that to the experts. But I do collect sloes, for sloe gin; rosehips for rosehip syrup and elderberries to make an elderberry tonic. You can make a ketchup out of hawthorns, but I haven’t done so – yet!

Fungi on a dead branch.

Autumn is also a great time to collect mushrooms. But only if you know what you are doing. Poisonous fungi grow in with edible ones and look very similar so only pick them if you are certain what they are. I don’t feel confident picking them to eat so I just look out and see how many different types I can see.

Me with a puffball mushroom.

There are also nuts around if the squirrels haven’t eaten them all! Hazelnuts, beech nuts and even walnuts can be foraged.

It is very important to get outside when the nights start to draw in. We all need as much vitamin D as we can get at this time of the year. One of life’s pleasures for me is walking in the woods in autumn so get out there and enjoy it.

Elderberry Tonic 

Its easy to make elderberry syrup. This tonic not only tastes lovely but is really good for you too.

Pick a bag full of elderberries, or use dried ones if you cant get enough. 

If you are using fresh elderberries use a fork to remove the berries from the stalks and give them a wash.

Place the berries and the juice and peel of a lemon in a pan with some spices. You can use cinnamon, ginger and/or cloves, then around half the amount of water if fresh and 2 x if dried to the pan. 

Bring to the boil and allow to simmer for around 20 minutes. Add more water if it looks too thick or is burning. Add honey or brown sugar to sweeten and cook to dissolve. 

Allow to cool and put through a sieve or muslin if you want it smoother.

Bottle and drink one teaspoon a day to prevent colds and flu.


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