Top 5 Edible Autumn Nuts
As well as a large selection of fruits growing in our woodlands at this time of year, we also shouln’t over look the amount of edile nuts avaliable for autumn foraging.
Nuts are a great source of protein and high in valuable nutrients, so if we can forage them straight from the source we’d be crazy not to indulge.
Obviously as with any foraging we need to ensure we have the landowner’s permission to be there, even if it is only for your personal consumption. Be sure you are confident of your tree identification too before foraging for nuts and if unsure, don’t risk it.
Be careful not to trample and destroy essential habitats for the local wildlife and be sure not to take all of the nuts for yourself, they are a valuable food source for the local wildlife. Being high in energy these are invaluable for animals heading in to winter.
Sweet Chestnut trees have been here in the UK since they were introduced by the Romans. The sweet chestnuts, not to be mistaken with the NON edible horse chestnuts, are encased in small spikes green globes that fall from the trees when ripe in October.
Chestnuts can be eaten raw from the tree in small amounts, but it is found that larger amounts will cause gastrointestinal distress due to their high levels of tannic acid. So it is advised to cook these before eating.
Unlike many other nuts, chestnuts are actually low in healthy fats but are high in Vitamin C and some B Vitamins.
Once removed from the spiky outer green shell chestnuts can be cooked by either boiling or cooking in the microwave, but are by far at their best when toasted on the fire.
First rinse under water to remove any insects or dirt, then with the tip of your knife score a cross in to the brown shell. Now place the nuts on to the upturned lid of a dutch oven or an iron pan placing the flat side of the nut face down to ensure good heat transfer into the chestnut. Then roast over the fire for approximately 5 minutes before turning the nuts over to roast on the other side. Once roasted, remove the pan from the fire and leave for 2-3 minutes to cool a little before removing the brown shell to reveal the light brown roasted chestnuts, and enjoy!
Underneath beech trees in autumn you will find small spiky pods containing triangular brown nuts, these are the edible beech nuts and a great nut to farage in autumn. In very small amount beech nuts can be eaten raw but this can lead to digestive upsets if too many are eaten, this is due to the nuts containing the toxin saponin glycoside. Determining whether you have had too many can be very personal to you, it seems everyone can tolerate different amounts, so if you are eating them raw proceed with caution. By roasting the beech nuts not only do you improve their flavour but the heat also breaks down the toxin enabling you to eat more, safely.
Beech nuts contain 20% protein and 50% monounsaturated fat, so a great source of energy and protein while on expedition in the autumn months or for foraging to take home.
Roasting beech nuts is very similar to roasting chestnuts, apart from removing the outer casing is easier as it is far less spiky than the sweet chestnut. These nuts are also smaller than the chestnuts so can be roasted in minutes. Simply score the brown shell of the triangular shaped nut then roast over the heat moving the beech nuts around in the pan regularly. Once roasted, leave to cool for a few minutes before peeling to remove the papery skin. It is said the best way to enjoy these is to toss them in melted butter, add a little salt and enjoy warm.
All types of pine trees produce pine nuts but some species produce larger nuts than others. Trees over the age of 15 start to produce pine nuts with their yield increasing as they age.
The pine nuts are found within the pine cones and can often be removed by simply shaking the cone if they have opened naturally, as long as you’ve got there before the squirrels that is! Or if the cones you’ve found are still closed then they will slowly open if you leave them next to the fire for a day or two, then they will open enough for the pine nuts to be shaken out.
Pine nuts can be eaten raw but are also great toasted over the fire or added to other dishes, such as pesto.
To get the best flavour it is best to toast the nuts while still in their brown shell. Once toasted leave to cool for a few minutes to avoid burning your fingers while removing the shells. To do this simply roll the toasted pine nuts with a rolling pin/jar/water bottle with increasing pressure until the shells split. They can be removed to reveal the toasted pine nuts. Start with a light pressure to avoid just squashing them all.
Pine nuts have great nutritional value when eaten raw or cooked. They aid cardiovascular health due to their high levels of monounsaturated fatty acids and fat soluble vitamins. So although they are lower in protein than the beech nut they still pack a nutritional punch and can be enjoyed at home or away in the woods.
Early autumn is the best time for foraging nuts but especially hazelnuts, though be mindful not to take them all as they are valuable food for wildlife going into winter.
You won’t have to look far for Hazel trees as they grow commonly through out the UK. They can often be found growing in hedgerows but areas of deciduous woodland are where they are commonly found.
The hazelnuts can easily be identified by the green leaf cups that encase each individual nut. The nuts usually grow in small clusters of 2-3 nuts and are a pale milky colour when they are still on the tree or have only just fallen. The nuts will fall to the ground in abundance, so foraging after a strong wind will increase your chances of finding a good amount. You’ll have to move quickly though as they are a firm favourite for the local squirrel population!
The humble hazelnut can be eaten raw or roasted. Simply remove the green leaf casing along with the brown outer shell, then enjoy.
If you prefer them roasted, simply spread your peeled hazelnuts on to an iron pan over the fire. Move them around the pan regularly to help them roast evenly. Length of roasting time will depend on the size, freshness and moisture content of the hazelnuts. Once roasted enjoy them as they are or add some seasoning of your choice, we found honey works well.
Hazelnuts are high in dietary fibre, protein and a good source of Vitamin E. They are said to benefit cardiovascular health too as well as aiding muscle recovery, so get foraging!
The best places to look for walnut trees here in the UK are areas of waste ground, hedgerows and areas of untouched woodland. Smaller trees may be present in the hedge line but left feral the trees can grow up to 50 metres in height.
Walnuts can be found on the trees from mid September but are said to be at their best in October when the nuts start to fall. The outer casing of a walnut is bright green in colour and spherical. The bright green globes can be up to 4cm in diameter and look like the outer casing of a conker without its spikes, so be sure you don’t get them confused.
When foraged, remove the outer green casing, it is advised you wear gloves for this part as this stage can cause staining to your skin. Inside you will find the familiar brown shell of the walnut. At this stage it is best to leave them to dry for a few days at air temperature, or to speed up the process put them next to the fire.
The tough brown shell can then be cracked to reveal the actual walnut itself. Fresh from the shell they are soft and light brown in colour and will look like two halves of a brain. They can then be toasted or left to dry until they are darker in colour and the crunchy nut you may be more familiar with.
Walnuts, like most other nuts, are high in monounsaturated fats which are found to support cardiovascular health. These nuts are also high in protein as well as a good source of Selenium, Zinc and energy boosting B Vitamins.
With all of these accessible wild nuts to choose from, all of them packing a nutritional punch it’s no wonder the squirrels love them so much! Be considerate to the wildlife, but get out there and enjoy autumn’s bounty.