How to identify wild fruits

Find out how to identify 15 types of fruits in the countryside, plus which ones can be foraged and some recipe ideas.

Rose hips. © Joff Lee/Getty

Autumn is a bountiful time of fruits, when trees and bushes seem to be dripping with beautiful berries – great for both wildlife and keen foragers.

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Some of these berries are safe for humans to eat, although a few do need to be cooked first. Care must be taken as there are some safe fruits which can be easily mixed up with poisonous ones. If in doubt of plant identification, do not forage.

Illustrations by Felicity Rose Cole, unless otherwise credited

Bramble (Rubus fruticosus)

Vintage engraving of bramble. © Getty
Vintage engraving of bramble. © Getty

A very familiar plant to many, which produces blackberries – one of the most abundant fruits in autumn. There are over 300 microspecies of bramble in the UK.

Blackberry vodka. © Elena Kirey/Getty

Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus)

Guelder rose branch with leaves and berries. © Getty
Guelder rose branch with leaves and berries. © Getty

Also known as dogberry or water elder, guelder rose produces bright red berries in autumn that hang in bunches. When eaten raw, the berries are mildly toxic, but can be used in jams or jellies.

Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)

Vintage engraving of blackthorn. © Getty
Vintage engraving of blackthorn. © Getty

The fruits of the blackthorn tree are known as sloes, which are a classic flavouring for gin.

Learn more about blackthorn and using sloes in foraging recipes:

Why not give a handmade gift this year, perhaps using foraged fruit, such as this sloe port. Oksana Schmidt/Getty.

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

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Small or medium-sized thorny tree of hedgerows, rough ground and upland areas. Scarlet oval ‘haws’.

Hawthorn vinegar. © Tiffany Francis

Dog rose (Rosa canina)

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Vigorous hedgerow briar: our most common wild rose. Oval to flask-shaped scarlet rosehips.

Rosehip syrup. © Gloria Nichol/Getty

Elder (Sambucus nigra)

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Small hedgerow tree with flat clusters of edible black berries. Frothy white flowers in May–June.

How to make elderflower gin. © Rostislav Sedlacek/Getty

Crab-apple (Malus sylvestris)

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Thorny tree with small, hard, yellow, apple-shaped fruits that can be used to make jelly.

Black nightshade (Solanum nigrim)

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Tiny, tomato-like annual with dull black berries. Although the ripe berries are edible, the plant is easily confused with the poisonous deadly nightshade, so unless you’re very confident at plant identification, it is best avoided.

Burnet rose (Rosa pimpinellifolia)

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Low shrub of coastal dunes and chalk grassland. Unlike other wild roses produces purple-black hips.

Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara)

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Woody scrambler with red, oval, bitter-sweet berries. Also known as woody nightshade.

Spindle (Euonymus europaeus)

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Small hedgerow shrub with garish clusters of coral-pink berries held in orange sheaths.

Black bryony (Tamus communis)

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Britain’s only wild yam. Climbing tendrils twine around hedgerow plants. Red, poisonous berries.

Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum)

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Vigorous shrub that entwines around trees and hedgerow plants. Clusters of bright red berries.

Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)

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Upland tree with clusters of small, scarlet berries (popular with birds). Also known as mountain ash.

Wild service tree (Sorbus torminalis)

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Often-overlooked tree of ancient woods. Clusters of brown, spotted fruits (once used to flavour beer).


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Main image: Rose hips. © Joff Lee/Getty