Gather Magazine

Coastal foraging in the UK

Head to the British seaside at any time of year and you’ll be amazed by the wild edibles you can find

Foraging often conjures up images of woodlands and fields, but the UK coastline boasts a plethora of delicious wild foods. From seafood to seaweed and coastal plants to flowers, many species thrive on the waterside. Before the rise of agriculture, our ancestors collected many ingredients near the sea – everywhere from sand dunes, salt marshes and sea cliffs to rock pools, mudflats and estuaries. By harvesting sensibly and sustainably, coastal areas can provide us with an abundance of nutritious finds. Some, such as rock samphire, were highly coveted, with people risking their lives to harvest it once-upon-a-time. 

What’s special about foraging on the coast? 

Looking for naturally growing food along the coastline introduces you to wild edibles you can’t find further inland. It also puts highly nutritious shellfish on the menu, with hand-foraging being far more sustainable than sourcing via the supermarket. 

For those more interested in plant-based foods, seaweeds are undersung heroes when it comes to nutritional value. Some, such as kelp, can be classed as a superfood and are joyfully versatile in the kitchen.

What to look for


Seaweed is best foraged at low tide when you can access beds along the shoreline. It can be harvested throughout the year, though late spring to late summer tends to be best


This red algae grows on rocks in the intertidal zone. It has a leathery texture and a slightly salty flavour. Enjoy it raw as a snack or add to cooking and salads. 

Sea spaghetti 

Growing in dense clusters attached to rocks on the sea bed, sea spaghetti is also known as thongweed. It has a long noodle-like appearance and mild salty taste. 


Found in dense underwater forests along rocky stretches of coastline, kelp is rich in nutrients and a great addition to miso soup or salads.


Like seaweed, the best time to forage for shellfish, such as mussels, cockles and oysters, is low tide. Harvest them from rocky shores and sandy beaches below the high-tide line. Autumn is the go-to season, as they’ve fattened up over the summer


Found in abundance along rocky shores, clusters of mussels can be found in the ‘impact zone’ where the waves reach the shore. Harvest them by hand at low tide with the help of a knife. Cook over a campfire in a large pot with a well-fitting lid. Melt some butter, add chopped garlic, the mussels, a little samphire if you have some and top up with cider. Give the pan a shake and heat for three or four minutes until all the mussels have opened. Discard any that don’t.

Razor clams 

These long, slender molluscs live in the intertidal zone of sandy beaches. Look for small holes in the sand and pour in a little bit of salt. The clam will rise to the surface, giving you a brief opportunity to grab it. Boil them in a pan over your beach fire with a dash of sherry, some finely chopped shallots and a sprinkle of parsley.


Also known as periwinkles, these small marine snails can be found clinging to rocks, seaweed and other hard surfaces in the intertidal zone. Harvest them by hand and feast on them later with a winkle picker. 

Coastal plants 

Samphire, sea purslane and other coastal plants are best foraged between spring and early autumn. Salt marshes, mud flats and coastal cliffs are among the best places to find them

Rock samphire

Once a highly regarded delicacy, rock samphire leaves can be added to salads or the fleshy stems and leaves made into a pickle or steamed and served in a similar way to asparagus. You can find it on rocky cliffs, sea walls and other exposed, salty environments. 

Sea purslane

Found in estuaries, salt marshes and coastal dunes, the thick, fleshy leaves of sea purslane are rich in vitamins and minerals. Enjoy raw in salads or cooked as a green vegetable.

Sea beet 

The wild ancestor of cultivated beets, the glossy green leaves of sea beet can be found all along the UK coastline. Cook in a pan over a fire with a little butter as you would spinach, or serve raw in salads. 

Get it right

The only way to forage responsibly is with conservation in mind. Think of local ecosystems and wildlife before you remove your finds

Do your research 

As with all foraging, familiarise yourself with local regulations and conservation guidelines before you leave the house. 

Harvest ethically 

Remember to forage sparingly, only taking what you need to add flavour – the aim isn’t necessarily to eat an entirely foraged meal. Use scissors or a knife to snip off the seaweed, leaving the ‘holdfast’ that attaches it to the rock; doing this allows it to grow back.

Rotate harvesting areas 

Alternate between different locations, to enable areas to replenish. 

Avoid invasive species 

Identify invasive species and avoid harvesting them to prevent their spread.

Respect wildlife 

Pay heed to animals living in the area and avoid disturbing them. For example, stay away from areas where seals haul out or where birds are nesting.

Stay safe

  • Watch the tides
    Familiarise yourself with tide times and how quickly tides come in, to avoid getting stranded. Fortnightly spring tides are the lowest tides of the month, and the best time for foraging.
  • Check for pollution
    Choose clean, unpolluted areas away from sewage flows and industrial sites. 
  • Check for algal blooms
    Avoid foraging during red tide events when algal blooms make seafood toxic. 
  • Handle with care 

Handle shellfish with care and ensure they’re alive before consuming, to avoid food poisoning. Wash foraged plants before eating.

Kelp and sesame salad

Time: 10 minutes

Makes: 2 servings

A large handful of kelp

1 red pepper

20g coriander

2 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted


2 tbsp rice wine vinegar

1 tbsp sesame oil

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp sugar

  1. Roll the kelp into a log shape and slice thinly into ribbons. 
  2. Cook in a pan of boiling water for 5 minutes or until the kelp is soft but not mushy. Drain and run under cold water. Set aside.
  3. Trim off the top and bottom of the red pepper, cut in half and discard any remaining stem and seeds. Place it on its side and slice.
  4. Whisk together the dressing ingredients in a large bowl. 
  5. Add the kelp and pepper and give everything a good stir. 
  6. Tear off a few coriander leaves for garnish. Sprinkle over the sesame seeds and serve.

Words: Lydia Paleschi

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