Foraging Guide: Wild Strawberries

Small yet delectably sweet, the wild strawberry is a summer foraging staple. Here’s where to find this tiny fruit and how to use it in a traditional Scottish Cranachan dessert.

9th June 2023 | Words by Dave Hamilton

The wild strawberry is a deliciously sweet wild fruit that can be found throughout Europe and North America from late spring into early summer. They grow by the sides of paths, at the base of hedgerows, in gardens, woodland fringes and occasionally on waste ground and edge land. They’re a family-friendly foraging treat too. In fact, wild strawberries are often amongst the first wild foods foraged and eaten by children, as they have no poisonous look-a-likes.

In Britain and Europe, we have the wild or alpine strawberry, Fragaria vesca while on the North American continent you’ll find Fragaria virginiana, the Common or Virginiana strawberry. Both are very easy to identify, as they look just like domestic strawberries, only with smaller leaves and smaller fruits. Its only lookalike (unless you are very bad at identifying plants) is the false strawberry, which also grows along the ground. This also has red strawberry-like fruits that although edible, are rather insipid tasting – akin to eating a dry cracker when you are expecting a sweet biscuit.

Single strawberry

In German, Danish and Dutch, the word for strawberry translates as ‘Earth berry’, from the plant’s habit of growing along the ground. But why they are called strawberries in English is a bit of a mystery. Some claim it is because gardeners like to mulch around the plant with straw, to protect from slug damage. But this is an unlikely explanation, as this practice did not begin until the much larger domestic strawberry (which is much more appealing to slugs!) was introduced – and the name precedes this by at least a few centuries. Another explanation could come from the plant’s habit of straying or sending out runners, so the English might be a corruption of ‘stray berry’. Yet by far the most appealing explanation comes from the way Scandinavian foragers carry the berries home. If you have ever gathered them, you’ll know wild strawberries are very easily squashed. Threading the small berries onto a thin piece of straw or a blade of grass prevents this kind of damage.

Wild Strawberries

What wild strawberries lack in size they more than make up in flavour – they are deliciously sweet and lack the tangy, almost pineapple notes of a domestic strawberry. The best way to eat them is with two hands, one hand popping a berry in your mouth and the other hand picking the next berry to follow it.

If any manage to make it home, they can be put to use in much the same way as sloes are in gin, only using a natural spirit such as vodka. Simply alternate layers of wild strawberries and sugar in a bottle or jar then cover with the spirit of your choice. Give it a gentle shake once or twice a week to dissolve the sugar and mix up the ingredients. Do this for at least four weeks, more to improve the flavour.

In Italy, wild strawberries are made into Fragoline di bosco al balsamico, strawberries with balsamic vinegar. To make this at home, take around 250g of strawberries and coat with 50g-75g of caster sugar. Let this sit for up to an hour before mixing with 2-4 tbsp of good balsamic vinegar and a few sprigs of freshly picked mint.

However, by far the best thing to do with a harvest of wild strawberries is to make a traditional Scottish dessert called Cranachan.

Fragoline di bosco al balsamico

Wild Strawberry Cranachan

The following recipe is quite flexible. You can omit the alcoholic element if you want to make it child friendly. The cream and butter can also be substituted for vegan yoghurt and vegan block. Whatever ingredients you choose to use, cranachan is as tasty as it is straightforward to put together. Simply alternate layers of toasted oats with wild strawberries and something creamy, sweet and boozy.


    • 240g / 8½ oz / 1 cup Greek or thick yoghurt or whipped cream 
    • 200g / 7oz / 1 cup strawberries (or any mixed soft fruit)
    • 100g oats
    • A healthy (or unhealthy!) knob of butter 
    • 2 tbsp of Scotch single malt, blended whisky or rum (spiced rum works well)  
    • 2 tbsp of brown sugar or honey (use birch or maple syrup if you want a foraged sweetener)  


    1. Warm the knob of butter in a large frying pan and toast the oats until they have absorbed all the fat and have turned golden brown. 
    2. Let the oats cool a little, then spread a layer of them along the bottom of two large glass dessert bowls or 4 small glasses.
    3. Gently fold in the sugar (or sweetener of your choice – see ingredients) and whisky or rum into the cream or yoghurt.  
    4. Cover these toasted oats with a layer of yoghurt or cream. 
    5. Next sprinkle on a liberal layer of wild strawberries or mixed fruit. 
    6. Cover the fruit with the toasted oats, followed by the cream or yoghurt mix. Keep going until the glasses are full.
    7. Top off with a few wild strawberries and a sprig of freshly picked mint to serve. 

Wild Strawberries

Dave Hamilton is the author of Where the Wild Things Grow: the Foragers Guide to the Landscape, published by Hodder and Stoughton. He has led the Guardian Masterclass in foraging and currently works as an instructor for Britain’s leading foraging course company, Wild Food UK.

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Image credits
Header image by Erik Karits on Unsplash | Photo 1 by Mats Hagwall on Unsplash | Photo 2 by Christer Ehrling on Unsplash | Cranachan by Dave Hamilton | Photo 3 by Sergiu Nista on Unsplash

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