Foraging is not just a summertime activity – and certainly nothing that starts and ends at the dinner table. Instead, there are a wealth of winter goodies waiting outside that – with just a little imagination – can be turned into the most spectacular Christmas decorations.
Not only that, they are cheap, environmentally friendly and local – plus a great deal of fun for all ages to source. All that’s needed is a little guidance on just where to start…
Pine cones are the archetypal foraged Christmas decoration, as many families head out at the beginning of December to find some for their trees, even if that’s the limit of their foraging nous. It’s easy to see just why pine cones prove popular, as not only are they relatively easy to come by, but they already look extremely festive without the need for many additions.
Those wanting to spruce up their pine cones may try using a little fake snow from a can to add a glistening white shimmer to the outside – thus really accentuating the slightly tree-like look of the cones and making them appear extra festive.
For all their affiliations with clandestine Christmas kissing, mistletoe is actually something of a parasite; attaching itself to trees or shrubs by penetrating the branches and absorbing water as it is fed through.
Despite this, it still remains a popular Christmas decoration and many Brits head out every year looking for European Mistletoe, or viscum album. It should be easily identifiable because of its long, thin leaves, notorious hanging shape and clean-looking, white berries.
Foraged mistletoe also has the benefit of allowing those kissing underneath it to follow historic procedure much more accurately. It was said that men were allowed to kiss women whom they met under the mistletoe, then take one of the berries thereafter. Once all the berries had been removed, this privilege ceased. With real, foraged mistletoe, this tradition can be upheld much more accurately than with plastic decorations.
Householders should be careful, though, as mistletoe berries contain a liquid that is so sticky it has been known to trap small birds or animals, so it should be handled carefully to avoid making a mess that would be difficult to clean up.
For those who find the idea of foraging pine cones and mistletoe a little too basic, then making a holly wreath from scratch may pose enough of a challenge. This involves going out, finding holly, cutting enough and arranging it effectively – all the while doing so without pricking your fingers on the devilishly sharp points.
To make a holly wreath you’ll need around 15 or so (depending on size) full holly branches, twine, laurel, secateurs and gloves. First, take the laurel and shape it into a sturdy circle. If you don’t have this at hand, any firm sticks that will remain sturdy but still bend around into an arc should suffice.
With the circle made, wrap the twine tightly around it to keep all the branches in place. This twine also serves a second purpose, as it will hold the branches of holly in place; following the shape of the circle. To cover up the tracks, re-adjust the leaves once they have been attached so the twine is out of sight. Gloves should be worn at all times when handling holly as it is so spiky, although it does limit mobility on the trickier parts.
Next, pack in as many of the holly leaves as possible to give a full, bushy appearance. Also, turn the branches to face outward so that any bright red berries can be seen easily and give the lush green look a smattering of Christmassy red. Any rogue leaves that are refusing to fall back into place can be trimmed with the secateurs, before the wreath is ready to be hanged.
What could be more festive than chestnuts roasting on an open fire? Jack Frost nipping at your nose, perchance? Hardly, this is much more fun.
Chestnuts aren’t just for roasting, but can form part of a festive table centrepiece. Chestnut husks can be found laying around the (surprise surprise) chestnut tree, as well as slightly further afield having been moved by birds or other forest creatures.
Collecting around 20 of these can provide the ideal table decoration, as some will be broken out, whilst others remain in the husks.
Just as with holly, it’s worth exercising caution when handling chestnut husks as they are very spiky. Not only that, they don’t decompose easily, so will often remain rather threatening for the entire festive period.
Taking great care (and maybe even wearing gloves), remove the nuts once the husk has opened to reveal them. Some may be more closed than others, so might need a helping hand. With a selection opened, these can be scattered around a glass tray – along with some other edible nuts that have been foraged at the same time. A few husks can then be kept to be placed on top, as this will give the centrepiece a much more authentic, rural feel. Their spiky nature also makes them look a little like hedgehogs, which should please the youngsters (although make sure they keep their hands from the sharp spindles).
Then, on Christmas evening, these nuts should have suitably ripened, making them much sweeter tasting than they would have been earlier in the month. They can then be roasted and enjoyed as a little supper some hours after the festive roast.
It is worth making sure it’s chestnuts being roasted and not horse chestnuts (conkers), however, as one is edible and the other most certainly isn’t! Whilst looking similar, they can be easily identified, as chestnuts have tapered ends and are slightly flatter, whereas conkers are very much more rounded.
So what’s not to love? These are not only a much more fun, creative way to decorate the home at Christmas, they’re also free and much more environmentally-friendly than shop-bought plastic alternatives. Not only that, heading out into the cold, frosty wilds will instil a sense of Christmas excitement better than fighting through the crowds at the ‘Ye Olde Xmas Shoppe’.