Rachel Lambert: forager, author, guide

How to Forage Shellfish Safely

I love foraging, I love the adventure of it, the thrill, the simplicity and the sheer satisfaction of collecting, preparing and eating my own gathered wild food. The last time I foraged for mussels I was with a friend, it was a wild, windy day and we found ourselves on the beach at low tide surrounded by nice, plump mussels. There and then we made a dinner plan and a spontaneous feast was foraged.

Bivalve molluscs


We carefully picked the largest, healthiest looking mussels, knowing the beach we were on was clean, and we discarded any that we un-attached, partially open or broken. We walked away, happy with our booty and I reflected on my reasons for not foraging shellfish more regularly. Quite simply, I want to stay safe and well. Food poisoning is not my idea of fun and I want to avoid it at all costs.

With that in mind, I thought I'd write a few notes on how to stay safe and well when foraging for shellfish. There are 3 key elements, then a few extra tips of cooking and preparing shellfish. These notes are brief, though hopefully they will add to your knowledge and help you enjoy what you forage.

No. 1. Always pick away from sources of pollution

This might be sewage, towns or other sources of pollution. I always recommend checking online and with locals who know their beach well and its cleanliness, or lack of. I'm always grateful for fishermen who share with me where to get clean mussels from.

No. 2. Wash thoroughly

Just because something is wild, it doesn't mean it is clean and good for you, below are some thorough notes on rinsing different shellfish for food consumption.

No. 3. Make sure they're alive

Sometimes it is useful to state the obvious, and, obviously, act on it too. Dead shellfish, are not good to eat, so discard shellfish that are dead when you forage them, or do not open when cooked.


Cockles - Winkles - Periwinkles - Mussels - Clams

If you are lucky enough to find any of these, here are some extra notes on cooking and rinsing them. Rinsing is often known as purging, and provides time to rid the shellfish of any unwanted extras, from toxins, bacteria and micro-organisms to sand, mud and anything untoward in their guts. It is well worth taking the time to do this, obviously.

Bivalve molluscs


What water and how much to use when purging? 

If your shellfish are from the sea, then purging in salted water will be the best option, sea salt that is. The amounts are; 35g of sea salt to every litre of water, or clean, filtered sea water. The shellfish just need to be covered with water, no more or less. Purging means just letting the shellfish sit and soak in this water for the suggested amount of time.

If the shellfish have been foraged from estuaries, then fresh water should also be fine, though you might want to add a little salt. Cockles, mussels and clams are all shellfish I mention in my blog; What can you forage on the Helford?


Cockles - Rinse through with fresh water, then soak for 6 hours and check they are still alive before cooking for 5 minutes

Winkles and Periwinkles - Rinse through with fresh water, then purge for 12 hours, plunge into boiling water for 10 minutes

Mussels - Using a knife, scrape off all the barnacles, rinse twice with fresh water and check they are alive before cooking

Clams - Rinse with fresh water, then purge for 6 hours and cook for 10 minutes

2 comments on “How to Forage Shellfish Safely”

  1. Thank you for this info package.
    Yesterday I collected 5 ( five ) mussels from Gwithian Beach..
    My first ever selfpicked mussels - and I'm soon 72.
    I'm from Finland...Been in Cornwall since 1st of August so I'm very afraid to break the law OR take advantage of something belonging to local people.

    Five mussels seamed ok though?

    1. Wonderful Marianne! A good season to pick them in too, and yes I agree, 5 full-sized mussels ins't much!

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