FOR a suburban kid like me, brought up to believe that everything was poisonous except what you could buy in the supermarket or at the greengrocers, the interest in wild food has come as a slow-dawning revelation. As a child, the only foragers I knew were an elderly Polish refugee, who spent his autumn mornings hunting fungi in Richmond Park, and my grandmother, a countrywoman who could, as they say, make wine out of an old box of matches, given enough yeast and sugar.

Richard Mabey's Food For Free was the first pebble that started the Wild Food avalanche, and now it seems the hedgerows are alive with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstalls fossicking for the makings of acorn ravioli and thistle and burdock stir-fry. In this series of articles I'm going to write about a parallel trend, not so much Wild Food as Wild Brews - things mainly drinkable, and mostly alcoholic, which can be made at home from wild shoots, fruits, flowers and leaves.

There are two common problems with home-made drinks, whether beers, wines or cordials. First, impatience to taste the stuff leads people to drink it too soon. Very few fruit or flower wines are good drinking before they have been kept at least a year (elderflower champagne is an exception which must be drunk the summer it is made, though I've never found that a great hardship). More robust wines and spirit-based cordials, such as sloe gin, positively benefit from the aging process. As with gardening, you need to take the long view about your brews: you are storing up treats for yourself for this time next year.

The second problem is contamination. The air is alive with microbes looking for a free lunch, and your brew, full of nutrients, is ideal for them to settle down and start a family on. The result is remarkable. When the airlock on a flatmate's homemade wine broke, it turned into a sticky, eye-watering essence of fermented rugby sock. (We thought of offering it to the police as a crowd-dispersal weapon, but decided tear-gas was more humane). Everything you use for your brewing and bottling should be sterilised before use. Campden tablets (sodium metabisulphite) are effective and widely available: crush up a couple in a litre of water and swill through your equipment.

Speaking of equipment, you can buy all kinds of exciting high-tech gear if you like that sort of thing. As my own kitchen is tiny, I tend to be minimalist about this. The following are the essentials.

Equipment n A large bowl or crock. Glass or earthenware is best. Plastic will do, but must be colourless, as the dye in coloured plastic can react with the brew. It will need to be covered. Recently I found in a charity shop a Rumtoft crock, which is ideal, holds about a gallon (about 4 and a half litres) and comes with its own lid, but a decent-sized mixing bowl with a plate or clingfilm on top is fine n A large saucepan n A measuring jug n A sieve. You can add filter papers if necessary n Glass demi-johns for fermenting.

n Rubber bungs with a hole in n Airlocks. These go through the hole in the rubber bung and allow gas from the fermentation to pass out while preventing flies and microbes getting in n A thin plastic tube for racking. Racking means siphoning the wine from the container where it has been fermenting into a clean container, leaving behind the sediment n A funnel n Bottles n A bottle brush for cleaning bottles n Corks or screw-tops for closing the bottles When gathering, act responsibly and safely. It is ecologically unsound, as well as illegal, to uproot or completely remove any wild plant unless the land it grows on is your own property. Pick only where you can do it without damaging the plant, and where you can see plenty more. Leave plenty for the animals, birds and insects that depend on it. You can go to the supermarket for your booze: they cannot do that for their food. Leave protected sites alone and any plant that is rare or endangered. Don't eat anything you cannot identify, or brew with anything you are not sure about. A number of flowers make good wine, but a surprising number are poisonous: be sure you know which ones are which. Happy gathering!