A forager is someone who actively goes out looking for wild food. Foraging is a lot like the ways some of our ancestors used to look for food to sustain their diet. Foraging has become a lost art. We have all grown up in a society where everything is just found in a grocery store. Many of us have no idea how it is grown and where it comes from. A lot of the produce we consume today is sprayed with pesticides and are genetically modified. Foraging and growing your own food can be a nice way to choose what you consume.
I have been interested in foraging for wild food for a long time. It’s like an extension of your garden. It all started when I became interested in cooking. I loved to experiment with different types of foods and ingredients. It evolved from there to starting a vegetable garden. Once you start cooking food from your garden, it opens up a new world. You realize how much better the vegetables taste. There is nothing like picking fresh strawberries or going out to the garden to pick some fresh herbs to add to your dish. You begin to realize what a difference it makes when you cook with fresh foods.
I got my hands on an old video online from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. He is a British chef that now has a popular show called River Cottage. His series is called A Cook on The Wild Side. It was filmed back in the 1990’s. It follows Hugh around England and Scotland as he forages for wild food, riding in his homemade camper. I thought it was pretty cool and I decided to try foraging for myself. It started small just looking for wild berries and dandelions. I started reading books on foraging and educating myself.
When you grow a vegetable garden you eat with the seasons. Foraging is the same way. In the spring I pick wild asparagus, dandelions, sorrel, garlic mustard, lambs quarter and nettles. In the summer it is wild berries like blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, dewberries and huckleberries. Then in the fall, I pick wild cranberries and grapes. It’s become a way of life for me. It is also very relaxing and meditative just to be out in nature picking. You can also save a little money on your food bill.
Foraging can be a lot of fun and a healthy way to add veggies, fruits and herbs into your diet. Learning how to forage will take some time and knowledge. There are several ways you can get started. Just go one step at a time and make sure you are properly identifying any wild edible before you consume them. Below are different ways you can educate yourself, to become a better forager.
An excellent way to learn how to forage is to join a foraging group. Many towns have foraging groups that meet up at forest areas. You can learn from experienced foragers within the group. You could ask one of the experienced foragers in the group to mentor you.
There are several foraging forums that can also be helpful. Many forums will allow you to post pictures to help identify your findings.
Check out some of these forums and groups
Learning to forage with a good book can be a great help. Outside of a mentor or group, it is the best way to learn to identify wild edibles. Look for foraging books for your area. Some of the items in the book you probably will not forage for because they are obscure and not very appetizing. You can try and eat these items to see how they taste. Look for edibles that can be easily cooked or preserved. The books should have well-taken pictures and show poisonous look-alikes to compare. Here are some good ones to consider:
Edible Wild Plants is a must-have field guide that now features a fresh new cover, as well as nearly 400 color photos and detailed information on more than 200 species of edible plants all across North America.
The Forager’s Harvest has many unique features that will appeal to hikers, chefs, survivalists, homesteaders, and gardeners. The book contains a calendar of harvest times for wild produce, a step-by-step protocol for positive identification, an illustrated glossary tailored to the needs of foragers, a recommended reading list, plus special sections on conservation, safety, nutrition, harvest techniques, preparation methods, and storage.
Nature’s Garden follows the same award-winning format of Samuel Thayer’s first book, with in-depth chapters covering 41 new wild edibles. You will find mouth-watering photography of cranberries, blueberries, huckleberries, strawberries, wild plums, and more. You’ll hear of new methods for using dandelions. You’ll finally be able to make sense of the tricky wild lettuce/sow thistle group.
Look for books in your region.
This is a list of foraging websites that I follow. These are great resources for anyone learning to forage. Many of these sites have excellent recipes for wild edibles.
Finding wild edibles can be tricky. A lot of the locations I found were by hiking certain areas, like parks, public trails, reservoirs and dirt roads. If you are looking to start foraging, there are some cool websites that will show you where to find wild edibles. People can post locations of their foraged finds.
Make sure you can identify the edible plant in all its seasons. Each wild edible will look different in each season. This is a great way to mark your plants and check back throughout the year.
Know which parts of a plant are edible because in some cases not all parts will be. Some types of berries are not edible in its early stages.
Try not to over harvest. You want your wild edibles to last year after year. Always leave some behind for the wildlife. Don’t remove the whole plant, if you plan on using only parts of it.
Forage in areas that are well away from heavy highway pollution. Make sure you are not foraging on private property; if so get consent from the owner.
Use bug spray when warranted. Many areas will be in heavy tick populated areas. I have been bitten several times by ticks which required antibiotic treatments. Make sure to check yourself periodically during your foraging. I put my clothes in the dryer for 20 minutes when I get home and hop in the shower. This method works well and will remove any ticks that have snuck by your visual inspection.
Foraging can be a lot of fun. It is an excellent way to reconnect with nature and explore different types of wild edibles. In many cases, foraged food has a higher nutritional content than cultivated produce. Don’t be afraid to give it a try. Start out small with a few types of edibles and venture out from there. If you have questions, please leave a comment below. Have fun!
**Before you forage, please make sure you are able to properly identify what you are picking or seek an experienced forager for guidance.
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