The textbook definition of forage, the noun, is any plant material eaten by wild or domesticated animals. Most of the time when the idea of a forage garden crops up, it’s in reference to growing crops for domesticated animals. However, in the case of a foraging garden, it’s we humans who become those animals looking for plant materials to snack on.
Depending on the size of the garden, foraging plants can come in many forms. For example, a food forest, with apple trees and berry bushes, is most definitely a type of forage garden, and a garden full of interesting greens can, too, certainly be a forage garden. Essentially, what we are after here is a garden that we can rummage around in and pull something out to eat.
The other crucial part of a good forage garden, in this context, is that it requires little to no maintenance once it is established. So, we’ll be focusing on edible perennial and self-sowing plants that can more or less take care of themselves. Get a few of these growing, and we’ll be eating well.
Borage is a great plant to include in the garden for many reasons. It’s beautiful. It’s largely edible, flowers, leaves, and stems, with a taste reminiscent of cucumber. Bees love it. It’s a self-sowing annual, often considered a weed, so it’s likely to grow well and regrow itself without human interference.
Often used as an ornamental, nasturtium is both beautiful and super useful. It distracts pest insects away from crop gardens, and it tends to grow prolifically. Plus, the leaves, seeds, and flowers are all edible. It’s also a self-seeding annual, so it will plant itself once established, and that makes less work for the gardener.
With an enticing sourness about it, sorrel is a great plant to include in a foraging garden. It’s an early rising perennial, so it shows up to provide delicious leaves before other fresh greens are available. Because it’s perennial, it doesn’t require much maintenance, coming back on its own year and after year.
4. Bunching Onions
There are many types of perennial alliums: bunching onions, leeks, and garlic. These make great additions to a foraging garden because they are good pest control, have delicious greens, and will continually replicate themselves. Most members of this family, aside from typical supermarket onions, behave more like delicious weeds.
5. Culinary Herbs
In the world of culinary herbs, a huge selection of resilient perennial plants is at our disposal. Rosemary and sage bushes are evergreens. Mint and oregano are great survivors and thrivers of the garden. Most of these attract pollinators and repel pests, not to mention flavor our food with highly medicinal benefits.
There are so many berries to choose from, but it’s hard to go wrong with any of them. Strawberries are great when groundcover is what you need. Blackberries and raspberries make good protective borders with their thorny dispositions. Blueberries are perfect for highly acidic soil. And, there are so many other berries to try!
While the tendency of gardeners is to eradicate weeds, in a foraging garden, this is counterintuitive. Instead, we should look to cultivate those weeds that are delicious and nutritious: dandelion, plantain, chickweed, and so on. Instead of seeing them as weeds, a forager sees them as dinner.
8. Fruit Trees
It’s different for every climate zone, but whatever fruit trees thrive in your area, be sure to include one or a few in the foraging garden. Go for dwarf varieties if space is limited. These won’t provide forage all the time, but it’s a fantastic treat when they do, and trees are great for gardens.
When it comes to growing forage for home (human) use, the name of the game is self-maintenance. The goal is to get the right types of plants in place to return year in and year out with no real effort other than harvesting. These are gardens that work for us rather than us working for them. That’s not to say they can’t be both beautiful and bountiful as well.
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