With the food movement very much getting into home food productions and self-sufficiency, foraging is, once again, growing in popularity. Why wouldn’t it? Gathering was a part of daily life for millions of years, long before agriculture ever came into play. While nature — at least not as things stand today — no longer has the capacity to feed us all, there is still plenty of wild and wonderful food out there for those of us inclined to enjoy it.
However, while it can be a lot of fun and frankly fascinating, foraging isn’t something to be endeavored with complete nonchalance. For all the good the morsels that Mother Nature can provide for snacking, there is also a lot out there that can cut a hiking trip (and sometimes a life) short. That said, by following a few simple dos and don’ts, foraging is an easy thing to get into and can provide a much deeper appreciation for how we all tie together.
Do: Start Simple
Once we begin looking into all of the wild edibles out there, the options seem somewhat impossibly abundant. There are many things, often growing right in our own yards, that we could be eating if we only knew the lowdown. And, that’s a good place to start: weeds. Many of us can readily identify things like nettles, dandelions, plantain, and purslane. These are a good start for a budding forager, and from there, the portfolio can slowly expand.
Don’t: Eat Unidentified Growing Objects
And, that brings us to the rather obvious tip of not eating what we can’t identify. It seems apparent, but the fact is that even the smartest among us, can get excited and overly confident about anything. The whole point of a do and don’ts list for foraging is primarily to prevent an unfortunate accident occurring, so just to reiterate it again and again: Don’t eat unidentified growing objects.
Do: Pick a Few Species at a Time
This tip works in a couple of ways actually. First, do pick a few species at a time to learn about. It’s good practice to learn what wild edibles are common in your area, where they like to grow, and what time of year is good for harvesting them. Second, it’s a good idea to have a few species in mind when embarking on a foraging trip so that, should one or two things not be there, three or four others will be.
Don’t: Take Too Much
Because foraging equates to free food, it’s easy to then lose our way and treat the forest like an all-you-can-eat buffet, but the fact remains that supplies aren’t limitless. A good practice is to take only twenty percent or less of what is available. The rest can be left for animals to eat (they actually rely on these food sources) and to the forest, which feeds on the decomposition of dearly departed plants. We have to share, or it won’t be there next time we look.
Do: Invest in a Field Guide
The Internet is great, and in no time at all, it’s possible to learn of hundreds of wild edible plants (Check out Eat the Weeds), but a good field guide that can come along on the forage is a must-have. Not only will they help to identify the plants we know we are looking for, but they’ll often lead us to know plants that we didn’t know we’d find.
Don’t: Harvest in Polluted Areas
Regardless of whether or not a plant is technically edible, it is not the best thought to forage in places where we know there are mass contaminants. For example, the areas along roadsides are often bustling with edible plants, but these, which have been choked and chided on exhaust fumes and all manner of nastiness, aren’t the best of choices to put in our bodies. The same can be said for polluted fields and parking lots.
Do: Take Foraging Workshops
No amount of reading or research, internet or photos, can replace the benefits of a teacher. With foraging becoming a revived pastime (once a necessity, now for the most part a hobby), there are plenty of workshops and walks available for those who are interested in beginning the practice or extending into a wider assortment to choose from. We are wise to learn from those who know more than we do.
Don’t: Forage Without Permission
Once again, it’s easy to lose ourselves when foraging and forget that the world is not free for the gathering as it used to be. It’s sound practice to make sure it’s legal and/or acceptable to forage in parks and public spaces, and it’s best to ask permission when land is private. Though there may be a salad bar sprouting forth in someone’s front yard, they may not like plant-based pickers grazing through their property.
There are some other thoughts to be had on this topic. For example, even though we might be plant-based foresters, it’s good to be aware of hunting season. In fact, it’s good to be aware of season, in general, knowing what grows when. Like most anything, it’s something to start slow and soon enough a few edibles will be second nature with new ones feeling exciting all over again. The list is seemingly endless.
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