Have you ever wonder how to start foraging?
Well, you are in the correct place.
In this article I explain:
- why you need to start foraging
- risk of foraging
- how to recognize edible wild plants
- types of foraging
- rules of foraging
Let’s get started.
1. Why You Need to Start Foraging?
The first people on this planet find their food in 2 ways:
- Hunting animals
- Collecting edible wild plants.
All the food they ate, collected with their own hands.
- Berries from shrubs
- Wild vegetables from fields
- Mushrooms from rotting trees
So, how to start foraging?
Before you begin, you must first know how to identify which food you can forage.
1.1 Identify Edible Wild Plants
Through long practice, you will recognize which plants were edible which were poisonous, and what could be found at different times of the year.
Nowadays, our food system is very different.
In industrialized countries such as the United States, most food grown on large farms.
Far away from the people who will eat it.
Watch This Video: ‘ How To Identify Edible Plants In the Wild’ (2 mins 21 secs)
1.2 Personal Connection With the Food
For most of us, getting food means making a trip to the supermarket; we never see it grow out of the ground.
Until it reaches our kitchens, we have no personal connection with the food we eat.
But it doesn’t have to be – at least not entirely.
Even in the modern world, it is possible to find and pick wild plants that are not only edible but also very nutritious.
Of course, it is also risky because we no longer have the detailed knowledge of our ancestors.
Anyone who walks into the nearest field, then randomly picks and eats plants has a high chance to get bad stomachache – or worse.
It can take years to identify all the different between wild plants that can be eaten.
And more importantly, to recognize the plants that you should not eat.
But there are a few common edible wild plants that even a beginner can easily find and identify.
I’ll come back to this later.
1.3 Connection With Nature
Throwing a handful of dandelion greens into a salad or picking wild raspberries while on a walk allows you a chance to enjoy fresh, free food and experience the connection with nature that old people took for granted.
And the sensation of eating something that you have found and picked with your own hands can give you a sense of learning more about all the riches that nature has to offer.
2. Advantages of Foraging
Foraging for food is more than just a fun hobby – although it certainly can be.
Collecting your own food give can many benefits.
And here’s why:
2.1 Get You Own Source of Foods
Foraged food costs nothing except the time you spend finding and picking it.
Of course, your time is worth something.
And it probably wouldn’t be worth catching cheap food like potatoes.
But many of the food you find in the wild costs more expensive when it is sold in supermarkets.
Fresh mushrooms, wild leeks, and pine nuts all cost $20 per pound in a supermarket.
So, which one you think is better?
2.2 Discover New Tastes
Many wild foods are hard to find in regular supermarkets.
For example, wild mushrooms are valued by gourmet chefs since it is not easy to get.
Moreover, there are some plants that you can’t get in supermarkets at all.
Papayas, a mango-like fruit with a custard-like texture that is too delicate to ship.
Foraging is often your best chance to try these unique and tasty dishes.
2.3 More Nutritious
Edible plants in the wild are often more nutritious than the plant you can buy in the store.
Jo Robinson, the journalist who writes for the New York Times, says that wild dandelion contain more than seven times as many phytonutrients as supermarket spinach.
A graph in the same article shows that certain edible crab apples contain 2 to 100 times phytonutrients that occur in normal apple.
Moreover, if you are in the sun to pick plants, you also get vitamin D for your body.
2.4 Healthy Outdoor Exercise
Hunting for wild food brings you outside.
Walking to the most selected harvesting areas, stretching to pick berries and bending to collect vegetables in the afternoon sun give you great natural workout.
Plus, it is a lot more fun and relaxes than an hour in the gym. Rather than trotting in place on a treadmill under fluorescent lighting.
Wild plants that you pick yourself are grown both organically and locally.
They were not grown with harmful pesticides or other farming chemicals…and the water they get is the natural water from rain that wets their soil.
It can take years to identify all the different between edible wild plants. And more importantly… to recognize the plants that you should not eat.
But there are a few common edible wild plants that even a beginner can easily find and identify.
3. Dangers of Foraging
Although foraging gives many benefits, it also has its pitfalls, especially for inexperienced people.
The risks of foraging include:
3.1 Eating Something Harmful
- While many wild plants are tasty and nutritious, some are poisonous – and many of them resemble edible plants.
- Foraging novices especially always confuse a poisonous plant with a safe one. But even foraging experts with years of experience tend to make the same mistake sometimes.
- If you are certain that a plant is non-toxic, it can still make you sick if it is contaminated with pesticide residues, animal waste or other chemicals.
3.2 Dealing With Unknown Foods
- Experienced foragers not only know which plants are safe to eat but also how to eat them.
- Many wild plants that are technically edible are hard, bitter or completely indigestible if you do not prepare them properly.
- For example, inexperienced foragers can sometimes waste a basket full of freshly picked wild “products” because they have no idea how to use it.
3.3 Damage the Environment
- It is not always clear how much of a plant you can harvest without killing it completely.
- Over-enthusiastic feeds can remove all native plants from an area and create an opening for invasive species to withdraw and take over.
- Foragers can also damage a fragile environment simply by tripping through it. Hence, damaging the soil, destroying plants and disrupting habitats in the wild.
- Only the most experienced foragers can always see which areas are too vulnerable to be disturbed.
3.4 Get Arrested
- It is probably illegal to forage on other people’s property without permission.
- Many federal and state parks also prohibit the collection of plants unless you are alone without supplies and have no other way to survive.
- And even in places where it is legal to forage, there are limits to how much of a certain plant you can take.
- To complicate matters, boundaries are not always clearly marked, so it is not always easy to say when you have strayed into an area where foraging is prohibited.
- Foragers who simply march to an open field and take plants can be arrested by law.
4. How to Identify Edible Wild Foods
The first step to becoming a forager is to learn how to recognize different wild plants that you can eat.
As well as…the other plant that you cannot.
Before you go outside and collect your first plant, you need to know this 3 things:
- What type of wild foods you are looking for
- Where you can find it
- How to use it once you have it at home
Popular foods for foraging are different types of vegetables, fruits, carrots, nuts, and mushrooms.
4.1 Identify Wild Greens
Some of the most popular wild greens for farmers are:
Although it is not from North America, the dandelion is now found in all 50 US states and most Canadian provinces.
It grows in almost every habitat.
Some of them are deep forests, open areas, and rocky slopes.
You can recognize Dandelions by it hairless leaves with sawtooth and yellow flowers.
They eventually will turn into white puffballs to spread their seeds.
What is dandelion used for?
Dandelion leaves full of vitamins A, C, and K.
They are great in salads and sandwiches. Especially when they are still fresh and soft.
You can also dry and roasted the Dandelion’s root and make a coffee.
4.1.2 Stinging Nettles
Nettle is a large, spiky plant with small white flowers that can be found along river edges and in wet forest areas.
If you want to collect Nettles, make sure to wear protective clothing.
This is because Nettles have small, sharp hair that can pierce your skin.
Once you get stung by a stinging nettle, it will release formic acid that causes itching or burning.
What is nettle used for?
Nettle leaves are a good substitute for spinach in soups and stews.
Some people also use the leaves to make nettle tea.
You don’t have to worry about it stinging hair.
Once the leaves are cooked, the stinging hairs will fall off on it owns.
This small, green plant comes from the coastal and mountain areas of the west, especially California.
The plant has single, round leaves with a small white flower in the middle.
It is usually found in wet areas.
The leaves have a tasty, soft and spinach-like taste.
You can eat the lettuce’s leaves raw or cooked.
4.1.4 Japanese Knotweed
Japanese knotweed is a species of the buckwheat family.
It is originally from Asia but has become a popular weed in the Northeast and Midwest.
You can find Japanese knotweed at below areas:
- Low-lying areas
- Near water sources
- On abandoned building sites
- Waste areas
The plant is sometimes called Japanese bamboo because it is light, hollow stems resemble bamboo when they mature.
It is best to pick before it becomes woody when the red and green shoots are less than eight centimeters long.
The lemon-like shoots can be eaten raw.
Or you can use as rhubarb in pies, jams, and sauces.
It is a good source of vitamins A and C, iodine and a substance called resveratrol.
4.1.5. Wood Sorrel (Oxalis)
Wood Sorrel also known as Oxalis.
You can identify this popular weeds by its clusters of three heart-shaped leaves.
It grows in wet, semi-shaded areas in most parts of the US and Canada.
The best thing about Wood Sorrel is you can eat all their parts.
Their leaves, flowers and stunted seed pods are all edible.
Wood Sorrel contains oxalic acid which makes their taste sharp like lemon.
What is Wood Sorrel used for?
- You can add them to salads
- Cooked in soups and sauces
- Used as a garnish for meat
4.1.6 Lamb’s Quarters
You can recognize this long weed by its white, powdery layer on the leaves.
It has a dusty appearance when viewed from a distance.
Their leaves have a diamond or teardrop shape.
And its small green flowers will grow in bunches on top of their tree.
This plant is a popular weed in many parts of the US and Canada.
But it also grows near rivers and streams in the forest and at waste locations.
Their leaves are rich in calcium and proteins, as well as vitamins, A, C, and K.
Often referred to as wild spinach.
It has a muddy taste that is often compared to Swiss Chard.
What is Lamb’s Quarter used for?
- boil or eaten raw as vegetables
- good addition to soup and stew
- make tea from the leaves
4.2 Identify Wild Fruits
Wild fruit is easy to forage because you can pick it and eat it directly from their tree.
Here are different types of wild fruits that you can forage:
4.2.1 American Persimmons
The American persimmon is similar to the Asian persimmon.
But the fruits are smaller and their skins are not as bright as an orange color.
The tree comes from the hardwood forests of the eastern United States.
It is rich in Vitamin c.
Have a bitter and astringent taste when they are not fully ripe.
But when they are ripe, they are sweet and juicy, with a taste of spiciness.
What American persimmons used for?
- You can eat them fresh from the tree.
- Some people dried or cooked to make pies and pudding.
- Roast the seeds to make herbal tea.
Pawpaw is related to tropical fruit such as cherimoya.
But it is originally from North America and grows wild in the eastern United States.
The trees grow in dense undergrowth.
Usually along riverbanks, from northern Florida to southern Ontario and into western Texas.
Pawpaw has an elongated shape and light green color.
Their fruits have a soft taste.
Pawpaws contain more proteins, minerals, and essential amino acids than popular fruits such as apples and bananas.
And they are also a good source of antioxidants.
Most people just eat them raw, but some micro-brewers like to use their pulp in the beer.
4.2.3 Brambles (Blackberries and Raspberries)
Blackberries and raspberries – also known as brambles.
They are popular cultivated plants.
But they also grew wild in many parts of North America.
You can find blackberries in the east and western part of the coast.
While raspberries can be found almost everywhere except in the deep south.
Both types of berries grow on long, spiny sticks.
So, make sure you wear a glove when handling them.
These berries grow in sunny areas, such as the edges of meadows and fields.
Raspberries can be red or black when ripe, while blackberries go from green to red and turn black when fully ripe.
How to differentiate these 2 berries?
You can distinguish them easily since raspberry fruits are hollow. Moreover, they leave a conical protrusion after you pick them.
While blackberries have large seeds and they attached to the stem when picked.
What are brambles used for?
- You can eat them fresh from the tree
- Make a jam
- Good for all kinds of baked
- A good addition to salad dressing
Do you know that mulberries look like raspberries and blackberries?
If the answer is no, then you need to read this.
So, what is special about mulberries?
They are larger than blackberries and raspberries, have an oval shape and have a color like reddish-purple.
Another thing is mulberries grow on trees found in the eastern United States that spread to Canada.
What do mulberries taste like?
22.214.171.124 Red Mulberries
Red mulberries from North America have the strongest taste.
Their sweetness is very strong. You can use them to make pies, tarts, wines, cordials, and herbal teas.
126.96.36.199 Black Mulberries
Black mulberries have a juicy, sweet taste with very little sharpness.
You can use them to make jellies, jam, syrup or just eat them fresh with sugar and cream.
188.8.131.52 White Mulberries
White mulberries come from east Asia.
They have a slightly sour taste with a scent of vanilla.
You can use them in tart fillings, ice cream, jellies, jams and mix in salads or cereals.
4.2.5 Juneberries (Serviceberries)
Juneberries, also known as Serviceberries.
They are bluish-purple berries that grow on small deciduous trees.
Juneberries look and taste a lot like blueberries. But their larger seeds give them a crunchy texture when you eat them fresh.
They are excellent sources of iron, with almost twice as much as blueberries, and they make very good jam.
4.2.6 Madrone Berries
Madrone berries grew up from madrone tree.
They grow wildly all over the Northwest U.S. and Canada.
Madrone tree also called as “strawberry tree” since their berries look almost the same like strawberries.
However, madrone berries are drier and less juicy than strawberries and they taste a lot more like blueberries.
These berries taste best when they are completely ripe and turn dark red color.
Since they have a dry texture, it is best if you eat them dried, mixed in salad and cereals or use it in a baking product.
4.3 Identify Wild Roots and Nuts
Wild fruits and vegetables are tasty, but they do not provide many calories.
You can expand your meals by adding wild root vegetables and nuts, such as:
4.3.1 Burdock Root
Burdock root also is known as Gobo.
It comes from Asia and Europe but now also grows across the United States except the deep south.
You can find burdock along river banks, disturbed habitats, roadsides, vacant lots, and fields.
Burdock is a biennial plant, which means it takes 2 years to complete its life cycle.
184.108.40.206 Best time to harvest burdock root
The best time to harvest burdock root is during the fall at the end of the first year.
During this period, burdock will have large leaves that are green on top and grayish underneath.
On the second year, burdock will grow purple flowers from summer to early fall.
The edible part of burdock is its starchy root.
220.127.116.11 What does burdock root taste like?
It has a soft and mild texture with an earthy taste similar to artichokes.
It is softest when it is harvested at the end of its first growing season.
On the second year, the roots tend to become tough and bitter.
18.104.22.168 What burdock root good for?
There are many benefits and used for burdock roots. It rich with vitamin A and can help promote hair growth.
Other example is for:
- Make burdock root tea
The peanut also is known as groundnut.
It is harvest mainly for its edible seed.
You can harvest groundnuts in the fall after the plants are killed by frost or after its leaf have turned brown.
It is important to replant a few tubers after you have dug them out because harvesting the root will kill the plant.
Although groundnuts are safe for most people to eat, it’s best to only have a small amount when you eat them for the first time.
Hazelnuts are the fruits of the hazel.
There are different types of hazelnuts, which vary in shape from spherical to oblong.
They usually grow from 1.5 to 2 cm in size.
Hazelnut is a healthy snack.
They contain a lot of vegetable proteins, unsaturated fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals.
Plus, they have all essential amino acids.
22.214.171.124 What is hazelnut used for?
Hazelnuts have a typical nutty flavor.
They are usually used in sweets and pastries.
When you roast hazelnuts, it will enhance their taste.
Hazelnuts are good in both savory and sweet dishes.
You can also use them in salads or any meat dishes.
126.96.36.199 Type of wild hazelnuts
Wild hazelnuts look and taste similar to the one you buy from the supermarket, but they are bit smaller.
They grow on two different types of shrubs called:
- The American hazelnut
- The beak-shaped hazelnut
These hazelnuts grow along the edges of forests in most parts of the country except in the southwest.
You can identify these plants by their toothed and heart-shaped leaves.
The beak-shaped hazelnut is a hard, hairy involucre with a long tubular beak shape.
Make sure to wear a glove if you want to harvest the nuts because their sharp outer layer or involucre can hurt your skin.
4.3.4 Pine nuts
Although there are many types of pine trees in North America, only the pinyon pines in the southwest produce nuts large enough to be harvested.
Pine trees often give the first fruits after about 25 years and can live to be hundreds of years old.
188.8.131.52 Harvest Pine Nuts
Harvesting pine nuts is difficult because you have to take the nuts from the pine cone one by one.
It takes 18 months for the pine seeds to mature. You can start harvest once the cones change from green to brown.
Make sure to wear gloves when you harvest pine nuts because the cones are covered with sticky juice.
Once you have picked the pine cones, let them dry for a few weeks, until they are slowly open.
You can then pick out by hand.
5. Rules of Foraging
It should now be clear that you should only start foraging when you are well prepared.
To be successful in foraging, you need to know how to protect yourself.
You must know how to differentiate between safe and dangerous plants without any mistakes.
Moreover, you also need to protect the environment.
So the wild plants you pick today will still be there for other foragers in the future.
5.1 Foraging Safety
Before you start eating a wild plant, there are four important steps you must take.
Green Deane from Eat The Weeds called it ITEM:
The first rule of safe foraging is that you should never eat a plant that you cannot identify.
Deane emphasizes that you should never rely on images from travel guides or online web to identify a wild plant.
This because plants do not always look the same as their photos.
The same plant can look different in various environments.
The interesting part is…
Many edible plants have non-edible family members that look very similar.
So to be sure that a plant is safe to eat, you must always contact your local expert.
This local expert is someone who knows which plants are edible and how those plants look like in your area.
Over time, as you develop your foraging skills, you will learn to recognize the plants.
Even experts must take time to identify a wild plant every time they encounter it and make sure it is the one they are looking for.
Part of identifying a plant is to ensure that it grows or produces fruit at the right time.
If the plant you have in mind blooms in June, but the one you found blooms in September, it may mean that you are looking at another plant that looks the same.
On the other hand, it means there is something about the plant that you do not know.
Firethorn or Pyracantha Coccinea blooms and produces fruit only once a year in the northern regions.
But in Florida, it blooms twice a year.
So if a plant does not bloom or grow as expected before the end of the year, you should refer an expert to find out why.
There are 2 reasons why you should check the plant’s environment first before you start foraging.
First, the environment can help you identify the plant.
Most plants have clear preferences in terms of water, soil, sun, and temperature.
Second, you need to ensure the water and soil around the plant are not contaminated.
A plant going downhill from the main highway is going to be sprinkled with road waste.
It may contain traces of gasoline and other chemicals that can make the plant unsafe to eat.
Plants that grow on golf courses, in city parks or even on a neighbor’s lawn can be treated with toxic pesticides that could make them unsafe.
Many edible wild plants must be carefully prepared to make them safe for eating.
Acorns discussed above are an example.
Other plants must be peeled, soaked in saltwater or boiled several times.
So before you eat a wild plant, you need to know not only that it is edible, but also what you should do to make it edible.
Deane emphasizes that even after following his “specification” process, you must first try a little bit of the wild plant if its the first time you eat it.
Even a plant that known to be safe for most people can cause allergies or food intolerance to some people.
And if you’ve never tried it before, you can’t know if you’re one of them.
Foraging experts recommend exposing yourself to only one new plant at a time.
Ideally no more than one plant per day.
So, if you have any reaction, you are sure what the cause is.
How To Check If You Allergy To Wild Plants
Start by rubbing the plant against your skin to see if it causes a rash.
If nothing happens, rub it against your lips and see if there is a reaction.
If still no reaction, you can taste a little bit.
Or just a few bites to begin with – and see if you have any adverse effects the next day.
Sometimes an allergic reaction only appears once your body has been exposed to it.
If you have eaten two or three times in a row without adverse effects, you can be sure that this edible wild plant that is safe to eat.
5.2 Foraging Ethics
When you forage, it is not only important to protect yourself against harmful plants.
But, it is also important to protect the environment in which these plants grew up.
By conducting an ethical search, everyone can forage in the same place continuously.
Here are 4 ways for ethical foraging:
5.2.1 Respect For the Law
Don’t do foraging without permission because you can be arrested for it.
Foraging is often prohibited on the state or federal property unless it is your only way to survive.
Even if it not owned by the state, also avoid the prohibited property. Normally, this type of area is to protect wild species.
So before foraging, you must learn where it is permitted or prohibited.
If in doubt, find out who the owner of the property and seek permission from them.
5.2.2 Respect For Future Visitors
Unless you forage in your backyard, the area you are on is not only for you to forage.
Other foragers may visit it in the future.
So leave nature as good or better as you would hope to find it on your next foraging trip.
Do not leave any garbage and bring a bag with you to clean up.
And make sure you throw away litter from previous visitors.
If you have to dig a hole to harvest a plant, fill it in when you’re done.
Most important thing!
Never remove entire plants – or all species of plant from an area.
Only take as much as you need, so that there is always something left for others to enjoy.
5.2.3 Respect For the Plant
Learn how to harvest sustainably, so that plant growth in an area remains healthy.
Identify which wild plants in your area are rare or endangered species.
And leave them strictly alone.
Picking plants that classified as endangered species is not only unethical but also illegal.
Try to cause as little damage as possible when you harvest a plant.
Instead of removing all the leaves from the plant, you can take one to three leaves from different plants.
To avoid damaging the plant, cut the leaves with a sharp knife or scissors instead of ripping them off.
And clean all your tools to prevent any disease from spreading.
Digging up a plant to harvest the roots usually kills it.
So don’t do it unless you’re certain there are many species of the plants in that area. And digging a few won’t kill the entire colony.
You can keep some seeds and scatter them in the area the next time you return.
This help the plant survive and remains abundant.
5.2.4 Respect For the Ecosystem
Identify the plants, herbs, shrubs, and trees in your area, and the role each of them plays in the ecosystem.
Discover which are native plants and which are invasive.
As well as which nutrients add to the soil and which deplete them.
The more you know about the role of a plant in its ecosystem, the better you can understand when is a good time to harvest it.
And, when it is best to leave it alone.
Foraging is not for everyone.
It takes time, effort and practice to learn everything you need to start foraging and harvest wild plants.
Find a local expert who can teach you.
Make sure you have access to legal places to forage – in your own country, in public areas or on private property where the owners allow it.
For some people, it is not worth it.
They think it is easier to buy fresh fruit and vegetables from the supermarket.
But for others, the excitement of eating food that you have found and collected makes all the hard work worthwhile.
Besides to the money you can save, foraging offers an opportunity to try new food.
Plus, you can experience a connection with the nature that supermarket don’t have.
Have you ever try foraging for food before? Share your experience and thoughts below.