Foraging is a great way to keep in touch with nature, clear the mind, get some exercise, and eat some interesting new foods while you're at it...FOR FREE!!!
As an avid forager with about 2 years experience, I can say that there aren’t many things more exciting than identifying your first wild edible. After you’ve identified it once, you’ll start to notice it all around you, by the sides of roads, in your lawn or backyard, or while you’re taking a walk with your dog around the neighborhood. You’ll wonder how you never realized that there was this beautiful food supply growing on it’s own without you even having to care for it! You’ll never look at the nature around you the same again :)
It can be a scary thing for some people to start eating these wild and scary new foods, but all you have to know is how and how to get started. Here's a guide I put together from my own experiences from foraging for the past 2-3 years.
Please understand that this is only a simply put together recollection of tips and resources, I do not actually introduce any edibles in this instructable, keep your eyes peeled for future ones if that's what you're looking for!!
Step 1: Safety Disclaimer (READ)
Let me start by stating that I do not claim responsibility for and that you should absolutely be 100% certain that a plant is edible before consuming it (and make sure you are not allergic!)
This instructable is meant as a guideline only--don't trust my word without proper verification and your own judgement. Remember that the images on the internet are not 100% clear, and color variances occur from monitor to monitor can affect identification!
Also remember, there is no guarantee that you as an individual isn't allergic. Always sample a small amount of any new food to make sure you aren't allergic. Finally, make sure you are harvesting from non-polluted sources, away from roads, and where no pesticides or other contaminants may have been used.
IF YOU HAVE ANY DOUBTS DO NOT CONSUME THE PLANT
Step 2: Foraging Basics
Get yourself educated on wild edibles in your area by:
Having a field guide: I recommend “A field guide to edible wild plants of Eastern and Central North America” by Lee Peterson, or “Idiot’s Guides: Foraging”. This can provide background information on wild edible plants and also show you pictures of the plants.
Contacting: a local botanist, forager, nature expert, etc. near you
Probably the most important thing to know about foraging is if a plant you are interested in has poisonous look-alikes, or a plant that looks similar but isn't edible or can harm you if you touch or eat it. Please take care to look into this when you start foraging.
Step 3: What You Need to Find Out
Location (Where)- What part of world does a specific plant grow, where does it originate? Does it grow in your region? Then if it does, what part of your region does that plant like to grow? Find out if it likes to grow near water or if it likes the shade, and where you can start looking for that plant near your area or neighborhood.
Season(When)- What season and weather does the plant start growing? If it grows berries or fruit it might be a summer season plant, and if it's new growth that you're looking to harvest you might want to look in the fall or winter.
Dangerous Look-alikes- There are so many species of plants that there are bound to be ones that look similar to each other. Even if two plants look similar their chemical makeup is much different, which can lead to mis-identification and possibly consuming a poisonous or harmful plant. Make sure you triple check a plant before you eat it. One good example is the chickweed, which has poisonous lookalikes. But when I want to check if a plant is chickweed, I make sure the flowers are white, there is a trail of hair on the stem, and when I break open the stem lightly, there is an elastic membrane inside. If the plant I have in my hand does not fit this description, I know that it is not Chickweed and that I shouldn't eat it.
How to use the plant- Now that you have the plant and you have harvested the right parts to consume, what can you do with it? Search for recipes to use that plant in and medicinal benefits you can reap from consuming it. For example, chickweed is a good salve for the skin and healing cuts and scrapes. To use it in recipes, I use it as a green vegetable in green smoothies and in pesto. The Three Foragers is a great resource for creative and appetizing recipes. Other blogs on the internet are also good resources for ways to use plants you harvest. Did you know roots of the Sassafras and the burdock plat make a good root beer? Be creative and use your imagination, the possibilities are endless!
Step 4: "Rules" for Sustainable Foraging
Then, when you are standing in front of a plant you have just POSITIVELY identified as edible, there are a number of ethical things you should consider/practice.
1. Don’t over pick: You need to leave some to re-populate that area so you can come back again, and leave some for other organisms coexisting in the same ecosystem. Also harvest more of the invasive species and less of the scarcer species.
2. Be sparing: If you haven’t tried an edible food yet, you don’t even know if you’ll like that taste of it! Don’t be greedy, for the reasons listed in #1 and because if you don’t like the taste, why waste it by picking it? Only forage what you need, and use everything you bring home.
3. Use manners: Treat the plant like you are receiving a gift from it; in fact, you are. Be nice to it, don’t go crazy and pluck the whole plant out of the ground just for a couple leaves, buds, or berries, and use common sense so you don’t injure or harm the plant.
Step 5: What to Bring
Ok, here are some things that you might want to bring with you before heading out into the beautiful outdoors:
• Bug spray
• Long pants (for those prickly plants or poisonous neighboring plants)
• Gardening gloves for thorny or prickly plants
• A Container to store and collect with (I use old takeout containers, baskets, or bags)
• Your trusty field guide
• A GPS or a phone for Maps
•`Scissors or a hunting knife
• And anything else you might need depending on your personal preference, your climate, and the weather!
Have fun and get out there