Foraging is a fun and useful hobby to have. You get to spend time in nature, learn about how plants, and you get free food out of it too.
I have been learning about foraging for several years with my children, but I am still far from being an expert! These are just some of the main things you need to know before you set on your first foraging adventure.
Make sure you check local foraging resources before you head out and eat anything.
Know the risks
Before you begin, it’s important to know the risks of eating anything you forage. There are several species of plants that are poisonous or can cause severe illness if eaten, some in very small amounts. Some plants contain toxins that can be fatal if consumed by humans, while others may cause allergic reactions and other health issues.
While there are many edible wild foods available in all areas, you shouldn’t consume anything without being 100% what it is. Use several identification tools, pay attention to all the details, and ask for help from an expert if possible.
Know the laws of your area
One of the most important steps in becoming a forager is knowing the laws of your area. If you’re going to be harvesting plants, it’s important that you know if there are restrictions on where and how many types of plants can be harvested, and which parts you can forage. For example, some places prohibit the removal of certain species from public lands while others allow any type of gathering within their borders as long as they are not taken from protected areas.
Rules and laws vary wildly, and sometimes even neighbouring town will have different rules. If you plan on gathering wild mushrooms, it’s also worth checking if you need a permit.
Keep it clean and safe
Wash your hands before and after handling any plants, and make sure that you clean your tools with soap and water after each use. A disinfectant spray or gel can be useful to use on-the-go.
You may also want to use gloves for some plants, like nettles or brambles to avoid injuries. And a basic first aid kit is always a good addition to your foraging kit.
On top of to basic hygiene, it’s also important to keep an eye out for signs of plant illness or pests.
Be clear on the details
Know what you are looking for. Understand the details of plants: growing area, leaves, stem, flowers, companion plants, roots (if applicable), seasonal changes…
Foraging is as much about research and botany knowledge as it is about walks in the countryside collecting food. It’s important to make sure that whatever you’re planning on eating is safe, how to prepare it, and how much of it you should consume at one time to avoid any negative side effects like vomiting or diarrhoea.
Go slow and steady
When you’re foraging, it is important to be patient and take your time. Be careful, as there can be many dangers out in nature, even if your local area looks safe. Be respectful of the environment and your body so that you don’t get hurt or sick while foraging or from eating wild food.
Don’t rush the process. Developing foraging skills takes time. Every time time you go out, you’ll learn something new. I’ve been regularly foraging for over 4 years and I still consider myself a newbie.
Don’t eat everything you find
I’ve mentioned this already, but it’s worth repeating: don’t eat everything you find. If you’re not sure what it is, don’t eat it! If you’re almost sure it’s safe, don’t eat it either. Only eat those thing you can identify without any doubt whatsoever in a variety of ways (location, leaves, flowers, seeds, stem, roots, smell…).
You should also be careful about any ‘extras’ that may come with your foraged foods: small insects, moss, fungi… Some could be harmful.
And remember that for some plants only some parts are edible. And those that are, may only be safe in limited amounts or when prepared in specific ways.
Don’t forage for food if you are on medication
Foraging is a risky activity at the best of times, especially as you can never truly know how a plant has grown and what may have affected its development.
If you are taking medication it’s best to skip foraging. If you still want to get the foraging feel, but in a more controlled and safer way, you can try gardening. Everyone can grow food, even if they have no outside space.
Don’t post the location of plant resources
While we can hope that all foragers will follow responsible practices, not all will.
As we delve deeper and deeper into a time when natural resources are becoming scarcer, it is important for us to find ways of harvesting plants responsibly. The responsibility lies with each individual to take care not only of themselves but also those around them by being mindful about what they collect from nature. When you start harvesting edible plants from the wild, think about how best to preserve the natural environment so that these resources are not lost.
Make sure you harvest only what you need so that the plant can continue to grow in its environment. Try not to uproot any plants (depending where you live, this may be illegal); instead, pick leaves off of them or cut stems down at ground level. Always leave enough flowers to turn into fruit. And enough fruit that seed will come. It is also important not to disrupt the ecosystem by taking too many resources from it at once, as many of the plants we eat are also food for animals.
These rules don’t apply when it comes to invasive species. Make sure you can identify those as well, and feel free to share their location so their spread can be contained.