Foraging has been around since the existence of humankind. What began as a universal necessity later became an indicator of socioeconomic status, as those with fewer financial resources resorted to foraging to put food on the table.
The way we obtain food nowadays is very different. In industrialized countries like the United States, most people get their food from grocery stores or food delivery services.
Over the last decade, interest in foraging has grown as people seek new, nutritious, and flavorful ingredients, as sustainability advocates explore ways of breaking their dependence on industrial agriculture, and as Indigenous communities and other groups work to revive traditional practices.
• “To wander in search of food or provisions.”
• “To search for a particular food or foods, often in the wild.”
Foraging can be done during any season, but you will find different plants/herbs to harvest during the different seasons. It can be a rewarding practice and can be done almost anywhere, including urban areas. *
*Note that in urban areas, there could be a higher risk for pollutants and contaminants, so be cautious when foraging in those areas, ensuring that the items are well washed before consuming.
My favorite time to forage will always be during the summer. The weather makes it more enjoyable to be out in the elements looking for the plants and herbs.
I was able to get my first experience of true foraging a few years ago during the Kid’s Lakota Summer camps I participated in as a mentor, in South Dakota. Strawberries, blackberries, wild peas, sage, mint, chokecherries, and turnip (Thíŋpsiŋla in Lakota) were just some of the many abundant plants we were able to locate and harvest.
If you are new to foraging and want to explore it, here are some tips to help you get started below:
Learn to accurately identify your plants/herbs and wild mushrooms. Never rely on one single characteristic like bloom or leaf for identification. Use three or more points of ID. Consider color, leaf, bloom, stem, fruit, bark/branches, fragrance, location, life cycle of the plant, soil conditions, and/or spore print (for mushrooms).
Think about potential contaminants:
Don’t eat anything that may have been treated or from near sources of pollution. Try to find foods as far from human activity as possible when out and about in the countryside or the wilds. Washing foods can help reduce pollutants.
If you are allowed to forage, never take more than you need. Wherever possible, leave root systems in place, taking only small, sustainable amounts so the plants can continue to grow and wildlife can still have sufficient amounts for that season. Try to only forage from abundant wild food sources.
Tools to help Forage
- Gloves: These help with prickly plants like stinging nettle, rosebushes, and wild berry bushes. Gloves also prevent you from any allergic reaction in the chance you touch something poisonous or something you may not know you are allergic to.
- Clippers/Pruners: Having a hand tool like this one can help save a lot of time from hand picking certain items and can even allow you to collect things in bunches rather than one at a time.
- A Digging Trowel: A portable digging towel or shovel is also good to have if you’ll be harvesting mushrooms or plants from the ground, helping you loosen the roots of foraged finds.
- Basket(s)/Bag(s): Having a designated basket or bag to keep your harvested items in allows you to get more than what you would be able to collect if you didn’t have anything on you. Or it would save time from you going back and forth to your car or whatever way of transportation you took to get to that location.
- Plant Identification App: There are many apps out there nowadays that can help you identify plants if you are uncertain about them. While this can be a helpful tool, it should NOT be something you solely rely on due to possibilities of it being inaccurate. This is especially true when there are safe plants that look very similar to ones that are toxic/poisonous.