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FORAGING 101

FIRST RULE NEVER EAT ANYTHING UNLESS YOU ARE SURE IT IS NOT POISONOUS! IDENTIFY AND TEST BEFORE EATING!



A Beginner's Guide To Foraging

Get some guidance.

Start with easy-to-identify plants.

Never eat anything you're not 100% sure about.

Don't over-forage.

Be aware of where you're foraging.

Go with the season.

Use your senses.

Get out there.


Five Basic Rules for Beginner Foragers

1) Be cautious

Make sure you can identify a plant with 100 percent certainty before touching or consuming it. Hone your skills by attending plant walks with an expert, studying basic botany, cross-referencing multiple guidebooks, or using websites like gobotany.nativeplanttrust.org. We recommend getting started with regional field guides and books by Thomas Elpel, Samuel Thayer, and Briana Wiles.


2) Understand your land

Study up on the area you plan to forage. What poisonous or endangered plants grow there, and what edibles are abundant? Avoid spots near factories, golf courses, roads, or places where water and soil could be contaminated (off-trail areas away from human activity tend to be safe).


3) Harvest responsibly

Check local land management guidelines for harvesting limits or restrictions. Only gather in areas—and amounts—that are permitted. Take only what you need, leaving enough for the wildlife and for regrowth (no more than 5 percent of one species in a given spot is a good rule of thumb). Be mindful of your impact in sensitive habitats like wetlands, tundra, or desert. Areas that are frequently disturbed (grazing fields, trailsides, and campsites) are good places for beginners to try, since the impact you’ll have is minimal compared to more sensitive habitats.


4) Feed on weeds

Seek weedy patches where edible species grow in abundance. (A weed is an unwanted plant that grows aggressively, especially in disturbed habitats.) Dandelion, nettle, and other weeds are great to eat, and you’re unlikely to deplete them by taking your fill.


5) Walk lightly

Be mindful of your impact when venturing off trail in search of plants. Travel on durable surfaces like logs and rocks and beware of trampling other flora as you go. Always practice Leave No Trace.


6) Know the poisons

As important as being able to recognize the plants you can eat is identifying the ones you can’t. Some poisonous plants only give you a rash, but others could kill you. Study up so you can recognize the traits of toxic species, especially those that look similar to edible and medicinal plants.


Foraging Tips

Your senses of smell, taste, and sight all help with identification and will become attuned with practice.

Clean your tools and clothes between harvests to avoid transplanting invasive seeds or disease to new areas.

Clip leaves and plant parts with a sharp knife to allow the plant to continue growing.

Plastic containers will suffocate your harvest and cause it to mildew. Collect plants in a breathable cotton sack, basket, or your shirt.



Easy Edibles

These plants grow in abundance across North America. In general, they are safe, plentiful, weedy, and hardy enough to survive harvest— making them great targets for beginner foragers.


WATERCRESS

Look for this spicy green in wetland areas with its fleshy stems, hairless alternating leaves, and small white to pink four-petaled flowers. Harvest the leaves and flowers from mid-spring to fall for a salad addition or cooked green.


DANDELIONS

These familiar greens grow all over, and every part of the plant is edible. Dig up the roots in loose soil and roast or sautée them, eat the leaves and flowers in salads or fry them into fritters, and make noodles from the stems.Harvest them from your backyard only if you are sure that no herbicides, pesticides, or dogs have been around the plants.Bring a small amount to a boil in a saucepan, around 1 1/2 cups, add 1 teaspoon of salt, and cook the greens uncovered for about 10 minutes. While the greens cook, heat the with olive, palm, or coconut oil in a skillet or sauté pan over medium heat. Sauté the garlic, onions, and chile pepper until the onion is translucent. Plate the greens and add shaved or grated Parmesan cheese on top.


WILD STRAWBERRIES

Find strawberries in sunny areas and forests from sea level up to 10,000 feet. Pick the fruit from mid-summer to early fall—look closely, as berries like to hide near the ground. The stems are horizontal and green to pink, and the leaves are egg-shaped with serrated edges. Look for flowers with five white to pink petals, and the unmistakable fruit. Berries can be eaten straight off the plant; collect flowers and leaves for salads and teas.


MINT

Find this cocktail or tea ingredient along riverbanks and in most soils across the country. Recognize mint by its squared stems and toothed leaves that grow across from one another. Gently pluck the leaves to harvest.


DON’T EVER GUESS ABOUT A PLANT IF YOU DON’T KNOW FOR SURE IT IS EDIBLE DO NOT EAT IT! EVER!

Eating even a tiny bite of a toxic plant can cause extreme gastrointestinal problems, or even death. The U.S. Army’s survival experts devised this test to determine a plant’s edibility. When in doubt, follow these steps before chowing down. It’s a slow process, but necessary. (Warning: This is for emergencies only. Plan A should always be to positively identify everything you eat.)


You’re going to need time to properly conduct this test—about 24 hours per part of the plant—so there needs to be enough of whatever plant you’re testing to be worth the trouble. To make sure the reactions you’re observing are from the plant you’re testing, begin by fasting for 8 hours, if you haven’t already. (Though we assume if you’re doing this test, you’re in desperate straits as it is, and probably haven’t been snacking for a while.) This test is only for plants; don’t try it with mushrooms, which can be deadly without the kind of warning that many plants provide.


Separate the plant into its various parts—roots, stems, leaves, buds, and flowers. Focus on only one piece of the plant at a time.

Smell it. A strong, unpleasant odor is a bad sign, as is a musty or rotting odor. Keep a special lookout for pear- or almond-like scents, which can be evidence of cyanide.

Test for contact poisoning by placing a piece of the plant on your inner elbow or wrist for 8 hours. If your skin burns, itches, feels numb, or breaks out in a rash, wash off your skin and don’t eat the plant.

If the plant passes the skin test, prepare a small portion the way you plan to eat it (boiling is always a good bet).

Before taking a bite, touch the plant to your lips to test for burning or itching. If there’s no reaction after 15 minutes, take a small bite, chew it, and hold it in your mouth for 15 minutes. If the plant tastes very bitter or soapy, spit it out and wash out your mouth.

If there’s no reaction in your mouth, swallow the bite and wait 8 hours. If there’s no ill effect, you can assume this part of the plant is edible. Repeat the test for other parts of the plant; some plants have both edible and inedible parts. Starting to feel sick? Time to bring it up.

A Better Idea: Know What Plants You’re Eating!


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