Food Foraging – How to find native edible plants right in your backyard
What is food foraging? Well, it is a simple concept really. The idea of foraging for food has been around forever. It is “finding and harvesting food from the wild” and for thousands of years, people have been eating off the land to survive. If you think back to what we have learned over the years about how the Native Americans hunted and gathered their food, it is what we now describe as foraging. Food Foraging is in our blood!
Food foraging is searching for edible wild plants that can be harvested and eaten. This can include searching for mushrooms, picking everyone’s favorite – dandelion or even harvesting fallen pecans from local trees.
There are literally thousands of different types of edible things in the wild that are incredibly good for you and can even boast medicinal properties as an added bonus.
Food Foraging: How to forage for food
So, how do I get started? It is simple! The first thing you want to do is to find someone that is in your area that has experience with local wild foods that can take you food foraging. I would suggest searching for a local food foraging society or even a Facebook group on the topic.
If you cannot find someone local to your area that knows about the edible wild plants of your area – then you need to buy an edible food field guide.
Each region can vary so look for a field guy that is specific to your area, but a generic will do in a pinch! Here are the field guides that I recommend:
Foraging by region
Here are some rules that every forager should live and breathe by:
- Familiarize yourself with the weeds, herbs, bushes and trees in your neighborhood, try to learn as much as possible about the ecosystem of which you are a part.
- Learn to identify them correctly and investigate all their uses. Try to understand it as part of a larger ecosystem. With which other plants does it form communities? Is it native or invasive? Does it protect the ground or deplete it of any of its nutrients? Building this kind of holistic knowledge base will give you a much deeper insight into the nature of a plant and its role within the ecosystem.
- Learn to identify the poisonous plants you are likely to encounter. DO NOT EAT ANYTHING YOU CANNOT POSITIVELY IDENTIFY AND DEEM SAFE.
- When you think you know a plant, always cross reference to be 100 percent sure because non-edible look-alikes can fool you.
- Only pick as much as you need and never take ALL the plants of any one kind in a given patch. After harvesting an area give the plants plenty of time to recover before returning to the same patch. Be very careful when it comes to harvesting roots. Remember that often harvesting roots means the death of the plant, so before you start digging ask yourself if this plant is really plentiful and if it can sustain a harvest of its roots. If in doubt, don’t collect.
- Don’t collect from nature reserves – these are areas set up to protect wild species, so give them their space and let them be!
- Cast seeds of native species to the earth and to the winds once in a while – as a way of giving something back. Consider adopting a little patch that you are particularly fond of.
Food Foraging: Common wild edibles
Despite where you live, there are going to be some of those wild edibles that will be universal! I have organized a list of the most common edible wild plants just for you:
- Wood Sorrel
If you want more of a collective look at wild foods that you can forage – download our e-book by clicking the image below:
Food Foraging: When to harvest edible wild foods
Wild edibles should be harvested when the oils responsible for flavor and aroma are at their peak. Proper timing depends on the plant part you are harvesting and the intended use.
If you are collecting wild edible weeds for their foliage then to maximize the nutritional content, they should be harvested before they flower. After flowering they are still good for you and they still contain vitamins, minerals and nutrients, just not as plentiful. Certain wild edible greens can turn bitter after they flower.
Optimal time for collecting flowers such as chamomile should be done just before it reaches its maximum size.
Harvest roots, such as burdock, chicory or goldenseal is best in the autumn after the foliage fades.
Some general guidelines are:
- Begin harvesting when the plant has enough foliage to maintain growth.
- Harvest early in the morning, after the dew dries, but before the heat of the day.
- Harvest the wild edible before flowering, otherwise, leaf production declines.
- Most flowers have their most intense oil concentration and flavor when harvested after flower buds appear but before they open.
Food Foraging: Trying the foods you have foraged
Once you have picked your wild edibles make sure your body will not have a negative reaction to this new food:
- First, rinse or wash the parts of the plant you are using.
- Test one plant at a time – preferably only try one new plant per day.
- If you are concerned about having a reaction: Test the plant first by rubbing it on your skin. If there is no reaction, then rub part of the plant on your lips. If there is no reaction there then eat a small portion of the plant. If you experience no reaction at all, then all should be well.
Food Foraging: Getting out there
After you have purchased your field guide for foraging, the only thing left to do is to get out there. Finding edible wild plants in your area can be extremely satisfying and easier than you might think!
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