Foraging is a fun way to gather your own food from nature – all for free! One of the beauties of the natural world is the bounty of food just waiting to be collected and eaten. This bounty is not just for animals like deer or squirrels. Us humans can take advantage of foraging as well!
Before the advent of agriculture, humans were foraging for food as hunter-gatherers. The ancient technique of foraging hasn’t been lost though, and there are tons of people who still do it every day.
One common method of foraging is harvesting fruit from trees and shrubs in parks, or even your own neighborhood. Another is collecting herbs and wild greens from fields nearby. One of the most popular is mushroom picking which happens mostly in the fall. For many people, foraging is an annual tradition. For others, it’s an unknown possibility. Whatever your experience is, (or lack thereof), it’s always important to be smart while foraging for food. Here are some ways to be smart while foraging, and why it’s so important.
Know About the Foods You’re Collecting
This is without a doubt the most important rule of foraging. Make sure you know exactly how to identify the food you’re planning to collect, and what to look for. This rule is easier to follow if you’re in an orchard foraging for apples, or in a park collecting blackberries. It’s often hard to misidentify those.
However, there are some foods which you don’t want to mistake for their lookalikes. Edible mushrooms, for example, often look very similar to non-edible species. Some toxic mushrooms can make you incredibly sick and others can easily kill a grown human. The same goes for leafy greens. Although there aren’t as many poisonous lookalikes in this category, there are still a few, such as poison hemlock, that you don’t want to accidentally eat.
If you’re not 100% sure you have an edible mushroom, don’t eat it! For plants, try using PlantSnap to quickly identify species on the go.
Some people who have lots of foraging experience are experts at identifying mushrooms or plants. If you’re still a beginner forager, try going with a seasoned veteran and learn a thing or two about how to identify your food.
Leave Some Food for Others
Another general rule of thumb when foraging is to not exhaust all of the food in a given area, or from a single plant. In other words, don’t be greedy! Make sure you leave some goodies for the people and animals that come after you.
Along these lines, make sure you’re collecting from a public place. That is, don’t haphazardly collect apples from a tree in somebody’s yard, or steal fruit from a farm where you’re not allowed. If you do happen to see some food that’s too good to pass up in one of these places, consider just asking the homeowner or farmer if you can take a few pieces of fruit home with you.
Preserve What You Gather
Fruit like apples and berries don’t last very long once you take them off the plant. If you harvest a basket-full of blueberries, what do you do if you can’t eat them before they go bad? Here are a few ideas on what to do with your harvest!
- Make preserves, jams, or jellies. These have a long shelf life and can last for months. Many recipes online can show you how to prepare them.
- Freeze fruit and greens for smoothies.
- Share your harvest! Although you won’t be saving the food itself, you’ll certainly be preserving friendships along the way.
Don’t Eat Too Much While Foraging
It’s okay to have a little snack while you’re foraging and eat a few berries along the way. But, the main reason you don’t want to eat too much while foraging is the risk of over-harvesting. You might not realize how much food you’re taking if half of it goes directly in your mouth!
Another reason for this tip is the risk of allergies. This is especially important if you’re foraging for food you haven’t tried before. If you’re in the forest and you have an allergic reaction after eating a wild berry, it’ll be a lot harder to seek medical attention than if you wait until you’re back home.
Foragers of all levels should be keen on practicing smart foraging. These tips will maximize efficiency and minimize the potential risks that come with finding your own food in the wild, or even your backyard. Now that you know the most important ways to be smart while foraging for food, have fun and take advantage of the food around you.
The bounty of the earth is ripe for the picking!