Learning How to Forage: Connecting With Nature Through Food
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Foraging – the practice of harvesting native plants – allows you to immerse yourself into nature to explore and study the world around you with intention. This practice can help you better connect with nature, understand your interconnectedness with it and develop a greater appreciation for the land and species you share it with.
As a newcomer to the foraging world myself, I understand the excitement and curiosity that comes along with it. Although this curiosity is well intentioned and should be encouraged, I think it’s important to recognize that harvesting native plants for nourishment and medicine is rooted in indigenous knowledge. With this, I think it’s important to take a moment while you’re foraging to reflect upon the traditional lands you are foraging from, to appreciate where the food is coming from, and to acknowledge the historical context of how colonialism prohibited and even destroyed these indigenous practices.
In addition to recognizing the cultural value of foraging, keep in mind that it’s essential to understand that foraging also requires careful consideration and awareness. Ingesting certain plants – or merely touching them – can be toxic or even deadly. Therefore, it’s critical to take foraging seriously and approach it with caution. To ensure a fulfilling and safe experience, I have compiled a variety of tools, tips and resources that I’ve found to be tremendously helpful and insightful for those eager to harvest and cook with foraged foods.
Grab a book and pocket guide
Books and pocket guides for edible and medicinal plants can be found in various outdoor stores, bookstores, online… you name it. Grab one specialized for your region to get the most useful information.
Books are best for in-depth information, but having a pocket guide is handy to pack along on outdoor adventures.
Do your prep and cooking research
It’s super important to do research before munching on anything we find in the wild. Sure, some things may be labeled as “edible,” but there are often specific ways to make it more palatable or even safe to eat.
Only harvest what you can confidently identify
Some edible plants have nearly identical looking but poisonous cousins, so you need to be certain you’ve identified it correctly. When in doubt, give them some extra space and let them be.
Leave some of what you find behind
It’s always an exhilarating feeling to discover a bountiful spot of gather-able goodies. But hey, let’s not forget that sharing is caring! Making sure that we only take what we need and leaving behind some tasty treats is not only kind to our fellow foragers and wild forest friends but also helps maintain the natural balance of the ecosystem.
Steer clear from plants in industrial, polluted, sprayed or roadside environments
It can be sooo tempting to just pick any ol’ plant you see, but you gotta be mindful of where they’re growing. A lot of plants growing in industrial areas have been exposed to polluted air, soil, and water, which can be harmful to our health. Also, plants growing by the roadside may have absorbed hazardous substances from cars. And let’s not forget sprayed fields – you don’t want to ingest insecticides or herbicides. So let’s get creative with our foraging game and find some hidden gems in safe spots.
Check harvesting regulations
Although this is a controversial topic, foraging isn’t legal everywhere (like in National Parks, for example). Regardless where you stand on this, it’s the current reality, so it’s wise to be aware of these regulations before you go.
Take a class
Taking a class is the best way to learn hands on! Take some time to look up foraging based classes and tours in your local area. From foraging hikes and walks, to cooking classes, to medicinal tours – there’s something for anyone looking to dip their toes into the world of foraging.
Support your learning with an app
Being able to identify plants is a key step towards becoming a knowledgeable forager! There’s some great apps out there that are fantastic tool to support your learning. These 3 apps are my go-to’s:
This app is fantastic for those with some plant knowledge in their backpocket. Although it does provide some identification guidance, the primary purpose is to share your findings for others to discover on an interactive map. Likewise, you can see what others share as well! Great for building and sharing knowledge, and discovering the environment around you. You can even search a plant species and discover locations other users have found them. You can use this app without wifi or cell service, so it's equally a great tool for remote locations.
Whether wild or domestic, this app helps identify plants by simply taking a picture. This one is extra useful for those looking to grow a garden as it provides care guides and can even identify diseases in plants. Just a heads up though, you'll need internet connection to use it. But no worries, you can capture the plant when you're offline and just upload it later if you're using it out on a trail.
Soooo, you wanna go mushroom hunting? Well, well, well, you gotta have some serious know-how! This app is like having a cool mushroom expert in your pocket! But keep in mind, it's just the beginning of your mushroom knowledge journey. This app stands out from others because it’s interactive in teaching you key characteristics of mushrooms you find. The in-depth info about each fungi is also impressive for a free app.
Follow fellow foragers
There’s tons of knowledgeable content creators out there dedicated to foraging. The following are ones I like to tune into – but make sure to find one that focuses on your climate region.
Join a local foraging group
Check out foraging groups! They can be found on bulletin boards, Facebook, or just by searching online. Being part of a foraging group is an amazing opportunity to connect with others who share your passion and get all your questions answered. Plus, it’s always more fun to forage with a friend!
So what are you waiting for? There are ample ways to expand your knowledge and increase your confidence in the world of foraging. With these tools you can not only become a plant identification and cooking whiz, but can establish a deeper connection with nature by gaining a stronger appreciation of the food you forage and where it comes from.
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