It seems like everybody is headed to the back yard for salad these days! Foraging is a great skill to cultivate. Now that it’s gaining popularity, there is even more information out there about how to do it well and how to do it safely. If you’re ready to forage for dinner or for a salad to go with your tasty Wise entrée (eh-hem), here are some tips:
- Be sure you know what you’re eating. The first rule of foraging is if you don’t know what it is, don’t eat it. Veteran foragers take two bags: One for things they know they can eat and one for things they need to identify at home.
- Learn what grows where. Find out what grows wild in your area and what conditions those plants like. If you’ve got a recipe for something that doesn’t grow in your area you can waste a whole lot of time looking for it!
- Learn about plant friends. Many edible plants have non-edible friends that grow in the same conditions. Those “friends” may be easier to spot. For example, jack-in-the-pulpit often grows in the same places as morel mushrooms.
- Follow your nose. Lots of plants look alike and the only way to tell them apart is by learning to use your other senses to distinguish them. Lilly-of-the-valley is odorless but looks very much like the tasty ramp (a.k.a. wild leek). Ramps smell like garlic.
- Take a Latin lesson. You don’t have to actually take a lesson but it helps to learn the Latin names of plants instead of the common name. Reference books and websites often use the Latin names of plants in identification. Regional names can vary widely – so learn the official names of plants to stay on the safe side.
- Get permission. Most landowners won’t mind if you forage if you just ask their permission. When one forager trespasses it gives all foragers a bad name. Help protect this growing movement by being polite. Plus, landowners should be able to tell you when hunters have been given permission. It’s best to give hunting season a wide berth.
- File a forage plan. That is, let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to be back.
- Pay attention to the environment. You’ll want to avoid areas that are sprayed with chemicals or are subjected to toxic runoff. Avoid areas along busy roads. Oh, and keep an eye on weather forecasts so you don’t end up ill prepared in a storm.
- Leave some behind. Only take what you will use. Leave some for others, for animals that depend on the same plants. Also never cut a plant back so much that it can’t recover.
- Get a good resource. Invest in a reputable foraging book like The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants by Samuel Thayer.
The Kitchn recently compiled a helpful list of foraging websites and resources that cover topics from foraging in cities to the USDA Plants database.