Foraging for Food for Beginners
Did you know that there’s a whole wide world of appetizing food growing right outside your door, free for the taking? And it’s not all blackberries and dandelions (though, don’t get us wrong, those are yummy, too). Indeed, some of the most expensive and sought-after foodstuffs are foraged. For example, the European white truffle — foraged exclusively with the help of highly trained truffle-sniffing dogs — sells for over $3,600 a pound! A 3.3-pound white truffle from Tuscany once sold for $330,000!
So, what we’re saying is, if you’re not already hip to the foraging game, now’s the time! Here’s a beginner’s guide on how to forage food with the best of ‘em.
What Is Foraging?
Let’s start with the basics. What is foraging, exactly? Simply put, it’s the act of finding food in the wild. Enthusiasts scour natural environments to find safe, non-poisonous edibles, such as mushrooms, berries, apples, leafy greens, root vegetables, herbs and even shellfish.
Before supermarkets, hunter-gathering cultures relied on food foraging for much of their diet. Now that we’ve got ample food sources all around us, foraging is considered more of a hobby. With that said, those learning the basics of off-grid living (read our guide on how to live off the grid for more) quickly realize how valuable wild-growing foods can be.
The foods found in many natural environments are nutritious, delicious and — importantly — free. That makes them highly desirable to all sorts of people. But the truth is that most serious foragers are in it for the thrill of the hunt. There’s nothing quite as exciting as spending all day seeking out your prized plant, only to come upon an untapped “honey hole.”
Forage with Caution
All foragers must go into every foraging endeavor armed with a couple of good field guides and a steady supply of caution in order to prevent ingesting something poisonous or otherwise dangerous. Before eating anything, triple-check to make sure it’s not poisonous with the Universal Edibility Test, which involves taking the plant apart, smelling it and contact testing it on the inner elbow.
It’s also crucial that you do everything you can to prevent damage to the natural environment where you’re foraging. Be sure to closely follow all Leave No Trace principles and, if you’re foraging on public land, all laws and regulations set forth by the park management system. Note that some parks prohibit removing any naturally growing or occurring items from the park, and foraging may be off-limits.
What You Need to Forage
One of the best things about foraging is that it’s quite a cheap hobby, and you don’t need any special tools or equipment to get started. With that said, there are some essentials you’ll need to forage like a pro.
- Foraging field guides and plant identification books. These are crucial to your safety because they help you avoid ingesting something poisonous.
- Gear to keep your foraged foods fresh and safe. A cooler backpack is clutch when foraging fruits and veggies. Mushroom hunters recommend storing their find in a soft mesh bag because it will help keep them fresh while also naturally spreading spores through the woods as you walk.
- Comfortable shoes and weather protection. Foraging often involves going deep into the woods, so a comfortable pair of boots and a packable raincoat are key.
- Glasses, a magnifying glass and binoculars. This is a game of hide-and-seek, so you want to make sure your optics are good!
- A map and compass. Again, you may find yourself wandering off trail while foraging, so make sure you have the wayfinding essentials. Download Google Maps on your phone so you have access offline. Tip: Mark your “honey holes” on the map so you can return next season.
Best Foods to Forage
The best foods to forage vary widely based on geographical location and season. Beginners will want to invest in local field guides which will outline the safest foods to forage as well as their uses and when they’re in season. With that said, here are some of the most common foods to forage.
- Chicken of the woods
- Hen of the woods
- Lion’s mane
- Wild grapes
- Autumn Olive
- Rose Hip
- Red mulberries
- Sumac berries
- Vegetables and Roots
- Ramps (wild leeks)
- Wild onion
- Wild asparagus
- Chicory root
- Dandelion root
- Miner’s lettuce
- Wood sorrel
- Stinging nettle
- Nuts and Seeds
- Black walnuts
- Pine nuts
- Dock seeds
An Endlessly Rewarding Treasure Hunt
If you live near nature, chances are you’ve got access to an untapped world of tasty ingredients growing straight from the ground. And while these foods are delicious, nutritious and free, the best part about them is that they send you on an endlessly entertaining treasure hunt that gets you outside and boosts your mood!