Two years ago, The Optimist Daily published a small piece on the advantages of foraging. This means walking past the grocery store to the park or a riparian area to search for, identify, and collect your own food resources. The practice has become more popular in recent years, especially during the pandemic. Foraging brings new biodiversity into your diet and even augments your current meals to make them even more delicious.
It may seem a little wild at first glance, and you may be wondering about safety. There are factors, like what you gather and where you gather from, to take into consideration. So, to that effect, if you are interested in taking up foraging, here are a few tips and a list of items you can pick up shopping in nature.
Safety in knowledge
Keep in mind that foraging is itself affecting the environment. It is a good idea never to harvest resources that are scarce and only to take what can be given. Please consult this guide to best foraging practices.
Learn ahead of time. It’s important to research edible, naturally growing plants in your area. You might pay particular attention to lookalike plants before you pick them up. Join a local club and benefit from others’ experiences. Keep in mind to avoid places where dogs go to the bathroom, publicly maintained areas that might use pesticides, and commonly traveled areas like hiking trails or roadways. Check out The Forager Handbook by Miles Irving or Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons to get started.
Your free greens
Wild garlic: also known as ramsons, grows fairly abundantly in March depending on where you live.
Dandelions: an invasive species to the US which is ecologically good to pick and whose young leaves go well in stir fry and teas.
Wild spinach: also known as “lamb’s quarters,” this is found in all 50 US states and can easily replace store-bought spinach in late spring.
Chickweed: best in spring, everything but the root is edible and can be used to dress salads, sandwiches, and soups.
Plantain weed: fairly common, the leaves of this unique plant are slightly bitter but offer anti-inflammatory and antibacterial benefits.
Amaranth: also called pigweed, can be used to make flour and the leaves are very nutritious.
Nettles: make sure to pick these with gloves as they’re also called “stinging nettles,” then sauté them, and put them in pasta or rice.
Eating the wrong mushrooms could make you sick, so be sure to keep in mind the varieties that grow depending on your region and do your research. Use local knowledge, join a group, or use apps like iNaturalist to benefit from locally crowdsourced information. Also, to be on the safe side, try cooking your mushrooms and throwing them in another dish instead of eating them raw.
Boletes: identified by its spongey, gill-less undersides, pretty common and tasty, but ignore them if they have any red on them.
Maitake: also called “chicken of the woods,” these have a yellow-orange hue, grow on wood, and have a meaty texture.
Morels: a prized find, identifiable by their wrinkly skin and conical shape, found in woodland edges, and can cost a lot in the grocery store.
Nuts and berries
Many nuts and berries you’d recognize in the wild if you saw them but do your research and keep lookalikes in mind. There are some you might not recognize at first glance though.