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Foraging for Edible Plants

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on November 02, 2022

Foraging is becoming more widely practiced around the United States. There are many benefits to foraging for wild-edible food outdoors. Not only are you spending more time outside, but the act alone is a good way to be more physically active. Foraging can also help you feel more at peace and connected to your soul. 

What Does Foraging for Food Mean? 

Foraging for food is collecting resources out in the wild to eat. This may mean you’re gathering berries, nuts, herbs, mushrooms, and other edible resources to eat later. Humans have a long history of gathering edible plants. Animals can also be gatherers or foragers. 

Black bears, rabbits, horses, and other animals all forage for their food. They each have different methods of getting their food in the wild. Being able to forage well can mean life or death for animals and some humans. 

Foraging still has a place in today’s society. It can be a cost-friendly way to gather ingredients for dinner. Or it can be a calming activity with other benefits. 

Getting started may seem challenging, but if you’re curious about how to start, look at your surroundings. Paying attention to your environment and building that relationship with the outdoors is a great way to start. 

If you have a favorite vegetable, see if it grows locally. This can be a great way to get into foraging. Start learning about this vegetable and discover where and how to find it. 

Once you’re interested in foraging, look for others around you who are already well-versed in the activity. They can start you down a path to ensuring you’re respecting your environment and staying safe.

How to Know if a Plant Is Edible

Knowing your foraging nutrition and plant edibility is important. Eating a poisonous plant can have harmful side effects. 

Foraging nutrition will depend on what you’re looking for. Morel mushrooms are a good source of iron and vitamin D. Leeks and fiddleheads are high in Vitamin A. These are a few examples of wild-grown plants that are very nutritious. Because of their exposure to the sun and other nutrients, wild foods tend to be healthier.

Another important thing to note is that only some plant parts are safe to eat. In most cases, only a certain part of the plant is edible. Make sure you know which parts are safe to eat and which to avoid.

For example, if a flower is edible, it may only be the petals. You might have to remove the stamens and pistils. Another example is rhubarb. You can eat the stalk, but avoid the toxins in the green leaves, roots, and flowers. 

Handbooks like the AMA Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants are great to have on you as you forage. If you’re ever unsure if a plant is edible, it’s best to be cautious and avoid that plant. Some plants can look similar, and while you may think you’re eating one thing, it could be a harmful look-alike. 

Another thing to watch out for when foraging for edible plants is pesticides. These pesticides can be on the surface of plants or absorbed into the root of the plants and can’t be washed off. If you’re creating an edible landscape, make sure you’re mindful of the fertilizers and pesticides you use in your backyard.

Foraging for Edible Plants

Foraging is all about finding edible plants that are in season. In the summertime, you may find blueberries and blackberries. In the fall, you may find cranberries or amaranth. Keep an eye on what’s in season in your local area and go out hunting for it. This is much cheaper than buying out-of-season fruits and vegetables that have been shipped from far away. 

You can forage on state land, in state parks, in national forests, or on private property with approval from the landowner. Make sure to only take what you need. Overharvesting can cause sustainability problems. Leaving enough edible plants behind for others is beneficial for future growth. 

Before you go foraging:

  1. Make sure you’re familiar with your surroundings so you don’t get lost.
  2. Make sure you have the right materials to identify edible plants.
  3. Always be aware of your surroundings. You’re likely not the only forager — depending on where you’re foraging, you may have some company, like bears or other animals.

Always remember to leave no trace. The special part of foraging and spending time outdoors is the chance to enjoy your surroundings. Respecting the land is important to give back what you’re taking. 

Foraged edible plants are great for adding flavor and color to your meals. An edible landscape is something you can create or find. You can forage outside in the wild or in your backyard. You can easily grow edible plants in garden beds or containers in your backyard.

Creating an Edible Landscape 

You can create an edible landscape in your backyard. What you can grow depends on your location. To create an edible landscape, you’ll need to plan out which plants you want to grow. That may include herbs, edible flowers, vegetables, and more. 

Map out your environment and make sure your plants get the amounts of sun and shade they need. Space them out to give them space to grow. Visualize what edible plants you want to add to your diet and start trying to grow them. 

If you plan to use edible ornamental plants, you’ll need a different area for them to grow. They have different requirements from other edible plants.

However you decide to start, it’s helpful to start small. You can grow your garden over time once you get used to harvesting your crop. You may also find that you do or don’t enjoy a certain edible plant and want to try new things. Keep an open mind and have fun with the process.

Other Foraging Tips

At the beginning of your foraging journey, it’s helpful to connect with local foragers who are skilled and knowledgeable about the area. Foraging is often an activity that people pass down through generations. 

Start slow and small when adding edible flowers to your diet. Be sure to taste the flowers before adding them to your meal. You don’t want to overwhelm the meal with the different flavors. Sweet or floral-scented flowers might be good for desserts, and onion-flavored chive blossoms might be better for salads. 

Bring tools when foraging. Depending on the type of plants you’re foraging, you may need the following: 

  • Cutting tools like shears, scissors, or a knife
  • Bags or buckets to carry your harvest in
  • Hiking gear like boots, water, bug repellent, and a map

Learning how to forage and preparing yourself for the experience can set you up for success when looking for edible plants.

Show Sources

SOURCES:
Grand Valley State University: “Why is Foraging Important?”
Illinois Extension: “Creating an Edible Landscape.”
Michigan State University: “Foraging for free food.”
NC Cooperative Extension: “Edible Landscaping.”
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources: “Find Your Food.”

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