A Quick Start Guide to Foraging
Foraging is the art of finding and collecting wild plants for food or medicinal purposes. It can be a very rewarding way to spend an hour in the woods, not only are you getting fresh air but you’re immersed in the flora around you and touching the roots of our food history. If you’ve never foraged before I’d like to offer a quick start guide to get you out and looking for edible or medicinal plants in the forests and fields around you.
Quick Start Guide to Foraging
By Contributor Laura Sampson from Little House Big Alaska
- Begin by investing in a book for your geographical area. For me, in Alaska, I have two I depend on, The Boreal Herbal and Discovering Wild Plants. I’ve read them both cover to cover and take them when I go foraging. Ask around, find an independent bookstore or the local public library, both will know which books you are specifically looking for.
- Find a mentor. This may be easier said than done, but when asking in your local library or bookstore find out if there are going to be talks or lectures or even groups that meet up who might have an idea of who could teach you about the edibles in your area. Another thought would be to contact the Cooperative Extension service for your area, most of them work hand in hand with master gardeners and state biologists in the area.
- Begin by identifying plants right in your yard. Some good beginner plants might be dandelions, chickweed or pigweed.Then move on to your shrubs or trees for identification. I wouldn’t be worried about eating anything right off the bat, for now, you’re learning leaf and stem shape, growing habits and positive identification.
- When you’re ready to pick, try to go with your mentor or join a group who is going on a dedicated foraging trip. Or at least pick plants who have no dangerous qualities like a mess of dandelion greens.
- Be mindful of the quantities you pick, please don’t over pick a patch of anything, when you overharvest you don’t leave enough for the plant to regrow from. There may not be any for you next year or the other animals that depend on that wild plant for food.
- Never harvest more than you can use, eat or put up. What a terrible waste of time and plant energy.
- Expand your repertoire slowly, building on experience, successes and book work.
- Always eat a small amount of foraged foods to start with just to make sure you’re not allergic. Then try a bigger amount next time until you know you can safely eat your foraged foods.
- Always pick in a healthy ecosystem, don’t pick weeds where the dog goes to the bathroom, likewise don’t harvest plants next to a busy highway.
If you’re new to foraging sometimes the whole thought of it can be overwhelming but I think I’ve given you some solid, easy basics to work with here. I can’t stress enough the importance of finding a mentor or a group to work with when getting started with foraging. Their knowledge is deeper and more intimate that any book can give you.
Laura Sampson, a lifelong Alaskan, is the writer of Little House Big Alaska, an Alaska lifestyle blog. She’s a mom to three boys and attributes every gray hair and wrinkle to them. Laura shares her farmhouse with her husband, 2 dogs and 2 cats, the obligatory flock of chickens inhabit their own coop out back. She’s been blogging for 9 years and enjoys living the writer and social media influencer’s life.
I’m so glad Laura put so much emphasis on finding a mentor to guide you through the initial foraging experience. So many people have become so disconnected from nature that it’s really difficult and dangerous when they first start foraging in the “wild”. But oh man, it’s so rewarding especially if you jot down all the things you learn and keep some kind of sketch book.