The Foraging State of Mind
Humans have been foraging food, well, FOREVER! Recently, while industrial agriculture has dominated the food scene, many folks have been foraging their local, seasonal foods. If you grew up on or near a farm, or spent time with people who grow their own food, you’ve probably heard of people foraging for some kind of food, whether herbs, leaves, roots or fungi.
When I was a baby, my mother and grandparents would carry me into the woods in Germany, “pilze sammeln” (to pick mushrooms). They collected mushrooms in a basket, to bring home and cook in sauces and all sorts of dishes. Pickled mushrooms are one of my favorites! Some of the most experienced foragers tend to keep their spots a secret, as to be able to find enough food year after year and to ensure nothing is over harvested.
As humanity becomes more conscious of what factory farming and industrial agricultural production does to us and our environment, sustainable agriculture and healthier alternatives to the meat industry are becoming more and more popular. Organic and “do nothing” farming approaches have proven much better practices for humanity to have a more symbiotic relationship with the Earth.
From growing microgreens, algae and fungi using sustainable techniques, and by using practices like aquaponics, we can provide enough nutrients for our families without causing unnecessary damage to our environment and our future. Combine this with collecting the food and medicine that grows naturally around us and we are set for life! Of course, to make these practices the norm, we need to educate ourselves and others on the best practices, and honor the reasons to choose them over cruelty.
- Identification. Start by looking up one or two plants that are easily identifiable and local. Different places will have different kinds of food to find!
- Science. Come at this with a scientific approach, when you spot your plants in the wild, look at the environment and plants growing around it. This will get you acquainted with the environment and what to look for to find the forageable plants again.
- Distance. Pick a more remote location to forage, one untouched by chemicals and pollutants. These tend to be off trail and farther from urban areas. A clean water source nearby is a great indicator.
- Don’t rely solely on books. They won’t usually contain everything you can find in your area. Preferably find a local who spends a lot of their time in nature to pick their brains!
- Follow the seasons. Remember that you can find different things to forage throughout the year, different delicacies can be found depending on the season.
- Some things you find will pack a huge punch, like wild ginger. Instead, try drying these to use small amounts in your cooking.
- Make sure you know what you're eating. Ripeness is important because some foods can be dangerous or just taste terrible if they are not ripe or overripe. Also especially with mushrooms, be sure to be aware of the edible varieties' poisonous counterparts.
- Only take what you need. Please never over-harvest, always leave more than you take. Plants rely on their root systems to self propagate as mushrooms rely on their mycelium.
- Storage. If you use a breathable sack while foraging for mushrooms, they will be able to release their spores along your walk! And they keep fresh longer that way, versus in something airtight.
- Always cross-reference and use many resources to learn about plants and fungi. Some apps are great, still better to be sure and get multiple expert opinions.
- Buddy system! A safe practice whenever walking through nature is to take a friend and wear bright colors! Something reflective could save your life from hunting accidents.
- M O I S T. Ask any seasoned forager and they’ll tell you to wait for a rainy day and plan to forage right after! The best finds, especially in the mushroom kingdom, can only be found in moist environments.
- Be gentle. Try not to remove the roots when you forage and bring a nice sharp knife to make a clean cut, close to the earth.
- HAVE FUN! Foraging is a whole new world! You will feel more connected to your health and your environment after you become more acquainted, and the flavors will be unparalleled to what you can find at the grocery store.