Most of the developed world is lucky to have access to an abundance of ready-to-eat food. Gone are the hunter-gatherer days when human beings trekked into nature to find things to fill their plates. The convenience is not without its detriments, though. Studies estimate that around one-third of produced food is wasted every year, a disheartening fact considering food insecurity is a huge concern for people all around the world.
Another drawback is not knowing where the food in the store comes from, how long it's been sitting there, what it's been preserved with, and whether the workers who harvested it are treated well and compensated fairly. There's a lot of unanswered questions, and considering the possible answers can make anyone feel uneasy.
More people are showing interest in going back to our roots. Farmers' markets attract eaters on the hunt for fresh, locally-grown grub. Even more rewarding is the prospect of getting into nature to find the plants the earth provides humanity with at no cost other than their time. Anyone interested in foraging needs to make sure they've got the basics down, and this list of tips is the perfect place to start.
10 Do Your Research
Anyone looking to start a new hobby has the internet at their fingertips to get them started on their journey. Reddit forums are a great way to connect with people who have shared interests. Building relationships with fellow foragers can help beginners learn about the best places, times, and things to search for in a particular area.
It's also important to seek out the knowledge of experts by choosing well-researched books. Mark Vorderbruggen's Idiot's Guide to Foraging is a perfect choice for beginners. After building a solid foundation, foragers can seek out books and field guides focused on the areas and edibles they're most interested in.
9 Get Permission
Although it might feel like what grows from the earth belongs to everyone, there's still such a thing as property laws and ordinances. Before foraging, it's vital that people know the rules of the area and are granted permission to take things from it. For instance, it is always illegal to take items from protected lands and national parks.
Check websites of state parks and nature preserves before venturing out, and always ask permission before foraging on private property. Oftentimes, landowners are happy to accommodate - they just appreciate the heads up.
8 Start Small
It's only natural to want to be the best at everything we try, but seeking out the rarest edibles right at the start can leave beginners feeling discouraged. After all, no one wants a brand new medical student performing neurosurgery before they've given their first set of stitches.
Starting with easily identifiable plants ensures a bountiful harvest and safety. There are so many species of edible plants out there with poisonous lookalikes. It takes an experienced eye to discern the difference. Ideal beginner plants include things like dandelions, whose greens often grace the dishes of high-end restaurants, wild violets, clover, ramps, and garlic mustard.
7 Find A Partner
They say that two sets of eyes are better than one, and that's certainly true in the case of foraging. Not only does having a partner increase a forager's chances of leaving with a nice harvest, but it also increases safety. Foraging adventures often lead off-trail, where hunters will have to contend with more difficult terrain and dangers like ticks and poison ivy. Plus, it's always nice to have a friend to chat the day away with, especially one who shares a common interest.
6 Sharpen Your Senses
Seeing is not always believing. A good forager utilizes all their senses to ensure what they're finding is safe to consume. After correctly identifying a plant, foragers should examine it very closely. Does it look fresh? Does it smell right? Does the surrounding vegetation look healthy? How does it feel? Are there things moving in it, on it, near it? These are all important questions to ask and answer before consuming things found in the wild.
5 Confirm, Confirm, Confirm
Even if a beginner thinks they've correctly identified an item, tossed it in their foraging basket, and brought it home, it's essential to make absolutely certain they've gotten it right. This is where those online forums come in handy. Take pictures and share them with the group to get a second, third, and fourth opinion. As mentioned above, there are so many edible plants with poisonous lookalikes. While many won't end a person's life, consumption can lead to extreme gastric upset, and nobody wants that.
4 Keep A Journal
As a beginner forager gets the hang of things, they're going to pick up lots of knowledge in a short amount of time. With so much new information coming in, it can be difficult to retain it all. Both beginners and seasoned foragers often keep journals that track what plants they found, when and where they found them, and what they used them for.
There are several foraging-specific journals on the market, but a simple notebook will do just fine. Foragers can sketch their discoveries, take pictures and attach them to the pages, and write down the specifics of the location in case they want to come back for more. The journals are also a great way to track progress and give foragers fond memories to look back on.
3 Tread Lightly
Always respect the land. As mentioned above, foraging typically involves moving off the beaten path and deeper into nature. Watch out for the small living things that make their way across the forest floor. Avoid uprooting plants to ensure they have the chance to grow again and again. When taking from nature, foragers need to do their best to leave no trace and do no harm.
2 Identify The Water Source
There are tons of edible plants that make their homes near lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams. Lotus, watercress, and water spinach are all rich in vitamins and tasty when prepared correctly. However, it's important to keep in mind that what lives in the water lives in the food. If a water source looks like it's been compromised by toxins, it's best to leave the plants behind. On the same note, know when an area has been sprayed with dangerous pesticides. And, of course, foragers should always wash their finds before eating them to avoid consuming things like animal feces and bugs.
1 Avoid Overharvesting
Last, but certainly not least - only take what you need. One of the joys of foraging is knowing that one is doing their part to fight against the rampant food waste that permeates developed nations. There is no point in harvesting an abundance that's going to rot away on the kitchen counter, and it's thoughtless to leave nothing behind for fellow foragers. Only taking what is needed ensures the edibles continue to thrive and provide for as many living creatures as possible.