gerund or present participle: foraging
(of a person or animal) search widely for food or provisions.
“gulls are equipped by nature to forage for food”
For thousands and thousands of years, indigenous peoples around the world were self-sufficient in their eco-systems with a deep respect for the land – the ultimate hunters and gatherers. Being one with the environment, adapting to the harsh conditions and surviving on very little, but surviving nonetheless, was the name of the game.
Fast forward and sadly, convenience has overtaken survival. We’ve become victim to cheap, over-processed foods thanks to the accessible and commercialized tangled web of our food system. It may be quick but not simple.
We’ve become so disconnected about where our food comes from, the sacrifice and work involved and the stories behind it – I didn’t want that to ever ring true for me. My journey into wild foods, including hunting and foraging, took flight a few years ago – for me, it was a natural progression as a cook.
Foraging is an epic game of hide-and-seek; a culinary treasure hunt. Whether in an urban city landscape, playing in the tide pools or deep within the boreal forest, you don’t know what you’ll stumble across or how much you’re going to find, and that is part of the excitement. Foraging for your food is supporting local at its finest with little or no carbon footprint because these delicious edible things just happen to be there. The grocery store of the woods is always there to help us. You do, however, need to be willing to exchange a five-finger discount with your time. But always remember this:
Rule #1 is don’t die!
These are some of my tips for when you step foot in the wondrous world of wild foods:
What you need:
- Bring reusable market bags, basket or reusable container – they come in handy, even if you’re just out for a stroll.
- A utility knife (optional).
- I like to mark my location using my GPS on my iPhone when I come across an abundant species, so I can easily find a spot again.
- Gloves for harvesting things like Nettles because they are prickly bastards that will sting you (hence its full name) and cause itchiness and other irritations.
- Start with a foraging adventure in your backyard, or urban forage around your neighbourhood for easy to identify (non-toxic) things like dandelions, yarrow and clover.
- Go on a foraging walk with an experienced person, especially when you’re first getting started.
- Find a mentor who you can ask questions and verify wild foods before eating them. A lot of fungi and berries are poisonous – again, rule #1 is don’t die.
- The world of wild foods can be pretty overwhelming. Instead of trying to identify all the things, select a few things to learn. It’s amazing how quickly you pick things up and it’s only going to continue to grow because that’s what food does.
- Harvest in clean off-road areas because, well, wee and pollution. You also want to be away from areas sprayed with herbicides and pesticides.
- Dehydrate or dry everything for your pantry to relive the adventure.
- Do your homework – research is key with wild foods.
- ‘Everything in moderation’ is a good rule for wild plants, too. Food is medicine, but some wild foods have side effects if binged on.
- Harvest what you need, but leave enough behind for the other members of our eco-system – everything has a consequence.
- Some wild plants and fungi, like Labrador Tea or Chaga, are slow-growing, so you don’t want to harvest everything you find.
- Be able to spot Poison Ivy before playing in the woods. Not peeing anywhere near Poison Ivy is probably another good tip.
- Know the rules – ask permission if you’re on private property and you’re not allowed to forage in provincial parks, for example.
Knowledge and the willingness to share that is power when it comes to food. When you start foraging or growing your food, you start to see the environment as the delicious place it’s supposed to be – proving it’s not necessarily expensive to eat locally and in-season. Now, go and play.
To all of your edible adventures ahead – cheers.