9 Fundamentals of Foraging for Food

The best way to learn about foraging for food is to experience it for yourself. Conside these guidelines for safety and mindfulness when out in the wild.

| March 2011

  • Photo By Olly F/Flickr

  • Photo courtesy Viking Studio, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. (c) 2010

The Wild Table: Seasonal Foraged Food and Recipes (Viking Studio, 2010) by Connie Green and Sarah Scott, features more than 40 wild mushrooms, plants, and berries. Grouped by season, the recipes provide step-by-step cooking techniques, explain how to find and prepare each ingredient, and feature several signature dishes from noted chefs.

These aren't the Ten Commandments, but they are some well-learned guidelines for safety and mindfulness in the wild:

1. Be 100 percent positive of identification. Use at least two field guides and, ideally, find the company of a knowledgeable club or person. Don't depend upon common names; they vary wildly and imaginatively from region to region. Scientific names are not as daunting as you may think.

I gather a new wild food multiple times to study it well before I am actually comfortable eating it. Don't rush into identification with wishful anticipation. Slowly, you'll get to know the plant or mushroom at different stages of its growth. Distinguishing between a cucumber and a zucchini, or a lettuce and a cabbage, is far harder than identifying the wild foods in this book, so we can all do it. It's also important to be familiar with plants like elderberries that may have delicious and poisonous parts on the same plant something they share with tomatoes and rhubarb.

2. Eat small amounts to start. Everyone seems to be allergic to something. If you haven't eaten the food, give your body a gentle introduction to it.

3. Have the right equipment, the most important of which is a good sense of direction, a compass, or a GPS, if you're going far. It's easy to become engrossed in hunting and forget your path. Rain gear, a knife, baskets, bags to separate your treasures, and good boots are all wise choices that are ultimately personal and specific to the plant or mushroom you seek. Something as simple as dry socks, a towel, or a stocked ice chest waiting at your car can be a beautiful thing.

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