A Crash Course to Foraging Like A Pro

Wild edibles exist almost everywhere in abundance

Edible wild food has existed in almost every corner of our planet for tens of thousands of years. Edible weeds, flowers and wild herbs were foraged and used as food and medication. They provided vitamins, minerals and other nutrients required for the human body to maintain good health. Foraging for food used to be the way to survive.

Edible weeds may be in your backyard, on the pathways you walk, or in fields you see every day. Many of these plants can be foraged and added to your daily diet to increase your nutritional intake.

There’s a plethora of wild herbs, weeds, flowers, shrubs, trees and vines all safe to eat so long as you identify them properly and know what part of the plant is usable!

Safety tips when foraging for wild edibles

  • DO NOT EAT ANYTHING YOU CANNOT POSITIVELY IDENTIFY AND DEEM SAFE. Learn to identify the poisonous plants you are likely to encounter.
  • Familiarize yourself with the weeds, herbs, bushes and trees in your neighborhood, try to learn as much as possible about the ecosystem of which you are a part.
  • When you think you know a plant, always cross reference to be 100 percent sure because non-edible look-alikes can fool you.
  • However tempting it may look, never pick in places that are subject to pollution, roadsides, industry or heavy spraying of farm chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers).
  • Don’t collect from nature reserves - these are areas set up to protect wild species, so give them their space and let them be!

Once you have collected your wild edibles make sure your body will not reject this new food:

  • Wash the parts of the plant being used.
  • Test one plant at a time – preferably one new plant per day.
  • Test the plant first by rubbing it on your skin. If there is no reaction, then rub part of the plant on your lips. If there is no reaction there then eat a small portion of the plant. If you experience no reaction at all, then all should be well.

Basic plant harvesting guidelines

Overharvesting, largely due to commercial collection of medicinal plants, has brought many once plentiful plant species to the brink of extinction. As foragers we should adopt an attitude of green guardianship for our planet.

  • When you are out and about, never leave any litter behind.
  • Only pick as much as you need.
  • Never take all the plants of any one given kind in a patch - a general rule of thumb is to harvest 1/4 of the given plant.
  • After harvesting an area give the plants plenty of time to recover before returning to the same patch.
  • It is illegal to pick endangered plant species. Instead of taking rare plants, consider sowing their seeds in the wild.
  • Harvesting when the plant has enough foliage to maintain growth.
  • Harvest roots, such as burdock, chicory or goldenseal is best to do in the autumn after the foliage fades.
  • If in doubt, don’t collect.
  • Harvest early in the morning, after the dew dries, but before the heat of the day.
  • Be very careful when harvesting roots - harvesting roots means the death of the plant. Before you start digging ask yourself if this plant is really plentiful and if it can sustain a harvest of its roots.
  • Harvest the wild edible before flowering, otherwise, leaf production declines.
  • Most flowers have their most intense oil concentration and flavour when harvested after flower buds appear but before they open.
  • Optimal time for collecting flowers should be done just before it reaches its maximum size.

As you become more experienced in plant identification, learn to investigate all their uses. Each plant is part of a larger ecosystem:

  • Which other plants does it grow with?
  • Is it native or invasive?
  • Does it protect the ground or deplete it of any of its nutrients?

Building this kind of holistic knowledge base will give you a much deeper insight into the nature of a plant and its role within the ecosystem.

A blurb on herbal medicine

Herbal medicine is a system of healing that uses medicinal plants and natural protocols to prevent or treat disease, and to maintain optimal health andone’s well-being.

Herbalists practice with a holistic philosophy of healing: the whole person and their life experience is considered in planning a treatment protocol. Similar symptoms may have many different causes, and each person is unique. A registered herbalist is trained to assess the multiple facets of a condition and underlying causes, and to craft appropriate botanical formulas to meet the individual’s need.

Herbal medicine is a safe and effective healing modality for everyone. People of all ages, from infants to the very elderly, can benefit from herbs. Those already receiving medical care may be further helped, and are given treatments which do not adversely interact with their medication.

Every culture of every era has, until recently, depended on plants for healing. Even today, herbal medicine is the primary healing modality for much of the world’s population.

People have always co-existed with the plant kingdom. Our bodies have evolved the ability to extract and use the healing properties of plants, and have mechanisms for eliminating many potentially harmful substances. The safety of herbs has been demonstrated throughout history and by the wide availability of herbal products in recent years. Despite the fact that most people self-medicate with herbs, significant negative reactions are rare.

A registered herbalist’s knowledge of their medicine comes from empirical wisdom gathered over centuries of practice, interwoven with modern scientific understanding and accomplishments. Harvested, prepared, and compounded in accordance with time-tested, traditional principles, herbal medicine is a powerful healing agent.