Welcome to this introduction to foraging. If you are interested in getting to know more about what foraging is, the benefits, necessary equipment, guidelines, resources, and maybe a bit of history, you have come to the right place. This article is a complete guide on how to get started foraging. My name is Helena, and I love to go foraging in nature. If you are interested in getting to know more about what I forage, feel free to follow me on social media:
Let’s get started with the definition of foraging:
- Foraging: (of a person or animal) search widely for food and provisions
- Forage: to wander in search of food
What is Foraging?
Foraging is characterized by searching, identifying, and gathering free food and provisions in nature. A forager is looking for herbs, plants, weeds, mushrooms, shellfish, wood, berries, fruits, and nuts. After identifying and collecting the wild foods, the forager typically cleans, cooks, preserves, or eats what has been found. The practice of capturing fish and hunting animals is considered separate from foraging/gathering, although collecting shellfish is also a type of foraging.
Where to Forage?
Foraging is mostly happening in forests, woodlands, coastlines, open fields, in some public parks, hedgerows, on footpaths, verges close by, and in your own backyard. In general, foraging can be done everywhere in our immediate surroundings. If you want to go foraging on private land, make sure to get permission from the owner. Most nature reserves allow responsible foraging for personal use but be sure to check the rules for the specific location.
When to Forage?
There will always be something to forage no matter season, but winter is the season with fewer plants and mushrooms to find. Spring, summer, and autumn are filled with nutritious plants, herbs, berries, and mushrooms. Check out the blog post about common species to forage by season, and you will get inspired to go foraging all-year-round.
Foraging History – From a Hunter-Gatherer to a Modern Man
Until approximately 12,000 years ago, all humans practiced hunter-gathering.
A person who gets food by using a combination of hunting, fishing, and foraging
Foraging is a concept that originated back to the early humans, the so-called hunter-gatherers who were relying on wild food from nature in order to survive. Foraging in the natural environment was taught through generations. It was the human way of sustaining themself by foraging for plants, herbs, berries, nuts and mushrooms. It took a long practice to know what to eat and most importantly not to eat, and at what time of the year, each species could be found. The human race also used foraged plants with medical effects to heal or soothe injuries.
95% of the time the human race has been on earth, foraging has been the way of living. Nowadays, farms, supermarkets, and mass production have taken over and distanced us from our ancient world. All the foraging knowledge achieved by humans for thousands of years, seems to have disappeared in the modern world. We lose connection with the food we consume by forgetting where it comes from. We are depending on a selection of pre-packed food bought in supermarkets, often, containing less nutrition than wild food. Moreover, the food industry and mass production, in general, leave a high carbon footprint on the planet. Luckily, people around the world are starting to seek other options like going foraging, fishing or hunting in a responsible way, to try to live a more healthy and sustainable life for themselves as well as for the planet and its future population. In this way, the human race can connect with nature again, and eat wild food like our ancestors always have done it.
Benefits of Foraging
We are way more privileged in our modern way of foraging compared to our ancestors. Our ancestors relied on their foraging to sustain themselves. We can instead just head into the supermarket and buy us dinner if our hunt didn’t go as planned. Then, what is in it for us? What are the benefits of foraging? There are a lot of benefits of foraging in the wild! Foraging for me is a culinary experience, at adventure, an exercise, and a way of spending quality time with my family.
Here is a list of different benefits of foraging in the modern world:
- Try new flavors
- Free food
- More nutrition
- Learn about nature
- Outdoor exercise
- Become more sustainable
- Connect with nature as your ancestors
- Exploring new places
By foraging, you will not only get free food; you will get to know so many new flavors, and the idea of eating something directly from forest to plate. Wild food contains often way more nutrition compared to similar products bought in the supermarket. A lot of restaurants use foraged food in their dishes, and you can do the same! Other than that, your way of living will become more sustainable for the environment.
On your new foraging adventure, you will learn about nature, understand it better and be able to enjoy and appreciate nature even more. You can also use foraging as a way of exercise. Often, when my family and I go on foraging trips, we spend hours in the woods, and often in a challenging environment. We walk very far, and by having the focus on foraging, it is not hard to walk that far at all. Motivation is key. Foraging is also a great way of exploring new places, you never would have found otherwise, and at the same time connect with nature as your ancestors did. I hope you can see all the good benefits of foraging even in this modern world.
How to Start Foraging
It is quite easy to start foraging if you are motivated and eager to learn something new. Foraging is also not something you need to invest a lot of money in – you can just get started with what you already have. Before going out on your new adventure though, it is important that you educate yourself and follow safety rules and guidelines. You need to get to know nature around you and maybe think about asking people in your local community if they know something. Other than that, you need to think about your clothing and bring basic equipment.
You can find wild food everywhere in cities, forests, parks, beaches and by the road, but it depends on your area and the time of the year how much there actually is to find. If you don’t know what you are looking for, it is really difficult to get started. In this article, I will guide you through all the most important aspects of foraging and how to get started.
Foraging Safety, Ethics and Guidelines
It is essential to have respect for nature and be 100% sure that you have identified the correct plant/mushroom before eating it.
One can say that all mushrooms can be eaten – but some only once. A fun joke between foragers, but be sure to take it seriously, many mushrooms are poisonous! I always go foraging with my dad and uncle, since they are biologists and love going foraging – especially for wild mushrooms.
Use these foraging guidelines and you will be ready for a foraging adventure.
- Learn from an experienced forager. In my option, learning from someone who knows what he/she is doing, is the best way to learn. You will afterward feel way more confident identifying wild plants on your own. If you don’t know anyone, consider investing in a foraging course.
- Be critical to other people. Even experienced foragers can misidentify wild food that has almost identical poisonous look-alikes. Make sure you can trust the forager, and a good idea is to look up the wild plant/mushroom in a field book.
- Get a field book. Before my foraging trip starts, I make sure to look up what’s in season at the moment, which terrain to look in, and if there are any obvious risks of misidentification. In that way, I feel way safer in identifying wild food on my own. Besides that, you will also discover new plants and mushrooms that are edible and ready to be found!
- Know which season to find which plant/mushrooms. It is important to know what is possible to find in which season, to avoid misidentification.
- Start slowly. Don’t expect to be able to identify everything that is in season. Start with the most common and easy plants and mushrooms to identify.
- Look at the health condition of the wild plant. When you have identified the correct species, make sure it doesn’t smell rotten/bad. Also, look at the texture and color – the plant or mushroom should smell fresh and look healthy.
- Stay away from toxic areas. Do not forage any kind of wild food that is in contact with pollution like close to roads or in industrial areas.
- Know how to process your foraged food. You have now identified and found wild edibles, what now? It is important to know how to process your foraged food. Even though morel mushrooms are edible, they can’t be eaten raw.
- Respect the law. Do not get yourself into trouble by foraging without permission. Also keep in mind that in some forests/parks, you are only allowed to forage what’s growing above ground – any roots or other species growing underneath is forbidden.
Foraging Equipment and Appropriate Clothing
Depending on what kind of foraging you are doing and what time of the year you are out, you should bring special equipment and appropriate clothing to wear.
Generally speaking, you don’t need a lot of things to start foraging. Me and my family often just bring a foraging knife and basket, good shoes, and long pants, and we are good to go. But if you are for instance going foraging in the winter in the ocean, there are different kinds of equipment and clothing to wear.
- Long pants/jeans
- Long-sleeved shirt
- Hiking boots/good shoes
- Rain jacket and umbrella
- Rubberboots or waders for coastal/ocean foraging
- Extra socks
Choose your clothing depending on the weather and in which habitat you are entering. It can be cold to walk around in the autumn or winter for many hours looking for wild food. It is a very good idea to wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt when going into the forest. It is very likely that you will meet mosquitoes, ticks, and insects in general, and protecting your skin is, therefore, a great idea. In the worst case, you can step on a snake or meet other animals in nature that are surprised to see you in their habitat. A good rule is to stay calm and respect the nature around you.
When going into the sea to forage for shellfish or seaweed, wearing rubberboots or waders is a great idea. You can stay out longer if your feet and legs are warm and dry. In general, wear clothes that are comfortable and fitting for the weather.
- Foraging knife and brush combined
- Garden scissor
- Basket (land) or bucket (ocean)
- Mobile phone in case of emergency
- GPS (or mobile phone with GPS signal)
- Foraging guide book
- Snacks and a bottle of water
- Backpack to keep all your stuff
To start foraging you don’t need to invest in a lot of equipment to get started. Bringing a knife for mushrooms and a brush to brush away the worst dirt, is a good start. If you are more into weed and herbs, bringing a garden scissor is a great idea. You will often see foragers bringing a wicker basket with a handle, to easily store the foraged food and carry it around. A wicker basket is also a great option since the mushrooms and plants can breathe easily.
Depending on how well you know the area that you are foraging in, bringing a mobile phone or GPS is a good safety measure. In my family, we always add a GPS point in Google Maps, so we know where we came from. In case we get away from each other, we always know where to meet up again. We are always so occupied with looking, that we forget to check where the others are, and we often split up into small teams to have better chances of finding something. It is, by the way, also a very funny competition to see which team found the most chanterelles in X amount of time.
If you are new to foraging, bringing a foraging guide book can be a good idea. Then, if you are not sure about what you have found, you can look it up in the book. You can also prepare yourself at home by printing out pictures and characteristics of the edible species that you are looking for.
Snacks and water are very important aspects of my family’s foraging trips. We normally bring lunch, snacks, and water. There is nothing more devastating than not having something to eat or drink when you are right in the middle of a great foraging trip.
Foraging With Kids
Foraging with kids is definitely possible – most kids will love it! They can learn a lot of things by being out in nature and finding their own food and afterward be a part of the preparation. When foraging with kids, be sure to have an adult close by at all times, and be 100% sure what you give them. Also, if it is young kids, be sure to bring a stroller or something to carry them in. Even though you as an adult have a lot of patience and energy to keep walking, it is not sure it also applies to your kids. Foraging is not always that easy, since you can walk for hours or even a whole day without any success. With that being said, jump into it, I loved it as a kid. Having a purpose – to go look for something specific, makes an outdoor trip way more fun for kids as well as adults.
When going foraging for wild food, it is important to consider the sustainability aspect of the trip. To forage is a great resource for us, but we need to think about nature, the younger generations, and the animals too. It would be a shame if we destroy nature and make plants distinct. Follow the rules listed below and you can consider yourself a sustainable forager!
- Don’t collect more than you need for yourself and your household.
- Don’t collect the whole plant if you only need for example the leaves. It is important to only take the part of the plant that you need so that it can continue to grow and provide new leaves for the next human or animal.
- Don’t collect plants that are rare and protected. Respect nature and especially the species that are close to distinct.
- If you are into growing your own wild food, some plants/mushrooms can be cultivated in your garden or even inside your home. In this way, you will be able to enjoy the wild food, and still leave the most to nature and the animals that depend on it.
Foraging by Season
Foraging can be practiced all-year around. Most wild mushrooms can be found in the summer and autumn, but there are mushrooms all-year-round. In spring for example, the coveted wild mushrooms: the morel mushrooms appear and in the winter you can find the more neutral mushrooms, such as the oyster mushrooms. Herbs like wild garlic and common nettle can typically be found in spring. Berries such as wild strawberries and blueberries can be foraged in late summer. If you are interested in reading more about common wild edibles, I wrote an article about 21 common wild edibles by season, their characteristics and properties, and how to identify them.
Foraging Courses/foraging trips in Denmark, UK, US, and Canada
Vadehavet Oyster Safari
About: At Vadehavscentret you can forage for oysters with an experienced instructor. The trip starts at the Wadden Sea Centre (Vadehavscentret) and you will be given waders. The instructor tells about the oysters and gives you an introduction.
About: Arranges foraging trips all over Denmark. You will expect to learn about wild food and find among others: edible flowers, mushrooms, leaves, herbs, roots.
Wild Food UK
About: Wild food UK arranges foraging trips, where you will learn how to identify different plants, flowers, fruits, and mushrooms.
The Foraging Course Company
About: Provides courses, trips, and even online webinars about foraging. Get an introduction to wild edibles and have a wild food sample along the way.
About: Online course about 10 Spring Wild Foods which you can find almost anywhere.
Wild Edibles and Medicinal Plants Classes, Massachusetts
About: Build your confidence and competence in identifying, gathering, and eating Wild Edibles and Medicinal Plants! Join Earthwork Programs and its community for a unique “how to,” hands-on immersion experience in WILD FOOD and allow it to complement your current culinary habits and lifestyle.
Swallow Tail Canada
About: Foraging trips such as: Winter Coastal Foraging, Spring and Summer Foraging Education, Sea Foraging Tour, Wild Mushroom Trip.
About: Our foraging treks take place across beautiful woodland trails just minutes from Stratford, Ontario with the purpose of educating participants in the art of identifying wild edibles and mushrooms, prudent harvesting, and, in the end, appreciating their wonderful taste and health benefits.
Foraging Videos on YouTube
There are a lot of great free resources on foraging, wild food, outdoor and sustainable living on YouTube. I have chosen my 3 favorite YouTube Channels, so you can dive right in. Watching YouTube videos from experienced foragers is a great way of learning how to identify and use what you have found.
The Outsider is one of my favorite YouTube channels. I would recommend checking out his 3 wild food foraging videos, which cover a lot of foraging tips, identification and outdoor guidelines. He will cover wild edibles like wild garlic, birch, clover, morel, raspberry, dandelion, wild apple, rose hips, and much more.
Trillium: Wild Edibles is a YouTube channel with lots of great videos showing you how to identify herbs, mushrooms, trees, and how to know what is poisonous.
Watch this inspirational YouTube video from Rob Greenfield, that grew and foraged 100% of his food for an entire year. If you are interested in sustainable and foraged living, you should check out his video:
Here you can find a short selection of recipes made with foraged mushrooms, berries, and other wild edibles: