Becoming a forager for wild edible plants is to return to the most natural way of gathering food. It just feels right. And is incomparable to collecting food from a supermarket shelf. Of course we need to be cautious, we need to know the difference between the berries that are delicious and the berries that are poisonous. The key is in plant identification, getting to know our wild plants, and getting to know our own bodies. The following blog shares the most important guidelines for foraging, the reasons why you would forage wild edible plants, and some easily identifiable plants to get you started.
It is easy to become interested in foraging food because it is such a joyous thing to do and because sometimes buying food is a loathsome chore, unless you are blessed with a local farmers food market. Even if you grow your own, have you ever wondered how your garden would look if those pesky weeds could stick around and become part of your food source? Once you start foraging you will never look at a rogue plant like a foreign invader ever again! From a herbalists perspective, and the perspective of anyone who likes to have an all-inclusive philosophy, everyone and everything is valuable in its own unique way.
Why is it that we have ‘Weed Killer’ adverts around that target our beloved medicinal herbs like Dandelion? Dandelion is full of nutrients that are scarcely anywhere else in the diet, with minerals such as magnesium, calcium, potassium, sodium, silica and iron. The leaves are a diuretic that relieve fluid retention and the root remove toxins out of the body by supporting the liver and bowel function. All of our wild leafy edible greens are full of nutrients that cleanse and nourish the blood. Cleavers, chickweed, dock, fennel, nasturtium, plantain, purslane, red clover, sorrell and even thistle are some of the medicinal greens you can find when you are out foraging.
I am not convinced that we could completely survive off wild edible greens alone, some of them are very potent and bitter, which means they are potent medicinal plants that simply cannot be eaten in large quantities without feeling a little nauseous! However, they are the best green supplement to our otherwise wholefood diets because they have not been picked by someone else days ago from who knows where, they are as fresh as can be and therefore will be highest in Vitamin C. Vitamin C is an essential nutrient that plays such a prolific and important role in our bodies. We know it best for strengthening our immune system to make us resilient to colds and flu but it does so much more all throughout the body. It is essential for the strengthen and flexibility of our connective tissue collagen – skin, tendons, ligaments, fascia. And it is also a generous antioxidant which means that it deactivates any oxidative molecules from air pollution, pesticides and herbicides, heavy metals, hydrogenated fats and any other toxic substances from our food, air and water before it has a chance to damage your precious body.
Wild edible foods are not limited to leafy greens, although these are the most common, there are also wonderful fruits, berries and flowers. The fruit in the featured image above is from the Monstera deliciosa plant that is becoming wildly popular as a domestic house plant. When left to grow in the wild outdoors is grows into a monstrous size and produces magnificent ‘fruit salad’ cone fruits that taste like a delicious blend of pineapple, guava and banana!
Flowers are delightful to collect and add into salads, or on top of baking, or into ice cubes, providing anthocyanins that are flavonoid antioxidants. Again, protecting your precious body from oxidative damage. The most common are nasturtium, borage, rosemary, calendula and pansy, but there are many others. There are also many wild berries, commonly blackberries and raspberries, around although you need to be very cautious about where you are foraging to be sure that these plants have not been sprayed with weed killer. And this brings me to the key guidelines for foraging:
- If you don’t know what it is don’t eat it… Learn to identify plants that are edible and plants that are poisonous.
- Know plants at different growth stages… Plants can change their look and nutrient profile at different phases of growth.
- Know the natural habitat of plants… If it looks familiar but is growing in a strange place then be cautious.
- Make sure the plants you harvest are not sprayed or from contaminated soil… Check around the area for dead or dying patches, or or other animal life or excrement.
- Sample new edibles in small amounts… A sample as small as half the size of your little finger nail is enough to chew on and notice any sensations that might indicate that it is poisonous. Know your body. If it takes extremely bitter, if you salivate profusely and if you feel scratchy in the back of your throat then spit it out, that plant is poisonous.
- Get permission from land owners before foraging… Say no more.
- Don’t forage mushrooms unless you are with an expert… Fungi identification needs a specialist and fungi are not specimens to frivolously throw into the fry pan because they can easily be fatal.
- Respect the plants… Is the plant robust, healthy and abundant? Ask for permission. Only take enough for what you need and no more. Give thanks.
This information has come from years of curiosity and personal experimentation but more recently from a workshop I attended with Julia Sich who is a fellow wise woman. Julia has an amazing suburban backyard absolutely packed with wild edible weeds, cultivated fruit trees and vegetables, as well as a few beehives. For more information check out Julia’s website: juliasedibleweeds.com OR if you would like her to come to Wellington to host a workshop then send us an expression of interest to email@example.com with the subject ‘Forager’.
I know that there are many areas in Wellington with nasturtium, rosemary and fennel growing wild like weeds. I am sure we could all find some dandelion growing in our backyards. And spring is the most magical time to be collecting the abundant blossoms. Simply check the guidelines and go for it!