Foraging is an incredible tool for self-sufficiency, but you need to be responsible and respectful of the land. You also want to make sure that you know what plants are safe to forage and which ones you should stay away from. I’ve got 13 great foraging tips for you today. Let’s jump straight into it!
Why Should You Learn to Forage?
- Foraging allows you to take an extra step toward self-sufficiency.
- You can collect FREE edible plants from your yard, pasture, public land etc.
- Foraged plants can feed you and your livestock.
- Many wild edibles can be used as medicinal plants in addition to food.
- Eating the “weeds” is a great way to limit invasive species.
Where Can You Forage?
You can forage on private land where you have permission to be. You can also forage in public locations that do not prohibit it. Just be sure that the plants haven’t been sprayed with chemicals.
Some state parks allow foraging, but many do not so call and ask first.
I have found that the best place to forage is in your own backyard. If you do not have a backyard, check around for local landowners.
Foraging Tips: Wild Edibles for Food & Medicine
1. Do your Research
Before you set out on your first foraging adventure, research safe foraging practices, common wild edibles in your area, poisonous lookalikes, and what you can use each plant type for.
Some good resources for foraging and wild herb information include:
- Mountain Medicine: The Herbal Remedies of Tommie Bass by Darryl Patton
- Homesteader’s Herbal Companion by Amy Fewell
- Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons
- The Big Book of Backyard Medicine
- The Ultimate Guide to Mushrooms
- 16 Common Wild Edible Plants and Their Uses
There are a ton of other great foraging books here for general foraging and a field guide for each region.
If you have access to a local expert, use them for information and planning as well!
2. Forage with Friends
Go with someone who knows what they are looking for. Tagging along with an experienced forager can significantly shorten your learning curve and fill your brain with a wealth of knowledge that you wouldn’t have otherwise.
Watch what they look for when searching… How they use their senses… How they positively identify wild edible plants … What they avoid
3. Forage Only in “Clean” Areas
Stay away from toxic areas like roadsides that may have been sprayed with chemicals. Also avoid areas that may commonly be used as a potty by dogs, cats, and other carnivores or omnivores.
4. Know the Common Edible Wild Plants in Your Area
Learn what your most common local edible weeds are.
For example→ These are extremely common weeds in my area:
•Wild Garlic (Field Garlic)
•More Wild Greens to Look for:
- Plantain– Great as a supplement for rabbits
- Curly Dock– Use in place of lettuce or spinach
- Lamb’s quarters– can be eaten raw in spring
- Fiddlehead Ferns– prepare them as you would prepare asparagus
- Wild asparagus– This stuff even grows in the ditches here!
5. Learn the Companion Plants of Wild Edible Food
If you know what grows with the plant you are looking for, you may be able to spot it more quickly.
For example, morels typically grow near ash, elm, or apple trees. You can sometimes spot them around mayapples as well.
6. Use all of your Senses
Don’t just rely on sight when foraging. Sometimes you will need to smell a plant, touch it, or (in some case) taste it.
7. Ensure positive identification before eating any plants.
You need to be 100% positive that you have the correct plant before you consume it. Make sure that you cross reference with any lookalikes and use a plant identification app like Picture This to move you in the right direction.
8. Use the Botanical Name Over the Common Name
Oftentimes the common name of plants will be misused regionally. Be sure to use the botanical name when looking up information about a wild edible.
9. Learn What Time of Year Each Plant is Edible
Some plants are only edible during certain times of the year. Research each individual plant that you intend to forage for to make sure you are gathering them at the right time of year.
10. Learn What Part of the Plant is Edible
Most of the plants that I forage are edible from root to flower, but not all wild edibles are like that. Be sure that you research each plant to confirm the edible parts before consuming them.
11. Learn the Health Benefits of the Plants You are Foraging
If you want to use the medicinal properties of your foraged plants, then you should research the healthy benefits and the risks before eating or making tinctures or teas.
Here are a few posts with some wild edible health benefits:
- Wild Violet Jelly Recipe + Foraging Tips
- Wild Violet Tea
- White Clover Iced Tea
- How to Preserve White Clover Blossoms
- 13 Tips for Foraging Wild Edibles
- 16 Common Wild Edibles
- Wild Violet Leaf Infused Oil
12. Be Aware of Wild Edible Lookalikes
This goes back to positive identification. In order to be sure that you have the correct plant, you need to know if it has any look-alikes.
An example of a lookalike that is not dangerous is purple dead nettle and henbit. Henbit is also edible and medicinal so it’s not so scary if you mix these two up, but you still need to be responsible and do your research.
A couple of potentially deadly poisonous look alikes:
- Morel Mushrooms vs. False Morels
- Elderberry vs. Giant Hogweed
- Wild Grapes vs. Moonseed
The first set of plants listed are the edibles, and the second set are the poisonous plants.
13. Don’t Take Everything
Always, always, always leave more than you take!
Our goal is sustainability and clearing out every edible plant in your foraging area is definitely not sustainable. You want to be able to come back and forage again, maybe allow other people to forage, and allow the ecosystem to continue operating as normal.