Late summer and early fall feels like the time when everything is ripe. If you were too lazy to plant a garden (guilty over here), you can forage for wild foods, and if you’re smart and careful, you can eat off the land.
Depending on where you live, edible plants, like berries, greens and mushrooms, are everywhere once you know where to look. Here are some guidelines to get you started. (Bear in mind that we have no idea what you’re looking at, so do your local homework and use good judgment before eating anything you find.)
Know what you’re putting in your body
Rule number one: If you don’t know exactly what it is, don’t put it in your body — even if the berries look like berries you’ve had before. Always err on the side of caution and confirm with a credible source before you eat.
Know your neighborhood
Foraging is inherently local, so tap your unique resources. Guidebooks are a great source, but you might be surprised by how dense and widespread the foraging community is. You can often find a local class or guide to get you started.
The Internet is also a wellspring of knowledge. For instance, a lot of people have more fruit than they know what to do with and are happy to give it away. There are maps, like Falling Fruit, that can tip you off to pickable public places.
Know your limits
First, know your physical limits. It’s illegal to forage on private land without permission, and different kinds of public lands have different restrictions. In some national parks, for instance, you need a permit, while in others you can gather an “incidental” amount of nuts, mushrooms or fruit.
Check your local land-use restrictions, which are usually easily searchable. Oregon, for instance, has a good map of public-land jurisdictions.
Next, know your personal limits. Take into account how much you can actually consume. Using a resource is much different than abusing one, so don’t be greedy. If you want to be able to forage into the future, don’t take everything. Make sure there’s enough that the plant can come back, and don’t pick endangered things. Ideally, this is a long game.
Know your timing
Seasonality should be your guide in what you’re foraging for, and you should also optimize for ripeness. Berries that are fine when they’re ripe can make you sick when they’re not. And some greens are edible only when they’re first sprouted.
Seattle-based wild-food expert Langdon Cook says that you can always find something to eat; you just need to be tuned into exactly what’s in season. Here’s a loose guideline to North America’s seasonal wild goods, but, at the risk of repeating ourselves, make sure you’re dialed into your local scene.
Know your focus
Edible plants can be a steep learning curve; there’s often a lot to take in. Wolf Camp Foraging School advises being tactical and focused about what you learn first. Pick a category — spring greens, for instance — and know it well. Foraging is all about going deep.
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