How to forage for your food

“Forage” is a particularly wild-sounding word, and for good reason—it means to search the wild for food provisions. Who wants to do that, you ask? Well, for some, it’s a fun way to spend an afternoon, and for others it’s serious business. Take ForageSF, a Bay Area community-supported “not only for profit” business with roots tied to local foragers. Iso Rabins started the company in 2008 and quickly morphed his passion for foraging into a burgeoning business based on wild food.

Foraging for wild mushrooms

Foraging for wild mushrooms; photo courtesy of Andria Lo

The particulars of foraging are simple: dress comfortably (think Hunter boots, driving hat, and your favorite fisherman sweater), carry a small basket and pocket knife (this one would make a nice gift), and scour the landscape high and low, keeping an eye out for edible plants, berries, and mushrooms.

The idea of foraging surely is more pastoral sounding than the grocery section of Whole Foods, but if it seems too hazardous of an approach for securing produce, I concur. If you’re like me, you’d prefer your foray into wild edibles to be guided by someone in the know, and as it happens, education is a large component of what ForageSF does. Whether your interests lie with spending a couple of hours identifying local edibles, rummaging for delicate mushrooms in the underbrush, or meandering along San Francisco’s shoreline while learning the tricks of the urban fishing trade, they’ve got several willing and capable guides to take you.

Foraging for wild edibles

Foraging for wild edibles; photo courtesy of Andria Lo

If your idea of getting wild extends only to trying out the flavors of the season, we suggest ForageSF’s roving underground supper club called The Wild Kitchen. Each week the chefs from ForageSF rotate locations, and serve 60 patrons an eight-course meal, with each course highlighting a sustainably foraged ingredient from the local landscape.

To learn more about the foraging trend GrindTV caught up with Rabins. This is what he shared:


A Wild Kitchen dinner; photo courtesy of Andria Lo

Why forage?
I forage because it gets me out into the world—instead of just looking at nature, you interact with it. Instead of taking a walk, I collect mushrooms; instead of swimming, I spearfish. It makes it more interesting for me. Besides, eating something you’ve caught always tastes better.

Can I take the foraging skills that I learn at ForageSF and apply them in my own neighborhood?
Yes, though there are a lot of opportunities to forage in San Francisco—we have a lot of green space. Just remember that it is illegal to forage in regional and state parks, so do so at your own risk. Also remember to always be respectful of the space you’re in and don’t take too much.

Wild blackberries image via Shutterstock

Wild blackberries via Shutterstock

Can you explain the safety aspect of foraging and why it is important?
Just like anything, you need to know what you’re doing before you forage. I don’t say that to intimidate, but getting a good book, or even better, finding a buddy who’s an expert, is an important first step. Truth is, anyone can do it, though, so don’t let the idea of being an “expert” scare you off. If you’re spearfishing, being a good swimmer is key. If you’re foraging for mushrooms, knowledge of what you’re picking is important. Do some research—the basic info you need to get started can be found in a book.

How much training does one need to confidently forage alone?
Depends on what you’re foraging for. There are only a few plants that are truly deadly in California, but of course it’s important to know them. Mushrooms are a bit more fraught with danger; some can kill you in pretty terrible ways. Again, always know what you’re picking before you eat it—common sense I think.

Wild mushrooms via Shutterstock

Wild mushrooms via Shutterstock

What are the best times of year to forage?
In California, winter and spring are the best times on land. The summer heat singes the plants and dries everything out. With that said, summer is a great time to get into the ocean—seaweed collecting, abalone hunting, and mussel collecting. There’s always something to find.

Do foragers worry about the unknown presence of insecticides, pesticides, or ocean contamination?
It’s something to be aware of, and if you see plants that look like they are singed at all, that probably means they’ve been sprayed. It’s a good idea to avoid those. Beyond that, the truth is that most of the food we eat is dunked in pesticides, and even organic is affected by our environmental toxins. I don’t worry about it and wouldn’t let it stress you out.

Foraging for fish

Fish in a casting net via Shutterstock

What is your recommended reading list for aspiring foragers?
For mushrooms a great beginners guide is “All the Rain Promises and More.” For plants, it depends a lot on your area, but my favorite book is “Flavors of Home.” It’s focused on San Francisco, and is hard to find, but it’s great. “The Bay Area Forager” by Kevin Feinstein is a good one too. (Full disclosure, he works with me, but that just means he really knows his stuff!)

Whether your aim is to learn about edible plants in your area, or keep yourself entertained while on a stroll, learning to forage is fun. Keep it wild people!

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