You don’t need to live in the deep woods to find foraged foods. From herbs to berries to mushrooms, you can find an abundance of food if you know how to look.
To take part in an industrial agricultural system means to be dependent on a system of food cultivation over which one has no control. Consequently there is little accountability for those who do control food production. The use of GMOs, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and the practice of over-tilling farm land destroy the natural organisms and nutrients within the soil, lowering the overall nutrient value of the fruits and vegetables produced.
Meanwhile, at the grocery store one can do little but look for labels containing words such as bio, organic, Freedom Food and free range, while often having little knowledge of what these labels truly indicate. Such labels do not account for by-products of industrial agriculture—polluting methane and fecal waste from animals raised in CAFOs, destruction of the soil from over-tilling, the amount of petrol used to transport fertilizers for crops, feed for livestock and the final product for packaging and further distribution.
Foraging is the practice of gathering wild plants and mushrooms from not only the wilderness, but urban and suburban areas as well. This is not a new movement and is a common practice in many countries, such as Switzerland and Germany. Many people find foraging to be a fun and interesting way to cook meals by learning how and where their ingredients grow, and to participate in the process of gathering them from wilderness to the table. For some it is a hobby with no particular focus on sustainable food or eco-concerns. There are many established clubs and university groups all over the world devoted to the art of foraging mushrooms and other wild plants.
To forage means to practice self-sufficiency in the most natural way known to humans. If foraging is done ethically (done in such a way that the plant’s ecosystem and further growth are not being disturbed) it is the least harmful and invasive way to obtain food.
Here are four important first steps to becoming a forager.
It is important to be able to identify edible plants, for often there are inedible or even poisonous counterparts that may be very similar in appearance. You can look up general information about foraging before you begin, bring guide books, or research your findings in a plant database.
Be conscientiousness about how you are harvesting. To forage ethically means that one must understand how a plant grows to be able to harvest it in such a way that leaves their growth parts intact. This way the least amount of damage is done while gathering food, ensuring a future supply for both other foragers and the wild animals that certainly also depend upon this food source.
Be aware of your foraged harvest’s surroundings
Plants absorb not only nutrients from their environment but toxins as well. Pesticides used on nearby crops seep into both soil and ground water, possibly contaminating surrounding areas. Lead absorption can also be found in plants in metropolitan areas due to vehicle emissions and chipped lead-based paint from buildings.
Know the laws on foraging
Cities often have laws regarding picking plants in parks and other public areas. National parks also have laws regarding disturbing the wildlife. If necessary, get permission. Certain countries have centers where you can take your foraged goods to be examined to ensure that none of it is endangered, inedible, or poisonous.
Is foraging sustainable?
Concerns about foraging center around the sustainability of the practice. However ecologically sound the theory of foraging may be, in practice there could be negative environmental impacts if foraging were taken up in earnest. While it doesn’t seem likely with modern lifestyles that a majority of people would opt to forage for a significant part of their food requirements, over-harvesting—so that the plants do not grow back—and destruction of foraged ecosystems would be a serious concern if this were to shift. As ever, people are urged to practice judgment and awareness. With so many people inhabiting the planet, anything we collectively do is bound to have an impact, for better or worse.