Foraging is the gathering of edible, medicinal, or otherwise useful plants and fungi. For the majority of human existence, foraging for food has been our primary source of feeding ourselves and our communities. Foraging also supplied us with plants to make our medicine, shelter and clothing.
Today, foraging is an incredible way to slow down, rewild and reconnect with nature. It's a journey that will lead you through the woods, over the fields, in and out of dusty old books, to the kitchen, via a few folktales, and back to the table in time for dinner.
What is Foraging?
Foraging for Food
There are some beautiful wild treats to be found out there, no matter what time of year. From berries to mushrooms to wild greens and flowers, tree saps and leaves, natures larder is truly diverse.
Falling in love with foraged ingredients means either waiting for them to come into season or getting involved with old food crafts such as jam making, wine and beer making and traditional preservation methods. And chances are, you'll be experimenting with new tastes and flavours. So foraging really is a culinary adventure.
You can get some ideas of what you can make from foraged ingredients over at my wild-food blog.
Learning to Forage
When we learn to forage for food and medicine, it opens us up to learning about a huge range of interesting topics. We learn about our local environment, drawing maps of what grows where and we begin to understand why. We get familiar with other animal and insect species that depend on the wild plants in question, as the onus of sustainability falls into our hands.
We can discover hidden histories behind plants, learning where they have come from and how they helped to shape us as a civilisation. We hear folklore and legend, from the people in history who developed magical relationships with the plants around us.
Foraging is a skill and one that we have to refine before eating wild plants. There are deadly species that can quite easily be confused with edible species, even in the UK. Please, make sure you are 100% certain before eating or cooking absolutely anything you forage. I highly recommend taking part in a foraging course if you'd like to learn how to identify wild edibles, as there's nothing like being shown the plants first hand. Use books and the internet as extra research.
You can find out more about my foraging courses here, or you can find many brilliant foraging guides around the UK. Feel free to contact me if you're trying to find someone running public courses in your area.
The question of how sustainable foraging is is often asked. People want to connect with nature and experiment with wild foods, but worry they will do more harm than good. My personal opinion is foraging is only as sustainable as you are careful. Of course, we could do harm by tramping over rare flowers, hacking down large areas of habitat and picking all the reproductive parts of one plant. However, if you're interested in foraging, you'll want to protect your environment.
Food production, in general, isn't sustainable and is in most cases detrimental to our wildlife populations. More foragers mean more people who value wildlife and wild spaces.