Foraging is a basic survival skill that everybody needs to master. You need to master foraging because it is a great means of gathering nutritious organic food for free. Many of us are aware of foraging as a wilderness survival skill, but it is a great way to augment your family’s food supply without paying a cent.
Basically, foraging means gathering edible plants that grow wild for the dinner table. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to live in the woods to forage. You can forage almost anywhere, including the inner city. Edible plants of all sorts, both wild and domestic, grow all around us.
In fact, many of the plants we consider to be weeds are actually edible. Did you know that dandelions make a great salad green? Many of the wild plants are actually better sources of nutrients than a lot of the produce you buy from the grocery store.
Why You Need to Consider Foraging
There are several reasons why you need to consider foraging as both an economic and survival skill. Some of the advantages to foraging include:
- Food you forage is free. Foraged items like wild greens are a free alternative to expensive organic produce.
- Foraged food is available almost anywhere and year round.
- Foraged food can augment or replace what you get from your garden.
- Foraging is great exercise because it gets you outside and walking around.
- Foraging is a great way to get to know your immediate surroundings.
- Foraged produce contains higher levels of nutrients than commercial foods. This occurs because foraged food is natural, not genetically modified, and not grown in soil that’s been depleted by industrial farming methods.
That being said, there is more to foraging than just going out into the wild or a vacant lot and pulling up plants. You’ll have to learn what is edible and what is dangerous.
The best way to learn foraging is to go out with an experienced forager. There are foraging groups in some parts of the country. There are also many foraging websites that are a good source of knowledge and offer contacts with experienced foragers.
Once you begin, follow the basic rules of foraging:
- If you don’t recognize a plant, don’t pick it or eat it.
- Get a good guidebook to your region and bring it along when you go foraging.
- Never pick any plant or fruit that looks diseased.
- Wash everything you forage before you eat it.
- Watch out for bugs.
- Be careful of your surroundings. Snakes and other potentially dangerous creatures sometimes hide in plants.
- Wear gloves in case of poison ivy and other noxious weeds.
- Stick to areas you know when you’re first foraging.
- Always respect private property. Get permission to forage on private land and obey new trespassing signs.
- Before foraging in a public park or the national forest, check to see if it is allowed there. Some types of foraging are banned or limited in some areas.
Where to Go Foraging
You don’t have to drive to the woods to go foraging. Many of us can find a lot of edible foods in our own neighborhoods and even on our properties. Almost any unmaintained or overgrown area of your yard probably contains edible greens. Edible berries and roots also grow in such places.
Try looking around vacant lots, open space areas, public parks, abandoned buildings, and riverfront properties in your neighborhood or town. If you have a large piece of property, walk around it and look for wild greens you can pick.
Take a look at the trees, too, because there are fruit trees in many urban and suburban areas and in the woods. In parts of California, you can actually pick citrus fruit off trees in some areas. I’ve seen perfectly good fruit lying out on city sidewalks.
If you’re planning a hike, a camping trip, a fishing trip, or just a walk in the woods, try a little foraging while you’re there. If you can bring back a few bunches of wild greens or wild mushrooms, you can save yourself $10 or more on your next trip to the grocery store.
The next time you take the dog for a walk, try looking around your property or neighborhood. If you keep your eye out, you will be surprised what you can pick up. One tip is to take a bag or backpack to carry foraged food whenever you go out for a walk. You can get collapsible shopping bags that will fit in your pocket from many supermarkets.
Foods You Can Forage
You will be surprised at some of the wild foods that you can gather for your family. Both the Native Americans and the pioneers survived on the frontier largely by foraging. Gathering edible food in the woods and fields was a basic skill everybody learned in the good old days.
The edible plants you can gather include:
- Wild greens (they can be cooked or eaten in salads)
- Mushrooms, including medicinal mushrooms (wild mushrooms can be poisonous, so be carefully with them)
- Berries of all sorts, including strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries. From personal experience, I know that wild berries are delicious.
- Crabapples (my mother has made delicious jelly from these for years)
- Citrus fruit (in warm climates like southern California)
This means that there will be no reason not to have fresh produce around in the spring, summer, or fall, even if the supermarket shelves are bare. You can gather up a lot of what you need for free. All you will need to find it is a little knowledge and some detective work.
There are also a lot of good foraging cookbooks out there that can tell you how to prepare wild plants. You can substitute foraged produce for traditional ingredients in a lot of your favorite recipes.
A Basic Survival Skill
Foraging is a kind of basic survival skill that everybody should know whether they use it or not. Something to remember about foraging is that unlike hunting or fishing, you don’t need a license or any special equipment to forage. Another advantage is that unlike hunting and fishing, you can forage anywhere, including in the city and at any time of the year that plants are growing. All you need are your eyes, your hands, and something to put what you gather inside it.
You should be aware of what edible plants are growing and how and where to gather them. That way, you can still be eating organic salads and other healthy dishes when your neighbors are subsisting on meals ready to eat (MREs) and handed out by the Army. You will also have a source of organic food that isn’t dependent on big industrialized agriculture or our modern transportation infrastructure.
Taking advantage of the free nutritious wild food growing in your area is only common sense. If you’re serious about prepping, you will need to get serious about foraging now.