10 Reasons You Should Start Foraging For Your Own Food

Nature is teeming with edibles. You just need to look.

In the past few years, foraging—collecting edibles in the wild—has become more popular as people have rediscovered the joy of connecting with nature and enjoying its bounty. Done properly, foraging can be a fun activity, and benefit nature too. I’m not talking about commercial foraging (which can have drawbacks), but a more fun and personal approach to the concept of eating wild food.

Personally I actually like to use the term wildcrafting, instead of foraging. The difference is subtle but important: Wildcrafting is not about taking from nature, but working with it and even helping the environment.

Wikipedia has an excellent definition for wildcrafting:

Wildcrafting is the practice of harvesting plants from their natural, or "wild" habitat, for food or medicinal purposes. It applies to uncultivated plants wherever they may be found, and is not necessarily limited to wilderness areas. Ethical considerations are often involved, such as protecting endangered species.

Here are 10 reasons to start (or continue) foraging/wildcrafting.

1. Knowledge is power. By learning about plants and their uses (culinary, medicinal and so on), you also learn to value what nature has to offer and the need to protect it for the future generations. Going foraging is also a fun activity to do with kids, they learn a lot of new things in the process. Knowing what wild plants are edible, medicinal or poisonous is also a key survival skill, and this knowledge might be called upon if you ever find yourself in a survival situation.

2. Removing invasive plants. Locally, over 90 percent of what can be foraged are actually non-native and invasive plants. By removing them, you actually help the native environment survive. As you gain experience and appreciation for local native plants, you can also choose to grow them in your garden for food, medicine or habitat for wildlife and birds, instead of foraging them.  

3. Many weeds are superfoods. Most people don’t realize it, but many so-called weeds can be considered superfoods. Good examples are edible plants like stinging nettles, lamb’s quarters, dandelion, purslane or chickweed. Wild edibles are also a great source of truly organic and non-GMO food. So think twice before you throw away the weeds from your garden or lawn.

4. Educating others. As you get more education on the subject of edible or medicinal plants, you also learn which plants are protected or endangered and which have a negative impact on the environment. You can do your part to help nature by educating others on the subject. You may even decide to work with local native nurseries to help endangered species and propagate them.

5. Saving money. Wildcrafting can provide you with healthy organic food, and it can also save you money. My local health food store sells a dandelion bunch for $1.99, yet dandelion is plentiful and invasive where I live.

6. Continuing a great tradition. Herbalists and wild harvesters continue a tradition of understanding and caring for the environment that has been passed around for countless generations. The more people know about planting, tending and using their local plants, the more respect will exist for those plants. Wildcrafters or herbalists have no interest in harming the environment and are more interested in helping it. Urban expansion, pollution, destruction of native environment for corporate agriculture and lack of respect are the main reasons for habitat destruction.

7. Connecting to nature is healthy. Taking a walk in nature is healthy, both physically and spiritually. Growing evidence indicates that greater contact with our natural world can help alleviate mood swings, depression, anxiety and other mental conditions.

8. Discovering local flavors. Foraging can make you discover interesting and truly local flavors. Personally, I found many fascinating new culinary plants, some of them even sold at the local ethnic market, and I had no idea until I researched them.

9. You can forage anywhere. You can forage anywhere, even in urban areas. Growing up in Europe, it was still quite common to see people picking up hazelnuts, mushrooms, walnuts, nettles and other goodies in urban green spaces. In the U.S., most city parks have specific regulations against picking plants, but you’ll often find tons of unused fruit trees in people’s yards. Most homeowners will gladly let you pick some of their fruit if you ask politely first. I don’t recall the last time I had to pay for organic lemons!

10. Becoming a valuable member of your community. Knowing about edible plants or their medicinal uses makes you an important individual. A lot of people don’t care about local plants because they don’t see how valuable they are. Through your example or by teaching others, you can instill respect in nature’s offerings. As I get older, I’m convinced that the knowledge of plants and their uses is a key way to help protect our environment.

Have any wildcrafting tips? Share them in the comments.

Pascal Baudar is a wild food researcher based in Los Angeles. He has served as a wild food consultant for several TV shows, including MasterChef and Top Chef Duels. He is the author of The New Wildcrafted Cuisine: Exploring the Exotic Gastronomy of Local Terroir (Chelsea Green, 2016).

See also:
Urban Foraging: Weeds You Can Eat
How To Grow Oyster Mushrooms At Home (And Get Plenty Of Flavor And Protein For Free)