Basic Guide to Foraging 101

Foraging is an awesome way to cut down on your food bill and to enjoy a more varied diet.

But please, before you go – please read our guide to foraging, it’s vital to know what you’re doing.

After all you wouldn’t start a suburban farm, start eating parts of a forest or even grow an urban kitchen garden without a little help would you?

And these things can’t kill you if you get it wrong.

Getting foraging wrong can be fatal.

Key Things You MUST DO When Foraging

Foraging is simply the act of finding food that’s growing wild. It is legal to forage on public land (most places) and there are so many tasty treats that you can find.  But you must follow these simple rules to make the most out of things.

Identifying What You Eat Is Vital

This is the most important rule of foraging.

You must work out what you have found and be 100% certain that you’ve identified it properly and be 100% certain that what you have found is edible.

This is no joke. Every year thousands of people get sick or even die from eating unsafe items and, particularly, toadstools that they thought were mushrooms.

guide to foraging

Learn From Experts

One of the best ways to get into foraging is to join a foraging club (these are easy to find just Google for them) or to take classes such as these from Eat the Weeds.

In fact, if at all possible – your first few foraging trips should be in the company of someone who knows what they’re doing. 

You’re much less likely to get poisoned with an expert on hand.

Study & Use Field Guides

You can get some excellent field guides to foraging at the Book Depository and they’re going to really help you with the task in hand.

For working out what to forage (and what to leave well alone) may we recommend – Leda Meredith’s The Skillful Forager, and Samuel Thayer’s Incredible Wild Edibles and Nature’s Garden?

incredible wild edibles guide

As to when it comes to cooking your finds, we’d recommend: Mia Wasilevich’s Ugly Little Greens, Ron Connoley’s Acorns & Cattails, and The Wildcrafting Brewer by Pascal Baudar.

Start Close To Home

Yes, we mean that it’s best to start in your own backyard (assuming that you have one), quite literally. 

Nearly everyone has edible weeds that they didn’t know about growing in their garden and flowers you can eat too. 

In the right season, you can probably find some nice edible fungi too (but be careful and take your time with these – fungi need you to be 100% certain they’re OK before you eat them).

Start With Safe Species That Anyone Can Identify

There are lots of very easy products to identify on site that leave no room for confusion – start with these. 

Some examples include:

  • Dandelions
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Blackberries
  • Grapes
  • Walnuts
  • Wild tomatoes

Make Sure You Read Up On Each Plant Before You Eat It

Rhubarb is super tasty with a bit of custard, it can also kill you if you don’t cook it properly as the root is poisonous.

Unripe elderberries are also very dangerous for consumption.

Just because something can be eaten, it doesn’t mean that you can just chow down and hope for the best.

Make Sure Your Guides Are Local

It’s fair to say that a guide to mushrooms for North America is no use in Southeast Asia and vice-versa.

In fact, you may well find that there are near identical species in terms of their physical appearance but which vary hugely in their toxicity around the world.

Make Sure It’s In Season

If you find a plant that looks like something you know to be delicious but it’s out of season, beware!

You may have stumbled across an inedible or even poisonous alternative.

Make Sure It’s In The Right Place

If you find a mushroom in the desert, it’s not the same as a similar mushroom growing in a moist, damp forest.

You need to look at the habitat and make sure that the species is in the right place before you decide to chow down on it.

Lookalikes Are A Real Thing

If you find that a particular find has a lookalike, you need to run it through all the tests in your guide to make sure you’ve got the real thing and not the lookalike. 

For example: the blewit mushroom and the cortinarius mushroom are nearly identical. But the former is tasty and the latter is deadly. 

You can tell them apart through smell and spore prints but if you don’t do the tests – you may not enjoy the outcome of your foraging trip.

Look Out For Chemical/Industrial Contamination

Try to avoid places that are likely to have been contaminated – the food you forage will be contaminated too.

Avoid: old, disused orchards, areas near roads or train tracks, farm fields (or adjacent), factories, brownfields, landfills and areas beneath powerlines.

And keep your eye out for any signs of contamination, no matter where you forage.

Keep It Legal

In general terms, foraging is legal on public land but it can’t hurt to ask an official if you can find one. 

On private land, you may need permission from the landowner to forage.

Keep A Foraging Journal

If you keep notes on finds and places that you’ve enjoyed – you can go back and harvest similar finds next year.

foraging journal

Keep It Sustainable

Take as much as you need and no more and never take everything that’s available. 

This ought to be obvious but foraging is best when you can go back time and again and not when you kill a spot not just for yourself but for everyone else.

Final Thoughts On Foraging

We hope that you have found our guide to foraging useful and that you’re now aware of all the fun you can have as well as the risks you face when foraging.

It’s a superb hobby to take up and can really help you connect with nature but pace yourself and make sure that you don’t just eat everything that looks tasty, that’s not the right way to forage. 

If you’d rather grow your own food why not think about setting up a suburban homestead?

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