I’ve been a happy eater ever since I learned that so many of the plants and mushrooms that grow around us are edible and nutritious. In the seasons that I’ve spent searching for wild edibles, taking long walks as solace after a breakup, or searching for fruit-bearing trees after the death of a loved one, I’ve learned that nature has a way of revealing things in its own time, providing discoveries along the way.
Most wild edibles like dandelions, violets, lambsquarters, and morel mushrooms, have a culinary and sometimes medicinal history both here as well as in other parts of the world. Here are some of my favorite things that I’ve learned throughout my seasons of foraging.
1. You can do it no matter where you live.
Edible plants and mushrooms grow all around us — whether it’s the middle of the city or in the most-rural area. And while it’s best for beginners to learn first from an expert, there are plenty of books and even apps to help guide you along the way.
2. Foraging changes your vision.
I can’t walk down a city street or take a hike through a forested area without finding something yummy and nutritious to eat. Even while driving, I sometimes see edibles along the side of the road.
3. Foraging allows you to learn new things about the world.
Whether it’s a colorful common name like “pigweed” or “zombie cucumber,” or the fact that a native tree produces one of the main ingredients in the Middle Eastern spice za’atar, I’m constantly learning new things about the flora and fungi around us.
4. Foraging teaches patience.
Foraging has helped me to remain calm in difficult situations — whether it’s the loss of a loved one or my anxieties over love. Whenever I find myself growing anxious, I think about morel mushrooms or ramps, which can only grow in the wild in spring, under certain uncontrollable situations, like temperature, rain and location.
5. Foraging shows how we are all interconnected.
Whether it’s saving a group of swarming honeybees or finding a crop of delicious wild mushrooms, foraging has taught me that we’re all inter-related—flora, fungi, and home sapiens — and that being in the right place at the right time, with an open mind and heart, is key.
6. Foraging reveals the abundance of nature.
Whether I’m finding solace in a simple berry or discovering ingredients that my grandfather used in my childhood meals, foraging has shown me that there is abundance all around us. It’s sometimes just a simple matter of knowing where to look.
7. Foraging gives the confidence to realize that you’re good enough.
Being able to feed myself with food picked by my own hands has also helped me to understand that just as my wild finds are natural and perfect, so am I.
8. Foraging can help save money on your groceries.
Wild food is free! While morels, hen of the woods, and ramps can cost upwards of $30 a pound in the supermarket, finding these tasty ingredients is not only satisfying, it also doesn’t burn a hole in your wallet.
9. It’s a family affair.
As a mother of a toddler, we spend hours enjoying family foraging outings, where we teach our daughter about the natural world. Sometimes she discovers things sooner than we do!
10. You don’t need to be an expert to do it.
If you can recognize a dandelion — which is one of the most nutritious plants in the world — then you’ve already started foraging. Dandelions grow across lawns and meadows, and chances are you have some growing in your own backyard.
Looking to get started? I like the iPlant app by Brigitte Mars and guidebooks like Euell Gibbons Stalking the Wild Asparagus, Gary Lincoff's The Complete Mushroom Hunter and the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms. Leda Meredith's Northeast Foraging, and Thomas Elias & Peter Dykeman's Edible Wild Plants are great resources, too. I also enjoy cookbooks like Connie Green's The Wild Table and Tama Matsuoka Wong's Foraged Flavor.
Photo Credit Central Park: Shutterstock.com