10 Reasons Why You Should Forage For Food
1. Save Money!!
People are always looking for ways to save money, especially on food, from clipping coupons, to shopping the clearance cart, and a lot of the time, skipping the organics and health foods in exchanged for inexpensive processed food. Well, what if I told you that you could keep your money and get wholesome delicious food for free! We are completely surrounded by food, medicine, and materials provided to us for free by none other than mother nature herself. All you have to do is gain a little knowledge and go get it! Almost every plant can be useful to us in some way, and plants are everywhere!
Wild harvested seafood meal with fireweed garnish.
2. Eat Healthy
One of the best parts about foraging is that all of it is good for you! There's no junk food in nature; it's all organic and non-gmo, and most of the time it is grain free, sugar free, dairy free, egg free, whatever-free! And did I mention that it is free- no money needed! Plus, a healthy diet leads to a healthy body, preventing problems down the road and saving you money on doctors bills, missed work, etc. I'm not saying you should forage for all of your food all of the time. Whatever you can fit into your schedule and diet is awesome, even if that means only eating foraged food once or twice a week, or once a month! Do what you can when you can do it and don't worry too much. Foraging is as much for relaxation and healing as it is for physically getting a product at the end, which brings me to my next point:
Fireweed stir-fry and fresh caught cod with fireweed and seaweed on the side.
3. Be healthy - go outside, exercise, sun, rain, earth, god, etc
In order to go foraging, you have to go out in nature. Being out in nature is great for the body, mind, and spirit. Whether you are absorbing vitamin D from the sun, breathing in fresh oxygen, exercising, or finding spiritual grounding, going outside will always improve your health in some way. Being outdoors is a basic human need, and unfortunately, something that most of us don't do enough, myself included! But, when there is something to go get, when you give yourself a good reason to go outside, it is easy to do it more and more. Once you've found a big patch of something really tasty and you're getting into harvesting groove, you're not going to want to come in side either, no matter what the weather! Harvesting food can be an excellent form of meditation, simply paying attention to what your doing, making the same movements over and over, it really releases a lot of worry and cloudiness from the mind. Even if you take a break from working on something and go out and pick dandelion greens for 5 minutes, I guarantee you will function better, and be more productive, after doing so.
My buddy, Seth, foraging some greens for dinner in Labrador! Foraging happens rain or shine!
4. Gain a better understanding of the natural world (notice the little things)
Foraging forces you to slow down for a moment and really get all up in nature. Looking for a specific plant or trying to identify a species, is a wonderful way to practice observation. When you get into foraging and know some of your local plants, what used to be a mindless walk becomes an whole new experience where you are actually interacting with the natural world. You develop a relationship with each plant and each one gains its own personality. For me, taking a walk and seeing plants that I know is like seeing old friends, friends that give unconditionally and never disagree with you. And when you start harvesting, you often have to get down on the ground or deep into the brush. When you're totally immersed in it like that, you can really notice everything. You get to watch the seasons change, and living beings going through their life cycles. You can notice a beautiful rock or an interesting insect, or simply enjoy the feeling of plants or dirt in your hands. Nature is always beautiful, especially when you learn to observe and enjoy even the tiniest aspects of it.
Blueberries growing in the Torngat Mountains, Labrador.
5. Understand food through a historic context
Until just 100-150 years ago, food came from the land, whether it was grown or foraged. And before just roughly 10,000 year ago when agriculture started to become a big deal, foraged food was the ONLY food that humans ate. I know I say 10,000 years like it's really no big deal, but on the greater timeline of human existence, it really isn't all that long. Homo sapiens have been around for almost 200,000 years and other humanoid ancestors for even longer than that, such as our close cousins, neanderthals, who evolved almost 600,000 years ago! By eating wild foods, we can learn more about and appreciate the lives of indigenous peoples. Here in Vermont, for example, I can go out and dig for jerusalem artichokes or hopniss, in probably the same areas that the Abenaki did hundred of years ago. I can look around and see where they were living or traveling through, what resources they might have used, what they were eating, and how they were processing their food. While digging for jerusalem artichokes, I have found large piece of chert that were most likely used for flint-knapping, that were probably brought there from a different part of the state and traded for.
7. Connect with ancestors and carry on traditions
By eating these wild foods we can understand how our ancestors lived and ate, whether that's our grandparents, our great-grandparents, or even some distant human ancestor thousands of years ago. You can taste what they tasted and do what they did and feel what they felt when it comes to food. Foraging, and plant knowledge in general, are dying arts, but they're not dead yet, and we can carry on the tradition for generations to come!
Drying arctic char the traditional way: in the sun. In Nain, Labrador.
8. It's a gateway into crafts
Be careful, though, foraging for your own food is seriously addicting and it can be a gateway that leads to crafting, another, much more serious addiction. Before you know it your house will be full of plants, there will be willows for basketmaking soaking in the bathtub, reishi mushrooms growing on sawdust in your closets, herbs hanging to dry from every nail. There will be pine pitch glue bubbling away on your stovetop, basswood bark strewn across the floor under a pile of unfinished cordage and baskets, bits of chaga in your coffee grinder, rocks all over the floor. Your family will come home to kitchen tables covered in natural things. Every picture on Facebook will be of cool stuff you saw while foraging. Pretty soon, you'll look around and half of the stuff inside your house will be from outside your house. I'm not joking, it's gotten so bad around here these days that Zak and I had to make a new rule: no flint-knapping in bed!! Once you learn what you can eat, you will also learn what you can't eat but you can use for other purposes. One of the signs of foraging addiction is making containers. This is because people always, always, always forget to bring bags with them when they go for a walk so they just end up gerry rigging something out of bark or grass or cattails, anything they can find because they just can't possibly leave the massive blueberry patch they just found! Making containers and baskets, is another great hobby that is relaxing, healthy, and gets you out in nature, and its pretty much inevitable once you get into foraging.
Collecting hopniss in a gourd container with a basswood net.
9. You're not going to poison yourself.
The number one thing I hear people say when I suggest that they go foraging is that they don't know what plants are what and they might eat something deadly poisonous by accident. There are two reasons why they are wrong:
#1. You do know some plants. You almost definitely know what a dandelion looks like, or pine tree, or plantain, or purslane, or a whole number of other plants. I don't think there is anyone out there who couldn't identify at least one edible plant, whether they knew it was edible or not. Edible plants are everywhere!
#2. Even if you do zero research (not recommended) the chance of you eating a plant and then dying from it is very, very low. There are some of plants (and fungi) that might give you a little temporary stomach churning or GI distress, but very few will actually kill you. Trust your gut (literally), and if in doubt don't eat it. Okay fine, if you really want to eat it, but you're not sure, eat just a little bit and wait to see what happens before eating more. Get some good ID books or a friend who knows about foraging and take em along. Start with plants you know and keep it simple, learning more as you go.
Oyster mushrooms in the White Mountains, NH
10. You don't need to be an expert.
Foraging is fun and easy for anyone from any background or of any age to try. There are many awesome resources out there from books, to classes, youtube videos, or podcasts. Immerse yourself in it and just have fun.
Want to learn more? Here's more posts I've written about foraging:
Foraging for Hopniss (Groundnuts)
Foraging for Jerusalem Artichokes
Foraging for Reishi Mushroom
10 Uses for Basswood
Maple Sugaring With Draft Horses
Willow Bark: The Homesteader's Aspirin
10 Reasons Why You Should Eat Roadkill
Nature's Antibiotic: Usnea Lichen
Is it Legal to Pick Up Roadkill?
How to Harvest and Process Chaga Mushroom
Speaking of resources, here are some of my favorites:
Disclaimer: This blog is just my own opinion, nothing more. While I try my hardest, everything may not be completely accurate or complete. Sorry, I'm only human, so do not hold me accountable for anything you do to harm yourself or the world around you. I do make money from this blog (seriously not very much at all guys). If you click on any of the links in my blog I may make money from it, at no extra cost to you. I'm not sponsored by any of these people I just honestly love these products and want to give you the resources to find them. I am not a medical practitioner; consult a health professional before using any herbal remedies. I am not claiming to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any ailment.