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A Beginner's Guide to Foraging

Person putting a mushroom in a basket
Foraging can be a fun, healthy, and sustainable way to supplement your kitchen with nature’s bounty. However, like every outdoor hobby, there are some important safety considerations and eco-conscious guidelines to keep in mind before you head out to the woods. Here’s a look at what every beginning forager should know.
 
Exercise caution
 
Before you eat — or even lay hands on — a plant or fungus from the wilderness, be completely sure that you’ve identified it. Brush up on your botany knowledge with a field guide that specializes in the flora and fauna found in your area. Kat Mackinnon and Briana Wiles, contributors to Backpacker.com, recommend consulting reputable websites like gobotany.nativeplanttrust.org and reading books by trusted authors like Briana Wiles, Samuel Thayer, and Thomas Elpel. On top of your self-directed studies, you can also learn more about your local edible vegetation by signing up for plant walks guided by experts on your local native plants.
 
Be smart about your foraging sites
 
If you’re interested in foraging wholesome, natural food, you probably don’t want to eat greens, berries, and herbs that have been doused in pesticides. Therefore, Ethical.net writer Elizabeth Waddington cautions you to stay away from foraging near roadways, industrial sites, golf courses, and other areas with manicured landscapes that may be laden with herbicides and pesticides. Instead, she suggests limiting your foraging to your private property, coastlines, and nature reserves. Just be sure to read up on local rules and get express permission before you forage on private property.
 
Forage sustainably
 
When foraging, try to leave as little impact on the ecosystem as possible. Pack in any trash you produce and try to step on surfaces like rocks or logs whenever possible instead of trampling low-growing vegetation. Furthermore, don't take any more produce than you need — the plants need to be populous enough to regrow their population, and the local wildlife needs to have enough to eat, too. To prevent excess damage, Waddington suggests picking from perennial plants since they regrow every year. For a highly sustainable snack, Mackinnon and Wiles suggest eating flora commonly considered to be weeds, such as nettles and dandelions. You won't deplete their numbers and their population will replenish quickly.
 
Safety first
 
Protect yourself against thorns, bug bites, and irritating plants by wearing gloves, long sleeves, and closed-toed shoes when foraging. Refresh your knowledge on identifying local plants like poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, and giant hogweed, which produces a sap that causes a blistering rash. If you’re headed to the coast to find some delicacies, Waddington also warns you to be aware of the weather and tide, as those can pose a danger to your safety if you aren’t prepared. And before you head out to the wilderness, check in with a friend or family member. Let them know where you’re headed and how long you plan to be out. That way, someone will know where to send help if you need it.
 
Want more help getting started with foraging? Consider attending events hosted by your local park system or speaking with a park ranger for more guidance.
 
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