Foraging for food doesn’t mean you are scavenging around bins and eating food that no-one else wants to eat. Foraging basically means eating food that either grows, or wanders wild and is not farmed or cultivated for commercial consumption. What’s more, wild food grows at its own pace, it evolves continuously to live in harmony with its environment, and by foraging and eating it, we are also living in harmony with our environment.
Wild food includes plants (leaves, berries or nuts), fungi (mushrooms) or animals (rabbits, deer, hogs, grey squirrels and fowl). Wild food was once necessary for human survival, but most of us have now lost the knowledge of how to gather and eat wild food.
Many of the plants that we know as weeds are both edible and nutritious, and some plants that grow wild have been cultivated into some of the foods we know today (for example, parsnips, garlic and carrots).
Why Should we Eat Wild Food?
Some wild plants, or weeds are more nutritious than cultivated food, for example ‘fat hen’ contains more iron and protein than spinach, and more vitamin B and calcium than cabbage.
Eating wild food means eating with the season, which is better for our bodies and our minds. Wild food has no packaging, it is not sprayed with chemicals to kill insects or force it to grow beyond its means, it can be picked locally (reducing food miles and exhaust fumes) and it helps us get out and appreciate nature.
Eating wild meat also helps control populations of pests, such as squirrels, rabbits and pigeons.
Only pick well-known species of plant (for example nettles and dandelions) until you are more familiar with the types of plant available. Take a field guide with you to identify species you are unsure of – never eat something you don’t recognise. Many plants and fungi can be poisonous.
Get permission from the landowner if you are foraging on private land. Don’t take the whole plant – leave some to grow back so there’s enough for wild animals to eat and to preserve the species. Avoid picking species that grow near roadsides where they may be polluted from exhaust fumes, and on the borders of fields that may have been sprayed with chemical insecticides. Do not pick rare and endangered plants or fungi, similarly do not shoot red squirrels or hedgehogs as they are also endangered.
Foraging for you own food shouldn’t be a chore. In fact, it should be a fun and exciting way to get out and explore your local surroundings. You could try the following activities or enrol on a course to learn how to take part:
- Catching snails
- Collecting greens
- Ferreting for rabbits
- Gathering mushrooms
- Shooting game
- Trapping crayfish
If you have never foraged for your own wild food, there are plenty of courses or day trips available to get you started. You may want to go and gather mushrooms with a local expert in the woods, or learn which leaves to spot and collect. You can also learn how to shoot game and wild animals, or learn to fish. There are plenty of ways to get you started, and once you have done it a few times you will know exactly what you are looking for and learn to love foraging.