Foraging for Food: How To Do It Right

Foraging for Food: How To Do It Right

There are many different ways to meet your calorie needs and nutritional needs while you are out camping in the natural world. Most people pack their grocery store-bought food in a hard-sided cooler to cook on a campfire or a camping stove. 

But if you are a real die-hard outdoors adventurist, you may want to take a very natural and intense approach: foraging for your own wild food by looking for edible wild plants. From edible weeds like dandelions and hemlock (not its look-alike poison hemlock). Some prefer fruit like blackberries, mulberries, and elderberries. There are plenty of wild edibles to choose from in the ecosystem around you.

Whether your goal is to gather all of the food you need for your camping trip or simply to supplement your food stockpile with foraged food, you need to know what you’re doing before you dive in. 

When you consume foraged food, you are taking a risk; not all foraged food is safe to eat. In fact, many delicious and healthy foraged food options look suspiciously similar to poisonous alternatives that can leave you with a serious issue on your hands. Not to mention, you need to be careful about the potential presence of herbicides or pesticides. 

Read on for a basic field guide on how to forage for food the right way.

How To Do Your Foraging Research?

The first step for preparing yourself to forage properly in the wild for food is to do plenty of research into the art of foraging for food. Spotting the difference between tasty and nutritious edible food and poisons can be difficult for beginners; you need to be sure that your foraged food is not poisonous before consuming it. 

The best way to learn the art of foraging is from a mentor you can work with in person. Having them with you to aid you in spotting the differences between certain kinds of edibles in nature and poisonous plants is vital.

If a mentor is not available to you, your next best option could be thorough field guide books on foraging at your local bookstore. There are many high-quality books and guides out there for foraging; make sure whatever book you get has information relevant to your campsite and the types of foods you want to forage for on your trip.

Familiarize Yourself With Poisonous Species in Your Area

Another crucial step to take to forage for food the right way is to start by familiarizing yourself with the poisonous species in your area. While you may want to focus on the foods you are actually planning to eat, the essential thing is your safety.

While you might find plenty of chanterelle or morel mushrooms near you, there may also be poisonous mushrooms growing alongside their edible counterparts. Knowing the difference between edible plants, medicinal plants, and dangerous plants is vital. 

By starting with learning the info you need about the poisonous food items in your area, you can be sure you can identify the foodstuff that may cause you harm.

Never Go By Common Names

All plants and animals we have observed have both a common name and a Latin/scientific name to classify them. The tricky thing is, while there are no Latin name doubles out there, there are sometimes dozens or hundreds of species that can all go by the same common name, despite drastically different safety levels for your consumption. 

You should always try to clarify what edibles you are foraging or offering others on your trip by using their Latin names to identify the plant clearly and specifically. If someone else offers you an edible plant by a common name, ask for the scientific name to ensure that you are consuming safe plants. 

Learn the Parts of Edible Plants

Another crucial step that many first-time foragers don’t even think about is to learn the portions of edible plants that are usable for consumption. Many foragers might assume that if a plant is not poisonous, then the entire thing is edible. 

Many safe-to-eat edibles contain other parts of the plant that are either not good for consumption or are poisonous. You need to be sure you’re only using the parts of a plant that are truly safe for consumption, even those plants that aren’t entirely poisonous.

Track Species Through Yearly Cycles

You may be a champ at identifying edible plant species during the spring or summer, but if you don’t know what your plant species look like year-round through their entire seasonal cycle, you could be playing with fire. 

Many plant species, both edible and poisonous, tend to change colors, leaves, bloom, and blossom. Then, they go dormant again through the winter. Through all four seasons, plants may have very different looks, smells, and textures. A poisonous plant may be obvious during the spring but look nearly identical to an edible species in the wintertime.

Use All of Your Senses

The final piece of advice for you to do your food foraging the right way is to use all of your senses, not just your sight. While sight may be a very useful tool when foraging, and you can come to rely on sight if you learn only through a book, there are many other senses you can use to identify plants.

Many edible and poisonous plant species look incredibly similar, but if you take the time to engage with other senses like touch and smell, it can be much easier to identify the differences. You should be engaging with the plants and edibles you are foraging for to gain the best understanding of how to identify them in the future.

Wild garlic, leeks, ramps, and even acorns have their own distinct smells that let you know they’re either edible or usable for medicinal purposes. When foraging in the wild or on your private land, pay attention to those smells. Then, refer to your guidebooks for extra confirmation.

Mother’s Nature’s Home Recipes

There are few better ways to connect with nature while camping than to do some foraging to gather natural, fresh food for consumption. But remember, there are also some dangers associated with foraging, and you have to do it the right way to be safe.

Do your research, whether with the help of a mentor or through book learning. Dedicate a good amount to this pursuit of knowledge to identify the poisonous species in the area you will be foraging. You want to stay away as far as possible. 

Learn and use the Latin names for plant species to avoid confusion between edible and poisonous species with the same common name. Review what parts of the edible plants you find are usable, as some parts of edible plants can be poisonous as well.

Familiarize yourself with the characteristics of your plants during the entire yearly seasonal cycle so you can spot changes year-round. And finally, be sure that you are using more than just your sight to evaluate plants, as there is much to be gleaned from texture and aroma. 

And of course, don’t forget a camping cooler on your trip. You’ll need to store your freshly foraged berries and other plants if you want them to stay fresh long term. No matter where your adventure takes you, pack smart with Patriot Coolers.



How to forage for food | David Suzuki Foundation

How to Forage: All You Need to Know | Eat The Planet

Toxic Plants (by scientific name) | Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California

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