Foraging has become increasingly popular among those seeking connection with nature and a source of fresh, healthy food. Although it may be perceived as a fad, it’s in fact an age-old practice that has been around for millennia.
The basic meaning of foraging has remained the same throughout human history. However, the way we practice foraging has changed a lot over time.
Our ancestors had knowledge of their landscapes and knew how to identify wild edible plants, but modern life and significant lifestyle changes resulted in the loss of this knowledge for many of us. So, what is foraging in the 2020’s then?
What is foraging?
Foraging is the act of searching, identifying and collecting food resources in the wild, including a wide range of uncultivated plants, mushrooms, herbs, and fruits that grow naturally in our surroundings.
In the past, foraging was a normal part of life, and almost everyone would pick blackberrues from the hedgerows or an apple from the tree. Every household would use the ingredients growing locally, which were often growing wild.
As urbanization has advanced, the interest in wild foods has declined and many people don’t get the opportunity to learn about how food is grown and where it comes from, as everything can be found in supermarkets.
With increased awareness about the environment and carbon footprint, as well as scandals in the food industry, many people are rediscovering the benefits of foraging for their health and connecting with their landscapes again.
Foraging provides a unique opportunity to get closer to the land, appreciate the biodiversity around us, and obtain fresh, nutritious, and unique ingredients for our meals.
What is wild food?
Wild food refers to any plant or mushroom that is gathered for consumption and has not been cultivated or managed to increase its production. This definition can also be extended to include seaweed, molluscs, fishing, and game.
Weeds, often considered unwanted plants, can actually be edible and nutritious, but they are not commonly found in shops due to modern farming practices that prioritise more profitable crops. Sourcing these foods can also pose logistical challenges.
Many of us have fond memories of foraging for wild foods, such as picking blackberries, with our families. Traditionally, apples, sloes, and elderflowers have also been gathered from the wild to make delicious and nutritious preserves at home.
By foraging for wild food, we can rediscover the joys of connecting with nature and enjoy the unique tastes and health benefits of a diverse range of plants and mushrooms.
The British Isles offer a rich variety of edible plants, mushrooms, and fruits that can be found in our immediate surroundings, including the paths we walk every day, local parks, and even our own back gardens.
Hazelnut trees are lining the streets, generously dropping their nuts. Unmanaged gardens often see brambles bursting with juicy blackberries, while cherry trees planted in parks offer abundant harvests.
These plants have culinary and medicinal uses, and can be used in soups, stews, jams, chutneys, wines, and liqueurs, or for brewing tea and infusing oils.
In addition to their culinary and medicinal benefits, wild foods have the added advantage of being package-free, grown without harmful chemicals or fertilisers, and can be harvested locally, reducing food mileage and pollution.
What does it mean to be a forager?
Collecting wild food from our local environment can deepen our connection with the land. Through foraging, we become more attuned to the sights and sounds of nature and gain a deeper appreciation for the local landscape and our cultural heritage.
As a forager, we observe the seasonal changes in the environment, developing a meaningful and ongoing relationship with the land. This provides an alternative to our current global food system, that enables year-round access to food from anywhere.
Foraging is a sustainable way of sourcing food that reduces our dependence on industrial agriculture and preserves natural habitats, supporting local ecosystems and contributing to the long-term health and vitality of our environment.
What do foragers do to get resources?
Foraging can involve a leisurely stroll through the woods in search of wild garlic, a visit to the hedgerows to gather some juicy blackberries, or a trip to your local park to collect some crab apples.
Experienced foragers possess a keen sense of the best places to find any ingredient they require, regardless of the season. They understand the importance of familiarising themselves with the local landscape and developing an awareness of seasonal changes.
Foragers show respect for the environment and maintain a sustainable relationship with the landscape to prevent long-term damage and avoid harm from foraging practices.
Foraging responsibly helps preserve local ecosystems and protect our natural heritage for future generations. It also deepens our understanding and appreciation of the environment, strengthening our connection to the land.
How to become a forager?
Foraging is a skill that you can learn with patience and practice, regardless of whether or not you grew up gathering food in the wild.
To get started, invest in some good foraging books and venture out to your local park or woods. Observe the plants in their natural habitat, and learn as much as possible about how they develop and change throughout the season.
Start by focusing on one or two common plants, familiarising yourself with their appearance, habitat, and potential uses. As your knowledge grows, you can begin to explore other species and build your expertise.
It’s essential to pay close attention to details and observe changes throughout the season to ensure accurate identification before using the plants for food or medicine.
In fact, foraging demands a certain level of skill and consideration, but the rewards are immeasurable. With practice, you’ll be able to develop a deep connection to your local landscape, while also learning valuable survival skills that will last a lifetime.
With patience, persistence, and a willingness to learn, you can become a skilled forager and enjoy the bounty of nature in a sustainable and meaningful way
Are you up for the challenge?