Foraging for wild food have increased in popularity over the last few years, becoming a trendy activity for some and a complete lifestyle for others.
However, foraging is something that has been around since the dawn of man. For many of us, foraging has been part of our lives since childhood. Unfortunately, knowledge has been lost in a large part of our society.
Over the past few years, I have noticed a surge of interest to learn foraging skills for the health benefits it offers. Others want to understand were our food comes from or appreciate unique ingredients.
What is foraging?
The foraging definition generally entails searching, identifying and collecting food resources in the wild. Those include a wide range of plants, mushrooms, herbs and fruits growing around us uncultivated.
Nearly everyone has picked a blackberry from the bush or an apple from the tree to eat it. In fact, until recently, foraging was a normal part of life. Every household would use the ingredients growing locally, which were often growing wild.
Then urban development changed our lifestyles and the interest in wild foods has slowly declined. Everything can be found in the supermarket nowadays, so most people don’t get the chance to learn how food is grown and where it comes from.
Recent scandals in the food industry have raised awareness for the environment and the carbon footprint. Many people are rediscovering the benefits of connecting with nature and the positive impact that foraging can have in our health.
What is wild food?
Wild food is basically any plant or mushroom gathered for consumption that has had no management to increase its production. This is sometimes extended to seaweed, molluscs, fishing and game.
Many of the plant species that we regard as weeds are in fact edible and nutritious, but we don’t see them in the shops because modern farming favours more profitable crops or it’s not logistically possible to make them readily available.
However many of us will have fond memories of blackberry picking with our family as an example of the foraging pursuit we have enjoyed at some point of our lives. Apples, sloes and elderflowers have been traditionally gathered in the wild to make some delicious and nutritive preserves at home.
Fortunately, we are blessed in the British Isles with a vast range of edible plants, mushrooms and fruit growing around us, not only in the forests but in our immediate surroundings. Chances are that those plants are growing on pathways you walk every day, in your local park or even in your own back garden.
Hazel trees line up the streets dropping nuts, brambles full of blackberries take over unmanaged gardens and cherry trees planted in parks all offer generous harvests.
All those ingredients can be used to cook incredible soups and stews, preserve into jams and chutneys, make your own wines and liqueurs or brew tea to make the most of their medicinal properties.
Moreover, wild food has no plastic packaging, no chemical fertilizers and can be picked locally, minimising food mileage and pollution.
What does it mean to be a forager?
Gathering wild food in our local area creates a meaningful and ongoing relationship with the land. We familiarise with the sights and sounds of nature and get to know the local landscape and our heritage.
A forager watches the seasonal changes in the landscape with every year that passes and offers an alternative to our current globalised food system, where we can buy anything at any time of year.
Gathering food from your landscape, at the time it normally grows, can provide a real sense of connection to the landscape.
Foraging is not only helping to satisfy basic nutritional needs but also to understand the world we live in.
What do foragers do to get resources?
Foraging may involve a walk in the woods in search of wild garlic, heading out to the hedgerows to pick some blackberries or a visit to your local park to harvest some crab apples.
Skilled foragers know where to find any ingredient they need at any time of the year. We know it’s important to familiarise ourselves with the local area and learn with the seasons.
The landscape is always treated with respect because we depend on those resources, as do other animals that inhabit the area.
How to become a forager?
Some foragers grew up picking food in the wild but it´s not always the case. Foraging is a skill you can learn with time and patience.
Get some good foraging books and venture to your local park. Learn as much as you can and watch how plants develop through the season.
Familiarise with your landscape and learn about one or two common plants at a time. This way you´ll slowly keep building some knowledge until you can move on faster.
Always pay attention to detail and the changes through the season to make sure you identify confidently before you decide to use them for food.
Foraging requires a certain set of skills and considerations that hopefully you will start learning soon. It might take a little bit to learn the ropes, but foraging skills are really useful and last forever.
Are you ready for the challenge?