Nature’s free gift of food…wild foods or wild edibles known for nutritional, medicinal and environmental benefits.
In today’s blog I will discuss tips on food foraging, benefits of wild foods, top wild foods to forage, safety and environmental benefits of wild food foraging.
It all started with my passion and curious for nutrition and herbal medicine, I fell in love with the idea that you can walk in a park, farm lands, oceans and wilderness, identify edible plants from everything around you and eat them! Sounds very simple however it is an art! And once you start identifying the plants you will want to learn more! You fall in love and identifying plants becomes your obsession! In wild foraging you can find berries, bitter leafy greens, sea vegetables, nuts, mushrooms, flowers, salt and spring water. You can find foods that have all six tastes that Ayurveda talks about such as sweet, salty, bitter, pungent (spicy), sour and astringent (drying).
We are all depended on agriculture for majority of our foods but it is more fun being self-sufficient and unlocking the secrets of the nature around us. Food is provided for us in abundance and it is time we value that and take advantage. When you learn about wild food foraging, sprouting and harvesting your own spring water you will know that “hunger” is caused by either lack of knowledge or due to the fact that people are in a place where maybe nature is not supplying resources due to some natural calamities. Well you may want to consider political agenda behind hunger too! Isn’t that the reason GMO seeds were created? Plants, seeds, herbs and spices are being patented?
Ah! let’s keep that for another blog and focus on how to start this natural adventure. This is specially handy for those who loves camping, walking in the wild and eating for energy!
Before you start foraging, learn how to identify plants:
The most important thing to do if you are curious about wild foraging is making sure you learn how to identify the edible from the mix. My first experience with foraging was with my herbal teacher Susan Elliotson, who owns a beautiful property in Caledon, Ontario. She has all sorts of medicinal herbs and wild foods growing in her garden. I literally felt like Alice in wonderland! She showed us various plants and how we can use them. We can make teas, pesto, sandwiches, salads, sauces, fritters and herbal medicine using these plants.
Identifying plants before gathering is extremely crucial. You can find out if you have a group of people who go for wild foraging in your area using meetup.com or get a herbal plant book from your local library to identify plants growing near you. There are many plants that look-alike and you must be sure it is the one you are looking for before consuming, Going for a herb walk or foraging with a group of people couple of times will help assist with local edible plant identification. You will also learn which part of the plant is edible.
When you are ready to go deeper, then you can start foraging more often which in turn will give you an edge to understand these plants in their various growing stages.
Safety and general rules of foraging:
Once you learn how to identify plants the next step would be to gather them for consumption. Therefore you need to be respectful, honor the plants that are rare, and make sure you are not picking all of the edible of a certain species around that area (that way the plant can reproduce and stay alive in that ecosystem). Be considerate that there could be others who are foraging too. When you read books or walk with an expert ask them what would be the correct phase to harvest a plant? This will ensure that you are not gathering the plant’s leaves, flower or root in the delicate phase of its lifecycle. For example gathering leaves, flower and fruits during the summer is best and roots during fall.
Also be aware of safety. There are a few plants that are poisonous enough to kill you, some may cause allergic reaction and other dermatitis. Make sure you learn to identify these plants so that you never gather them.
You also need to make sure you are not harvesting from an area where air or water pollution is high or any kind of chemical pesticides where sprayed.
I also want to caution you to not to forage for commercial purpose. Depending on the area you live it may cause legal problem. Always make sure that you ask for permission before foraging anywhere.
Learn about the steps after gathering wild edibles. Here are some ideas:
- Rinse or soak the plant (leaves and roots) in cool water. Make sure all the dirt from the land is washed away. We did this after collecting dandelion roots. Lots of dirt.
- At Susan’s place we used screens and clothes to dry the dandelion leaves and hung the Melissa branches upside down to dry the leaves. Some of my friends use food dehydrator to dry leaves.
- If you are collecting mushrooms, specially tree mushrooms then the process of drying and roasting is a bit more complicated. Educate yourself before harvesting mushrooms.
- If you are collecting flowers pick through the dirt and give them a quick rinse. We used St. John’s Wort to make medicinal oil and calendula to make a salve. You can also add them in your salad bowl!
- Berries and seeds can be stored these for long term usage. Wash, dry and store in a glass jar if you are collecting seeds and wash, dry and freeze if you collected berries.
Benefits of wild edible foraging:
- They are available all around you however you need to learn how to identify them and where you pick them from.
- They are absolutely free. Just be respectful of the plant and other foragers before harvesting.
- You will be amazed and pleasantly surprised when you discover the nutritional content of these plants.
- They are extra healthy and fresh because you are picking them in season. Imagine the energetics of the plants when they are picked and consumed fresh – lots of enzymes and chlorophyll!
- Most of these plants contain other medicinal properties that can heal you from various ailments. As you learn more and more you will discover from various books, friends or the people in your group who are foraging with you which plants have what benefits.
- In any given survival scenario you are a smart and intelligent survivor who would reap the benefits from these plants.
- In addition to having the benefit of walking in the nature you are also getting fresh air, sunlight and exercise! Can this really get any better?
- You can reduce your carbon footprint and be a conscious person. These plants will not require transporting them in large vehicles, big storage facility and packaging.
- You save money and get more nutrition from these foods than the foods in your grocery stores!
- You don’t need to worry about food being organic as long as they are wild. Only thing you may want to consider is nothing was sprayed on these plants, i.e. no pesticides, herbicide or chemical fertilizer.
Top wild edibles near GTA (Greater Toronto Area):
I am not sure if these are statistically the most popular or not. However on my walks these are the most common ones I have seen
As a nutritionist as far as I can tell – all of them are packed with nutritional and medicinal values.
I highly encourage you to become curious, explore and enjoy great tasting recipes made out of these plants. Remember if you don’t want to be dependent on pharmaceuticals then you don’t want to depend of health food stores either. I truly believe with a little bit of time, planning and learning, you can make food your medicine!