Long before humans were farmers, they were foragers. What was once an age-old way of eating has seen a resurgence by people interested in wild local foods, and with good reason. Foraging not only helps save on your food budget; wild foods are incredibly healthy, and a day of foraging can be filled with pure old-fashioned fun.
If you’ve never foraged for food before, fall is a great time to start. Nature puts out its most nutrient-rich foods in autumn when wildlife — and us — can eat them or store them for the cold, harsh winter months ahead.
Things You’ll Need:
- A pair of small garden snips, kitchen shears, or a good pocket knife
- A container such as a basket or reusable shopping bag for harvesting
- Gardening gloves
- A notebook to track harvests and locations (optional)
- Dress to protect! When foraging, wear long sleeves and pants to protect your limbs from things like burrs, thorns, stings, or poison ivy. Cover your feet with socks and sturdy shoes or boots.
- Make informed choices. Never, ever, ever eat something that you don’t know with 100% certainty if it is edible or not. Seek out the guidance of a local plant expert, consult and cross-reference when attempting to identify a new plant. If you have doubts, throw it out or compost it.
- Know the law. Laws can vary significantly from region to region, so make sure to do your homework. Foraging is off-limits in some parks and wilderness areas, so it’s best to know before you go. Naturally, don’t venture onto private property without permission.
- Avoid pollutants. Whether you forage in a forest or an urban area, avoid plants treated with herbicides or pesticides. Here’s a handy map for worldwide urban foraging.
- Start small. Wild local plants can be very potent. Begin by slowly introducing one wild edible at a time, in small amounts.
Before you grab a basket and head out, there are a few important considerations to note about foraging: you can die from eating the wrong plant, you can harm delicate ecosystems by walking around in sensitive habitats and decimate plant populations by over-harvesting.
The key is always to respect and honor the place where you are foraging, and the other animals who live there. Only harvest what is abundant and never take more than you can use. Forage just for those plants that you know are edible and forage for them respectfully.
FOODS TO FORAGE IN FALL
Here are some of the wild edibles that you can go and forage for in the fall.
I’m starting with mushrooms because almost everyone knows that there are dangerous, poisonous ones out there to avoid. While this isn’t something to forget, it also shouldn’t stop foragers from searching for wild mushrooms. All you need is a bit of caution and some know-how.
This Wild Mushroom Foraging Guide will help identify edible and poisonous mushrooms using photos and descriptions of various species. The guide also features mushrooms by season, making choosing ones that are easy to find and identify less complicated. Several fall wild mushroom finds are chanterelles, chicken of the woods, wood hedgehog, bolete, and wood blewit mushrooms.
Native Fruits & Nuts
Autumn fruit harvests are almost synonymous with apples, but native fruits are abundant for foragers. The trick is in the timing. Foraging for the ripe fruit means you have to get it before the wildlife can. But the reward can be sweet, or just a little tart. Look for these fall finds: Pawpaws, blackberries, elderberries, buffalo berries, wild grapes, or persimmons.
Trees also start to drop their nuts in autumn. You’ll spot acorns, black walnuts, gingko nuts, or even pine nuts if you’re lucky, all ready for the picking. Foragers beware: Some nuts like acorns require soaking or other preparations before using.
Leaves & Roots
Fall is a great time to forage for greens and leaves. Avoid plants alongside highways or dumping areas. Instead, look for plants that grow abundantly in spaces free from conventional pollutants. Fall foragers can find dandelions, chickweed, sheep sorrel, or stinging nettles.
Autumn is also the perfect time for harvesting roots because they’re a bit sweeter than their springtime selves due to their high inulin content. Seek out roots like wild parsnip, burdock, chicory, or horseradish. Like other foraged foods, the leaves, greens, and roots of native plants require caution and identification before consuming.