Foraging is one of my favourite things. Foraging combines my passions for nutrition and the environment. When we forage, our curiosity for our surroundings- the plants and the ecosystems they are growing in- tends to increase. As we begin to learn about the nutritive value and the healing potential of these plants, our respect for using foods and plants medicinally also grows. How can we not protect a forest or a meadow after we learn about all the healers and teachers that live there?
So, what is foraging and why would we do it? Foraging refers to searching and collecting food materials. It's only in very recent times in human history that some of our cultures have lost the knowledge of collecting their own food. This seems a little crazy to me. If the supermarkets all shut down tomorrow, what would you eat? Would you starve amidst all the food growing around you? I don't mean to sound survivalist or doom-and-gloom, but it does say something about the 'convenience' mindset of our culture that many of us would starve in a forest or go to the drugstore to buy a pill for a condition that a plant or a tree in your backyard could heal.
Currently, an 'Urban Foraging' trend is sweeping across North America. Top chefs and expensive restaurants are all clambering to source scavenged local foods and add a seasonal flair to their menus. Personally though, I think the best way to try Urban Foraging is by getting in your backyard or back alley, not from an expensive restaurant plate. So, for the month of July, each Friday, I'll be introducing you to the world of Urban Foraging.
This week, we'll begin with the Foraging Ground Rules that should always be present in our foraging adventures: (get it? GROUND rules!) -Get yourself a great plant ID guide. I like Peterson's Field Guides, but each one will have a slightly different system for looking up plants, so find the one that works for you.
-Only pick a plant if you are 100% sure you've correctly identified it. Use an experienced foraging friend or your plant ID guide, and make sure you've double checked that the plant doesn't have any look-alikes. -If you are sure and you pick, be safe by testing a small amount first. Mush up a little piece of the plant in your hands and place inside the bottom of your lip for 30 seconds or so. If you experience a reaction, don't eat the plant. If not, eat a small amount and notice if you have any reactions over the next few days. Remember: some plant families are huge, and a cousin of ragweed is wild chamomile, so if you have allergies to ragweed you may react to the whole family. -When you pick, make sure you know it's ecologically okay to do so. If you're taking the whole plant or collecting its seeds, then that plant won't reproduce. Make sure you are leaving enough for next year and other foragers, like the animals that use the plant for food. Never pick more than you need, never pick a fragile or endangered plant, never trample a fragile area to find a plant. I like to ask a plant if it's okay to pick it before I do and to thank it after I have.
There's your Foraging Ground Rules, now let's have some fun! This week (I'm in Toronto), a few of the plants I've seen are mulberries, service berries, cherries, linden blossoms, mint, dandelion flowers, plantain, wild chamomile, wild strawberry and rose petals, all within a few blocks of my home. Get out there! What do you see that you can eat?
If you are unsure about a plant, or if you have any questions about what you've read, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment on this post.
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