Foraging is an age-old method of obtaining food, and while it's much harder to do today in an urbanized America, there are still places you can find free and wild food that may surprise you. Maybe you're looking for a special treat that's just too expensive at the grocery store, or maybe you're in desperate need of some edibles. Either way, here are some tips and tricks that will help you safely (and legally!) forage in your own neighborhood and local park.
Some basic tips:
- Don't forage in another person's yard without permission first. Even if they have, for instance, a fruit tree that's dropping its bounty onto the ground to rot, just knock on their door and ask if you can take it. Never hurts to be a good neighbor!
- Learn when things are in season and go out foraging with a specific eye out for that thing.
- Always, always wash your food before you eat it. Foraged food from a roadside tends to have nasty residue from passing cars that you'll want to get rid of before you eat it.
Dandelions are one of the easiest forageables to spot. The bright yellow flowers are very distinctive -- but it's actually the leaves you'll want to pinch off and use in salads. Dandelion leaves are most delicious when mixed with regular lettuce pieces and drizzled with a vinaigrette!
Blackberries are a classic forageable. You can find these sprouting alongside roads, growing along the edges of parks, and popping up in shady backyard tangles. The berries themselves are delicate and messy, and will stain your fingers when you pick them. Be sure to cart plastic bags around with you in the car during the summertime and early fall, when blackberries most frequently appear.
Mushrooms are an interesting forageable. You can't just eat any mushroom you find, as some are quite poisonous, yet many mushrooms are delicious and edible (and expensive when purchased in a store!). Check out the link at the end of this article for some tips on how to safely harvest mushrooms and not end up eating the ones that will later make you sick!
Wild garlic can be found in the Eastern and Central parts of the U.S., and looks like green onions. It can be found in patches of dirt and in grain fields, where it is considered a weed; harvest the leaves by clipping or pinching them away from the stalk. Use it in soups and pastas, or make a pesto out of the leaves.
Fruit grows naturally in some areas (or, as mentioned before, some people plant fruit trees in their yards in suburban areas), and can be either very easy or very difficult to harvest. Apples, for example, are easy enough to harvest when the tree is small, but you may have to bring in a ladder for a larger tree. Look for fruits like plums, peaches, apples, pears, and cherries, among others.
What kinds of dishes do you make with foraged food? Share with us in the comments!