Foraging for Wild Edibles
Spring is in the air! The snow is melting, streams are running full, birds are singing, and there’s an exhilarating quality to the air that you only find at this time of year. Which means that it is also a good time to start staking out all those areas ripe with wild edible foods! This is an activity that takes research, practice, and caution, but once you’ve done your homework, you’ll start to find a number of wild edibles you may not have even known about before.
Your backyard can be the first place to check, with plants like dandelion, evening primrose, plantain, and blue violet commonly found growing in yards. Other springtime plants to forage are burdock root, white pine needles and inner bark, wintergreen, and Indian cucumber root. They’re tasty, too! Wintergreen tastes like spearmint, Indian Cucumber root tastes like cucumber, spruce tips are nice and citrusy (and also make a nice tea), and wood sorrel is a common weed that tastes like lemon. Many of these are often found in wooded environments, so research further, then head to a few nearby trails and start observing to see what you can find.
Keep an eye on wet areas and stream beds for signs of fiddleheads, eye roadsides for patches of the invasive Japanese knotweed (the young shoots can be eaten like asparagus). Remember where you see wild apple trees blossoming to come back and check for fruit in the fall. Note areas with oak stands as possible places to find mushrooms later on, when the weather turns warm. Once you get into wild foraging it is amazing the bounty that is available throughout the growing season and into the fall.
While foraging for edible plants is a fun way to experience the changing seasons, it should be done so with extreme care. It is very important to remember to be careful and only eat something if you are 100% sure you can identify it. If you are eating a banana and someone comes up and tells you that actually the long yellow fruit that you are peeling and enjoying is a tomato, you would obviously tell them they are wrong. You should have that same level of confidence when foraging for wild edibles. With wild foraging it is best to learn a few wild edible items very well and just stick with those for a while and then expand your foraging as you become more confident in your ability to identify plants.
Another important rule to remember with wild foraged food it to wash it very well, most likely it has been exposed to a multitude of natural surface bacteria and you want to make sure you aren’t exposed to anything that could lead to illness.
In addition to your own health, you should also keep the health of the ecosystem in mind by practicing restraint. You don’t want to overharvest for a number of reasons. First, if you overharvest the plant can’t come back and you don’t get to enjoy it anymore; second, and perhaps more important, lots of critters rely on those plants for their survival. Take away that food source and not only will you lose some of nature’s beautiful greenery, but you will lose those cute furry companions as well.
If you would like to learn more about wild foraging, try reading Tom Seymour’s Wild Plants of Maine. It is a great guide, laid out by season with helpful photos and even some recipes in the back. We are especially fond of the book because it is specific to Maine, making its content entirely relevant to the interested Maine forager. Another good book for the wild forager is Foraged Flavor by Tama Matsuoka Wong with Eddy Leroux. This book focuses more attention on preparing and cooking with wild edibles, offering pages and pages of mouthwatering recipes. If you need a little inspiration to get you started on your wild foraging path watch this short YouTube book trailer for Foraged Flavor. We were inspired, and we think you will be too!
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