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What is foraging? How to find and cook edible plants

This guide to foraging gives you tips on how and where to identify and collect wild, edible plants. Get ideas for supplies, plants to find, and recipes. 

What if you could just snack from the wild when you’re hungry? Actually, you can. Healthy, edible plants grow in the wild. You just need to know how to find them. Collecting and eating wild plants is called “foraging.” 


For some people, it’s become a popular activity to share on social media: 

  • Alexis Nikole Nelson built a 2.4M viewer Tiktok following by foraging for wild edibles of all kinds. She has become a role model for many as a black woman freely enjoying the outdoors and reflecting on the relationship of historically enslaved people to the land. 

  • Isaias Hernandez aka queerbrownvegan on Tiktok shares how he forages and prepares wild edible plants as a vegan. He educates people about foraging as one part of a broader eco-friendly lifestyle. 


What is foraging?


Foraging is collecting naturally growing food such as berries, mushrooms, plants, or seaweed from any publicly accessible space. Technically, it can include shellfish or bugs, too. It differs from hunting in that it’s about collecting what’s available, not chasing or pursuing something. 


Plenty of edible plants grow without cultivation alongside highways, in open lots, and in forests. These plants are often safe to eat, depending on the cleanliness of the surrounding environment. Foragers learn which parts of plants, insects, and animals are edible and nutritious in their local environment, where they can find them, and how to prepare them to eat. 


By actively searching for edible food in uncultivated spaces, people understand the importance of having fewer toxins and pollutants in the environment. This is one way that foraging can be seen as an eco-friendly activity. It also promotes learning about the native plantlife and ecosystem of your region, so it improves your environmental knowledge.   


Depending on how often you forage, it can also be a source of affordable, healthy food to add to your diet. 


Where to forage wild edibles


First, it’s important to think about legal access. If you’re on public land or land that you own privately, you’re in the clear. Foraging on private property without permission, however, is illegal. 


Next, you’ll probably want to avoid places with known toxins present in the environment. Avoid spaces next to highways or dense urban areas with higher likelihood of acid rain. Check where the local toxic clean-up sites and industrial areas are to avoid their surrounding areas. Spaces next to agricultural fields are safe if they’re organic farms. Otherwise, the soil may be heavily impacted by pesticides and fertilizers. 


Nature preserves and National Parks and Forests are all excellent places to go to forage.  


How to safely collect wild edibles

A basket of wild mushrooms foraged from the wild.

Foraging gives you a superpower because you can learn to distinguish poisonous plants from healthy, nutritious ones. Be sure you know the distinguishing features of the plants you’re searching for and how to handle them before foraging them. 


Edible mushrooms are notorious for having poisonous near twins in the environment. Some plants have their own safety mechanisms in the form of thistles or stinging spines. Take gloves, pruning shears and a bucket or thick canvas bag for safely collecting your goods. 


Once you’ve foraged your plants, be sure to wash and eat only the edible parts. Some plants have edible roots, but poisonous leaves or vice versa. Compost the parts you’re not supposed to eat. 


Keep in mind that even though most people can eat an edible plant, you may have an allergy to a new plant. If you’re trying a new food for the first time ever, consider taking the “universal edibility test” to make sure your body doesn’t react negatively to it. 


It’s also the foragers code of honor not to take too much from the forest. Just take what you need and leave any smaller growing plants for others. 


Foraging supplies

Hiking shoes are a great essential tool for safely foraging.

Wear the right clothes for foraging. You’ll want loose fitting, comfortable clothes which you can get covered in wild plant seeds and dirt. Our Goodfair Take a Hike Bundle gives you a perfect foraging outfit, and our Surprise Baseball Hats will give you sun protection.  


Next, take a Goodfair tote bag or backpack to haul your foraged goods. 


Finally, gardening gloves and a pocket knife or pruning shears are helpful for pulling up plants from the root or snipping off edible parts of bushes, trees, or fungi. 


9 edible plants and fungi to forage

Bushel of herbs foraged from the great outdoors.

 Wild Garlic (Ramps)

  • What it looks like: Wild garlic in North America (allium tricoccum) has smooth, rounded green leaves ending in a point and it grows in clusters as a ground cover in spring. 

  • Where it grows: Eastern United States and Canada 

  • How to eat it: Chop up the leaves and bulb to eat similar to green onions. 

  • Recipe ideas: Add to any dish for flavor, especially pastas and salads. 


Wild fennel

  • What it looks like: It has tall, wispy green fronds of pale blue or light yellow growing from the ground, and yellow flowers that grow in a sunburst pattern. It’s actually an invasive species from the Mediterranean, so removing it to eat is an excellent idea. 

  • Where it grows: West coast and Arizona

  • How to eat it: Only eat the fronds and stems, not the bulb (unlike store-bought fennel).  

  • Recipe ideas: Chop it up and add it to soups, salads, roasted vegetable dishes, or baked biscuits and breads for a licorice-y flavor boost. 


Wild chanterelles

  • What they look like: A yellow to deep orange mushroom with a cap that spans roughly 2 inches in diameter. The caps have an irregular wavy inverted shape like ruffles. Chanterelles grow from the soil, unlike its mildly poisonous (but non lethal) twin which grows from wood: Jack O’ Lanterns. They have a fruity apricot-like smell.  

  • Where they grow: All over the US except for Hawaii in damp, shady areas

  • How to prepare them: Sautee them in butter or oil.   

  • Recipe ideas: Soups, risotto, omelette. 


Wild berries

  • What they look like: You can forage wild berries of all kinds: blackberries, huckleberries, blueberries, and strawberries. Most of these are familiar, because they look almost the same as their store-bought equivalents.

  • Where they grow: Berries love the Pacific Northwest

  • How to prepare them: Pluck, wash, and eat. 

  • Recipe ideas: Syrup, canned preserves, pies.


Dandelions

  • What they look like: It’s the ubiquitous lawn weed with the yellow flowers. 

  • Where they grow: Where don’t they grow?

  • How to prepare them: Dandelion greens are very nutritious, but you can also eat the petals and roots of dandelions. It’s actually a very useful plant. 

  • Recipe ideas: Salads, cooked greens, dandelion root tea. 


Amaranth greens

  • What they look like: Amaranth was originally grown and harvested by Aztecs. Spanish colonizers outlawed it due to its use in sacrificial feasts. There are 60 varieties of amaranth. It’s commonly recognized as a weed with clusters of dark green or purple leaves and a long frond covered with small flowers.  

  • Where they grow: They are an invasive weed in the southern US originally from Central and South America.  

  • How to prepare them: Wash and cook like other greens (spinach, collards, etc.)

  • Recipe ideas: Steamed, cooked in butter, stewed. 


Chicken of the woods mushroom

  • What it looks like: Laetiporus sulphureus is a large off-white to yellow shelf mushroom that grows on oak. It is a wavy fan-shaped mushroom with thick, overlapping brackets. Its diameter grows roughly 4 to 15 inches.  

  • Where it grows: Eastern North America

  • How to prepare it: Watch this video on how to clean chicken of the woods. 

  • Recipe ideas: Eat as a sautéed or fried main dish to substitute meat. 


Broadleaf plantain 

  • What it looks like: The plant is considered a weed with a rosette oval shaped leaf curled around a stem and a protruding stalk covered in small flowers. The leaves have noticeable veins and the plant can grow to about 6 inches in height.

  • Where it grows: Western and eastern United States

  • How to prepare it: Wash and eat the entire plant raw or cooked.

  • Recipe ideas: Use in a sauté, soup or stew. 


Cattails (plant) 

  • What it looks like: This native plant has been a staple food and material (baskets, mats, insulation, fire starter) for indigenous peoples of North America for centuries. It has a famous cigar-like seed-covered top, which grows on a stalk. The leaves grow upward from the base and they are several feet long and flat. 

  • Where it grows: All over the United States. 

  • How to prepare it: The leaves can be eaten in salads, the stalks can be cooked, and the roots can be ground into flour. The yellow pollen is also nutritious.   

  • Recipe ideas: Salad, sauté, soup, stew, or baked goods using the root flour. 


This list is by no means finished. Learn more about common plants you can prepare from chicory to pine needles to nettles by exploring this fantastic guide to wild edible plants. It contains all the information you need from seasonal growing seasons and identification tips. 


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