Try Something New - Foraging!

Posted by Whole Earth | 05.29.2024

A forager displays in their cupped hands wild blueberries!



Try Something New - Foraging!


Our Try Something New for this summer is Foraging! Just by virtue of being alive, you have had ancestors who successfully foraged many thousands of years ago. And in more recent times, foraging has been a way to find food in lean times or for us today to add some variety to our everyday meals.


Now the first thing to remember is that our ancestors had access to plant knowledge that had been handed down for generations. They knew which plants were safe to eat and to use as medicine and which ones should be left alone. Unless you're a part of a very traditional family, you probably don't have family members who've seen to it that this knowledge has been passed on to you. But fear not! Here in Texas and in many other parts of the country, it is possible to learn foraging from folks who know plants and fungi and are willing to share their knowledge with you. Plus there are excellent field guides to assist you in your plant studies.


Not to dampen your enthusiasm but foraging is a serious endeavor. It's not enough to take a class and then head out to see what you can find. A lackadaisical approach to plant identification can lead to serious illness and even death. So how do we begin?


Foraging Texas by Eric Knight and Stacy CoplinA good place to start would be acquiring a good field guide to foraging. Here in Texas an excellent choice would be Falcon Guides Foraging Texas - Finding, Identifying, and Preparing Edible Wild Foods in Texas by Eric M. Knight and Stacy M. Coplin. Other possibilities with a national focus are Foraging - Explore Nature's Bounty and Turn Your Foraged Finds into Flavorful Feasts by Texan Mark "Merriwether" Vorderbruggen or Edible Wild Plants - Wild Foods from Foraging to Feasting by John Kallas.


All three books have important introductory material touching on topics such as general safety, the ethics of foraging, plant identification skills, foraging equipment, and techniques for harvesting. In Foraging Texas, the authors include a section on "The Most Dangerous Wild Plants in Texas" believing that these are the first plants we should learn to identify. The list includes Poison Ivy, Moonflower, and Texas Mountain Laurel among others.  All three guides include range maps. For Texans, Foraging Texas is the most useful as the range map is the state and shows the counties where the plant is most likely to be found. Foraging and Edible Wild Plants have maps of the United States and Canada showing plant distribution.


Perhaps the most important skill for successful foraging is learning how to identify plants. This involves becoming knowledgeable about botanical terminology concerning leaf arrangement, leaf shapes, leaf types, leaf margins, and the structure of flowers. Foraging and Foraging Texas each have glossaries and diagrams to help with plant identification. If you'd like to take a deep dive into the subject, Botany in a Day - The Patterns Method of Plant Identification by Thomas J. Elpel is an excellent introduction to the topic as well as to the plant families of North America.


Each of the guides divide edible plants into several categories - trees, shrubs and vines, weeds or herbs, wildflowers, and forbs, as well as aquatic plants. Merriwether includes a few mushrooms and lichen for good measure. Merriwether describes over 70 plants, Knight and Coplin, over 90 while Kallas takes an in-depth look at 14 plants. Each plant listing includes photographs, the scientific name, plant description, range and habitat, related species, toxic lookalikes if a warning is needed, uses, recipes and proper preparation.


Looking for information on foraging classes near you? Eat the Planet has a state-by-state list.


Here in Texas - 

Merriwether's Foraging Texas - Includes more information and photos on plants, plus Texas range maps. Possibilities can be sorted by color, environment, use and season. There is also a section on Emergency Preparedness, plus links to his social media feeds including @merriwetherforager.


Another forager you may enjoy following on social media is Alexis Nikole Nelson. You can find her on Instagram @blackforager


Interested in mushrooms? Visit the Central Texas Mycological Society website for class listings and other events. 



Top Tips for Foraging

Learn from the experts. Take classes. Study field guides.

Learn the most dangerous plants first.

Forage with friends.

Wear protective clothing and watch your step.

Avoid toxic environments.

Forage in permitted locations.

What's in season?

ALL features of the plant must match guide photos and descriptions.

Document everything.

Don't mimic animals. What's safe for them may be poisonous for humans.

Leave 90% of the plant for regrowth

Use a sharp knife for harvesting so the plant will heal quickly.

Leave no trace!








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