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But when you become an adult, life becomes complicated. We learn about liability and risk, we try not to trespass on land that’s not ours, we hear about ecology and threatened species, and some of us eat out for every meal because we’ve found ourselves living a hectic, stress-filled life. We end up distant from understanding the plants that surround us. And suddenly, if your young child grabs your hand and tugs you toward a loaded berry bush, you may find yourself pulling them back, muttering “What if it’s poisonous?” or“别管它!——我们待会儿再去买吃的。”
If those words catch in your throat (or if you were that kid), this article is for you. The truth is, there is abundant wild food out there that is nutritious and free and absolutely delicious. I know many of us haven’t grown up with parents or a community who foraged routinely and taught us the ropes. Many of us might not be sure where to look or how to get started, or even how to know which plants are safe. But after reading this article, I hope to help set your feet on a good path toward understanding and the beginning of your own foraging journey.
The Poison Hurdle
But before we get into the how to identify, let’s cover the very important part of how to approach wild plants in general. There’s inherent risk with any activity but the specter of poison has created two very extreme and erring sides on the beginner’s foraging spectrum.
一边是恐惧的人。这些人仍然怀疑每一种植物都有潜在的毒性，以至于他们会感到恶心……即使这些食物是安全的，而且被正确识别了。任何与焦虑作斗争的人都知道，焦虑会让你感到恶心和恐慌，这些症状很容易被认为是中毒。然而，忧虑会使任何一顿饭的味道变淡，还会阻碍你的知识进步。I suppose the irony on this side of the spectrum is these people probably never get poisoned–they can’t, since they’re too worried that that clump of wild strawberries might,just might, be a deadly nightshade bush in disguise (spoiler alert: it’s not.).
Your job is to be in the thoughtful, well-informed middle. To neither make the assumption that every plant could hurt you, nor the assumption that no plant could hurt you. And that starts with knowing a thing or two (or 20) about the plants you hope to eat. Let’s talk about how to get started.
How to Properly ID a Plant
In order to forage, you need to be willing to learn a lot about plants. Not just their names, but their parts, growing seasons, preferred habitats, and any idiosyncrasies. Taking the time to really learn your foraged food will allow you to follow the single most important rule in foraging:永远不要吃一种植物，除非你百分之百确定它的身份。
Samuel Thayerhas written a 5-step process for plant identification that’s just so spot-on I couldn’t improve it. Here’s a summary of the process I’ve learned from his books and use myself in the field.
1. Tentative Identification
This is when you find a plant, and think you know what it is. This is the beginning of an identification process, however, not the only part of it.
2. Reference Comparison
现在，花点时间检查一下可能被识别的植物。将它与最初向你介绍它的指南书进行比较，仔细阅读描述。确保列出的每一个点都匹配，尤其是那些被强调为关键特征的点。如果不匹配，不要强迫它匹配。如果你不懂所有的植物学术语，不要掩饰它。If you lazilyTLDRa plant description because the terms are unfamiliar, you put yourself in unnecessary danger. Learn what an umbel, a bract,a petiole,and a raceme are (and so on) because these are crucial tools for positive identification. Finally, never use a single feature as the only identification confirmation.
3. Cross Referencing
4. Specimen Search
Go find lots and lots of samples of your potentially identified plant in the field. As you know (or as you’ll learn) the environment can totally change how a plant grows. A dandelion growing directly in a sunny field, for instance, will produce feathery, deeply-toothed leaves that lay almost flat on the ground. A dandelion growing in a shaded area will grow wide leaves that point upwards. You’ll need to learn the range in variability for your target plant so you can develop your recognition beyond the single photo in the guide book. This process may take an hour, or it may take years.
5. Contradictory Confidence
This is the deep-seated confidence that means you can recognize and positively identify a plant as food, even if someone were to try to convince you otherwise. That’s how well you should know a plant before you eat it. If there is a shred of doubt about a plant you have found,use it as a red flag that it’s not time to eat it yet. This is perhaps the most difficult level of identification to achieve, but one of the most crucial. With some plants, it may take years to grasp. Take that time. I still have many plants at this step — though I can find them, I don’t have complete confidence if someone were to challenge me on it, and I still haven’t eaten them.
New Forager Tips
Listen to Your Body
Right Plant, Right Time, Right Way
Wild plants are much like any other domesticated plant. They taste best and are most useful when the right plant is used in the right way at the right point in its growth. Think about the difference between eating a perfect avocado (the best!) and an avocado that’s a week too old. Or consider the potato — not so great raw, amazing when cooked. Wild plants likewise have windows of prime palatability and safety. Since we in the West don’t have a huge cultural tradition of using wild plants, you’ll have to go on a personal quest to meet and know every wild food you add into your foraging repertoire. Read carefully about when it is best to harvest a wild plant during the growing year, and how it’s best to prepare it.
Where to Find Wild Food
Your Own Land
Of course, the easiest and most accessible place to find wild food is your own land, and you don’t need a back 40 to have enough. Even a postage stamp in the city can grow a surprising array of food to forage if you know what to look for.
If you find wild plants that you particularly enjoy, there’s no reason you can’t plant them on your property and maintain your own patches of undomesticated goodness. You can obtain seedlings and bare-root trees of many edible native plants from your state’s department of conservation.
Related Post:Foraging For Wild Berries
Other People’s Land
Never forage on someone else’s land without asking.
This is adodgy and confusing subjectas the rules and laws governing foraging are anything but clear or consistent. At the city, state, and national level, you’ll find everything from full-scale prohibition to vague allowance. You’ll find outdated laws that ban native peoples from gathering foods in their traditional gathering places, and park visitors fined for gathering berries, but you’ll also find nature programs that teach and encourage foraging, as well as activist groups fighting for peoples’ rights to enjoy wild food as a means of conservation. Online debates rage, some accusing any forager of destroying shared natural spaces, others explaining that foraging actually improves the land when done responsibly.
首先，你可以从寻找自然中心和公园提供的觅食项目开始。Not only are these excellent opportunities for firsthand instruction, they give you an opportunity to locate some areas deemed acceptable for foraging.
You could also scope out fruit and nut trees in public spaces ahead of time, and watch for when they’re ready to harvest. In many more urban areas, these trees are seen as a messy nuisance. Ask someone who works in a building on the property if you can help yourself to the unwanted bounty of mulberries, walnuts, persimmons, acorns, or apples. Many people are more than willing to have their sidewalk-staining problem cleaned up.
Wherever you decide to forage, and whether you get involved in petitioning local authorities for more freedom or work out a deal with a local park, do it neatly, responsibly, and thoughtfully. Foraging has been given an unfairly bad reputation by many well-meaning (but often ignorant) conservation-minded people who claim that we’re destroying the areas we harvest. The reality is that most of us really care for and protect our foraging sites. Don’t give them fuel for their fire by making a mess, leaving holes, or selfishly wiping out entire areas of roots, bulbs, and rare plants.
Related Post:Foraging for Pokeweed
Where to Avoid
Not everywhere is safe for foraging, however. As you go plant-hunting, avoid harvesting from the following areas.
Manicured Public Spaces
Along the sidewalk in town, in the strip of grass beside the post office, around the gazebo in the town square, in the lawn at college, there are plenty of plants growing. These areas, however, are spaces I would strongly advise avoiding. Areas that are in full public view and aren’t reserved as a wilderness or nature area, are almost certainly contaminated. Businesses really don’t like the dandelion growing through the sidewalk, the chickweed sprawled at the side of the building, or the clover in the lawn, and will usually employ whatever chemical means necessary to improve the look of their establishment. The only wild food that might be safe in these environments are tree nuts and fruits.
Under Powerlines or Around Utilities
Power companies don’t like plants growing around their lines, and will often spray toxic pesticides directly under and around them to keep the spaces clear.
Roadsides and Parking Lots
Cars generate and leak tons of chemicals onto the ground, and this contaminates the areas directly bordering roads. The concentrationsof lead along roadways built before the advent of unleaded gasolinecan be surprisingly high. As such, avoid plants growing downslope of roads or directly bordering parking lots.
Industrial Areas and Contaminated Ground
An amazing feature of many plants is their ability to uptake toxins from the soil and clean it in ways that no human-powered crew could (this process is calledbioremediation, and it’s fascinating). It means, however, that many mineral-rich plants such as clover and wild spinach could easily be contaminated if they are growing in toxic ground. Industrial areas, dumping sites, and any other place potentially contaminated with chemicals are places to avoid.
Make Sure Your Teachers Practice What They Preach
最近，随着互联网的普及，人们可以更广泛地获得有关觅食的信息，觅食越来越受欢迎。我个人非常感激现代资源提供的信息，正是这些信息让我在十年前踏上了这条旅程。虽然我很高兴看到人们发现健康的食物和户外活动，但我越来越感到困惑和不安的是，不准确和错误的信息如雨后春笋般涌现在所有的好东西。You can see everything from misidentified pictures, bad advice, and recipes that don’t seem possible.
- Make sure they have photos of the plant — and specifically, photos they have taken themselves.
- Make sure they use the scientific name of the plant they’re discussing. Many plants go by several different names, and sometimes different plants go by the same name. It’s too easy to get identification crossed when you only use a local common name.
- Make sure the article or author teaches you what specific parts of the plants to use, and during what part of their growth. Some plants are only edible or palatable at certain points of their growth, and not every part of every edible plant is safe.
With all that said, I can vouch that the resources I list for this article come from foragers who eat what they teach. I also promise that every plant I write about will be one that I have gathered and eaten personally. Even so, don’t take my word for it. You need to learn for yourselves, and use a non-fearful, yet discriminating eye on whatever you read.
Some Helpful Resources
This is a very incomplete list of good websites (a much better list is here), but it’s a good start.
Insteading:We have an ever-growing list of articles on foraging here!
Books by Euell Gibbons, the granddaddy of modern foraging
Foraging is an endeavor you can begin in a weekend, and continue refining for your entire life. Being able to interact with the wild on such a direct level, transforms the landscape from an inert green expanse to a wild garden that you know and understand more and more each year. It can also cultivate love for those spaces — a sort of love that makes foragers some of the most surprisingly involved and passionate conservationists and naturalists in the world. When you bring home a full bowl of free food that you didn’t plant and cultivate, it can seed an incredible gratitude in your heart as well.
So maybe this summer, instead of tugging your child away, you can grab their hand and accompany them to those blackberry brambles, and together enjoy some of the best food in the world.
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