Over the course of history, humans have harvested and eaten plants, seeds, nuts, mushrooms, and herbs directly from nature. In essence, that is what foraging wild food is all about. It wasn’t until agricultural practices began over 10,000 years ago that people moved away from foraging in the wild.
Why did people forage for wild food?
Basically, foraging involves going out and scavenging for food. You harvest edible plants, mushrooms, and game (animals) from the wild.
The act of foraging would have been a necessary part of our distant ancestors’ daily lives. Yet, surprisingly, some groups of people today practice foraging — largely because they enjoy the outdoors and believe that eating just as hunter-gatherers do is healthier and more ethical.
There are other reasons besides those listed above, including extreme circumstances where people have little choice but to forage. Around 2008 – 2009, the Great Recession and food price crisis made food so expensive that some turned to foraging wild food to feed their loved ones. During World War II, when bombings severely reduced citrus fruit imports into Britain, wild rosehips (made into syrup) provided vitamin C for both children and adults.
We still have the chance to go back to our roots by gathering our food in the wild, even if we no longer have to forage for food. After all, wild plants can be used for a wide range of purposes, including medicinal use and food.
POCKET FIELD GUIDE SURVIVAL KIT
Take these weatherproof info cards when foraging in North America.
SMALL FORAGING BAG KIT
Comes with knives perfect for pruning and harvesting mushrooms, fruits, and vegetables.
What are some examples of wild food?
The nettle is one of the easiest wild greens to identify. If you plan to pick stinging nettles, you should wear thick gloves. They are best picked early in the spring (around March), before they become tough and stringy.
Many stream banks, riversides, and damp soils in forests are home to wild garlic, also called ramsons or cow’s leek. The easiest way to recognize them is to rub a single leaf between your fingers and smell if it smells like chives or garlic. You can pick the young leaves at the end of March or the little white flowers that come later in the season, which make for a flavorful garnish.
It is common to find elderflowers along streams or even by the side of the road. Depending on the season, you can harvest either the flowers or berries. Some common uses of elderflowers include teas and tinctures that are great for cold relief.
Almost everyone remembers picking blackberries as a child. It is not hard to spot the berries in the fall, when many of them are ripe.
Wild nuts are abundant in the fall. It is great to use them in pestos, and stuffings, or to eat them on their own.
7 Benefits of Wild Food Foraging
1. Wild plants are good for health — and can be healthier than domesticated plants
Wild plants contain more phytonutrients that seem to reduce the risk of heart-related diseases in humans and happen to have a whole host of health values. Wild plants, vegetables, and berries produce these beneficial phytochemicals because they are not chemically treated or protected from pests and weather.
They are also rich in nutrients and can provide diversity (in vitamins and minerals) to your meals. A study comparing the sources of micronutrients consumed by villagers found that wild vegetables contributed 81% of carotene, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. This diversity in nutrients is important, especially since the average modern person eats rice, maize, and wheat in at least half of their meals.
2. Foraging in nature is therapeutic
When you spend time outdoors foraging, you’re less sedentary, which reduces your risk of chronic diseases. Foraging, in itself, makes you more physically active when hiking and harvesting in nature. Being in nature has also been proven to reduce overall stress and alleviate symptoms of both anxiety and depression.
3. Edible wild plants have intense flavors and are delicious
There are places, like Sierre Norte de Madrid, where people forage because they prefer the intense flavor of wild plants over those purchased from the store. So think back to when you first tasted wild blueberries (or even strawberries). The difference from store-bought ones is quite stark, isn’t it?
4. Food from the wild is fresh and organic
You can’t beat the freshness of picking edible plants from the wild. Pesticides and artificial fertilizers are not used. However, do be careful when gathering plants near farmland and other farm facilities because there may be chemical runoffs.
5. You get to experiment with your food
Because many edible wild plants might not be grown commercially, the recipes for them are also rare. This is a great reason to experiment and create fusions with old family recipes. The element of fun is there.
6. You appreciate the work involved to get your food on the table
We often overlook our privilege to buy food and groceries from a store — something our ancestors do not have the luxury of. By foraging for wild food, you will get new respect for food and live the hunter-gatherer’s life.
7. Save money
The food you find through foraging is completely free of charge. In recent times of crisis and war, foraging in the wild was one of the ways people fed their loved ones.
The Bottom Line
Foraging for wild food is a great way to get outside and connect with nature. Not only is it a fun activity, but it also has many benefits. Foraging can help you save money, eat healthier, and reduce your impact on the environment.
So next time you’re looking for a new adventure, consider heading out into the woods to forage for some wild food.
Get the right tools & field guides
Whether you’re a forager or someone who’d love to cook wild food, check out our store.