A feeling unique to spring comes over me every time we get a few days of sunshine and the air starts to smell full of life. It's as if, as the world around me comes alive, so does something within me. Something that needs wild greens and their taste of sunshine. Perhaps it's something in my genetic memory that says, "We survived the hungry, dark days. It's time to celebrate." And when I have this feeling, I know it's wildcrafting time, and grab my foraging tools.
Foraging food and using wild plants is such an important aspect of being human. So much delicious, wild food has been eaten for hundreds of years but can't make it to a grocery store, or have a shelf life. One of the best things you can do for the environment is to eat local, and there's nothing more local than eating wild edibles like dandelions, burdocks, chicory, and morels. It's one of my biggest hopes that people start to eat more wild food. I think it's a beautiful and important thing to connect with the growing world around you. Once you know the basics, foraging becomes easy and fun! You get to try incredible flavors you've never had before that feel right to your body in a primal way. With a mushroom knife and some gardening tools like trowels, you can harvest some high-quality food with very little effort.
Essentials Foraging Tools I Love
So, this time of year, I pack up my essential foraging tools and head out into the yard and up into the mountains. I have a foraging specific bag from Barebones Living that I love because it comes with a liner that's removable and washable. Mesh bags and woven baskets also work well, as they breathe and don't smoosh your wild food.
Barebones Harvesting & Gathering Bag
You can line your baskets with cloth to keep the plants safe. I have a half apron with gigantic pouches that I love. I put tool holders on the strings as a kind of tool belt so I have easy access to my tools.
My personal favorite tool is a pair of small pruning shears. I have a few pairs of pruners because I never seem to put them back in the same place, and always need them. They work so well, not only as a foraging tool, but also for houseplants and even small shrub pruning.
VIVOSUN 6.5 Inch Gardening Hand Pruner
A lot of foragers I know prefer a foraging knife, such as an opinel folding knife or a pocket knife. These work especially well when mushroom hunting, because the clippers can't always get the right angle. I personally don't forage mushrooms though, since they scare me! Way too many toxic look-a-likes for me. Maybe someday I will, but for now, I'll stick to greens.
A very important thing to have with you, especially if you're just starting out, is a plant identification book or app. I prefer to have foraging books because I don't always get service in the mountains. Foraging and Feasting by Dina Falconi and the National Audubon Society Field Guides are my favorite reliable sources.
Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook by Dina Falconi
I like them because they go into details about how to identify a plant (and Foraging and Feasting has some incredible recipes too!). Disclaimer— never, ever eat something unless you are absolutely sure it is what you think it is. There are a surprising number of cases each year of people poisoning themselves while foraging for ramps because an app misidentifies the shoots.
Most plants have very clear markers that distinguish them from look-a-likes. For instance, ramps have an unmistakable pungent onion/garlic smell. Trust your senses more than anything else! And if you do go ramp foraging, please never take the bulbs, only the tops of the leaves. Although the whole plant is edible, Ramps are over foraged and dying out alarmingly quickly, as they take years to grow. A good rule of thumb is to never take more than 5-20% of a patch of anything you're foraging.
Regular Mouth Mason Jar
I often take jars with me as well. And it's not just because I'm obsessed with collecting mason jars. They help when you're foraging little things like violets so they don't get lost or crushed in your bag. They also help keep things like stinging nettle separate, so you don't get stung every time you reach into your bag.
The last important tool to have is somewhere to hang your goods that you want to dry. I use metal clothes hangers with clips above my windows, so I don't have to fuss with tying bundles if I don't want to, I just clip them in and let them dry for a few weeks.
If you don't have one already, I truly hope you put together a foraging tool kit you love to help you eat the amazing wild things that grow all around us. Wildcrafting is such a fulfilling hobby that I hope to see become more common in the near future!
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