Know The Rules   Leave a comment

Foraging is work.  It’s a lot of work.  Foraging is fun work, dirty work, long, tiring work; albeit ultimately satisfying work.  It will take you further than you thought possible.  Foraging is a time thief.  Hours disappear.  Months fly by.  It’s consuming and addictive!  Foraging begins with a question; as in: “Hey, what’s that book about?” or “Do you know what this is?”

And you’re off and running; thumbing through books in the library, scrolling through pages on the web and looking under every rock.  One question explodes.  It’s no longer wild strawberries and rose hips.  A universe of possibilities unfolds between your fingers.  And you become newly connected to heaven and earth; as you become simultaneously responsible for life and death.  Foraging is BIG; and it’s sacred.  Before you step into the garden, before you put anything in your mouth, stop and think about that.



I)      Identification, Identification, Identification.

A)      Purchase several field guides and read them repeatedly.  I recommend:

     1)  NATURE’S GARDEN – A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting and Preparing          EDIBLE WILD PLANTS    by Samuel Thayer.  Available through Forager’s Harvest Press, Birchwood, WI. and

This book is an absolute must.  Samuel Thayer shares his heart, enthusiasm, humor and fountain of foraging knowledge in an engrossing and very readable way.  If you only purchase one guide this should be it.  But, really, you also need:

     2) PETERSON FIELD GUIDES Edible Wild Plants by Lee Allen Peterson.  Available through Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.

I take this book everywhere.  Often I wish it were larger, with more photos.  More often I’m glad is small and easy to carry!

B)      Get confirmation from another live body.  If you can find an expert, go to them!  Most folks are happy to freely share their knowledge.  Taking classes, watching videos and attending seminars and workshops is invaluable.  At the very least have another pair of eyes study your find and your field guides.  If they don’t agree, whole heartedly, leave the plant alone and go back to researching.

C)      When in doubt, throw it out.  It is always far better to be safe than sorry or dead.

D)     Pay attention to details. . . NEVER substitute the tiniest detail.  When you are out hunting Wild Carrot and come across a plant that fits the description except it’s stem is smooth, it becomes good to know that this plant is NOT Wild Carrot, it’s Poison Hemlock.

E)      Know which parts to use, when to pick and how to process.  Not all parts of all edible plants are edible; all of the time!  In fact most have a small window of edibility.



II)      Protection, Protection, Protection

A)      Protect yourself.  Whenever possible go with a friend.  We are always safer in number!  Let someone know where you are going and when to expect your return.  Know the territory and weather report.  Dress appropriately.  I like layers.  Never wear open toed shoes.  A good, natural insect repellant is essential.  I, also, carry a can of wasp spray.  Wasp spray is designed to spray 15 – 20 feet away.  If I ever happen across an unfriendly predator (bear or wasp) I hope I remember it’s in my bag!  A cell phone is a good idea!  Make noise.  Well, except if you’re fishing!  I put bells on my shoes and hang a small wind chime from my bag; to let the critters know I’m coming.  Most wild animals, elves, trolls and fairies will leave the area, before you get there; avoiding the possibility of confrontation.

B)      Protect the environment.  Every step you take has consequences.  Be responsible.  Carry a garbage bag and pick up trash along the way.  If you’re going to take something away you better be willing to give something back.  I like to leave a place better than I found it.

C)      Protect the plants.  NEVER OVERPICK.  The planet has already been robbed of enough species by the hand of man.  Pick conservatively.  Leave plenty for others, both human and animal.  Anywhere you find a plant, there’s a very good chance there are more, near by.  Don’t decimate a small area and tell yourself it’s ok.  That care to pick a little here and a little there.  Always leave grandparent plants.  Grandys are the tallest, hardiest, often center plants.  They guarantee another harvest for next year.  Judicial harvesting will actually encourage new plant growth.

D)     PAY ATTENTION; stay in your senses:

“But it sometimes happens that I cannot easily shake off the village.  The thought of some work will run in my head, and I am not where my body is, – I am out of my senses.  In my walks I would fain return to my senses.  What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?  I suspect myself.”  ~Henry David Thoreau from Excursions

E)      Know which parts to use, when to pick and how to process.  Not all part of all edible plants are edible; all of the time!  In fact many have a small window of edibility.



H)      Never harvest in contaminated areas.  I like to stay at least 50 ft from the road.  Be extra conservative in industrial areas, near power lines, on golf courses, in public parks, around railroad tracks, and on folk’s lawns.  Check local records for area spraying.  Find out if and when it will be safe.  Stay clear of all exposed drainage pipes.

I)      Always wash your harvest.  It’s a good idea to do this outside, when possible.  Also, checking for hitch hikers, before you take your harvest inside, will reduce the possibility of bug wars later.

J)        Less is more.  Any time you eat any new food, do so sparingly.  An allergic reaction is always possible with new foods; whether found in the field, the supermarket or a restaurant.

III)      Take notes

            I use composition books, a large blotter style desk calendar, sketch books, my camera and this blog to keep a record of my foraging experiences.  Notating where plants are found, what grows around them, when they are in season and what it was all like; along with photos and drawings, will help me be more successful in years to come.

IV)  Get permission whenever appropriate.  Trespassing is against the law.  Getting arrested is not a good way to end a day of foraging!

V)  If it doesn’t taste right spit it out!  Many harmful plant constituents are bitter.

VI) Express your gratitude, in song, prayer and deed.

Most days I go foraging. Sometimes there’s not much out there to pick. But, when I walk into a field, or the woods, a transformation happens. The here and now disappear. The aches, pains, bruises and chips of life become irrelevant; or they become badges of honor. Nature rights me, restores me and fills me up. I become deeply connected to all that is, has ever been and will ever be. I become timeless.  It no longer matters what anyone thinks of me; not even myself!  I feel better, soften, more able, responsible and solidly connected, every day. I become myself as I become God. And that’s the best healing advice I can give.

Thanks for stopping by.


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