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Teaching The Future Generation, Part 3: Foraging

Traci N SmithThese articles will be written so as to help everyone from all walks of life (or as close as I can get to it) and I always appreciate feedback on them. If you have ideas on ways to teach others skills, feel free to leave it in the comments or to join the conversation on Facebook!

So here we go with the third skill!

Foraging

You and your family are on a road trip when the car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Your cell phone is dead. There is zero traffic on the road. And the nearest town is 20 miles away. What would you do? While this is not a likely scenario for most, it is for others. What would you do if you ran out of food and had no money to get more? Or no way to get to the store? What if you couldn’t find seeds to plant for a garden? On a less dire note, what if you just wanted to go spend a week in the woods and live off the land with no modern conveniences? How would you eat? How would you get water? How would you survive?

Foraging for our food is one of the oldest skills of mankind. So why have most people forgotten it? The long and short answer is progress. We no longer rely on skills such as this as an everyday need. We can just pop over to the store and buy whatever we need. So who needs to remember how to forage for food? Right? Wrong. Everyone needs to know how to forage for their own food.

Wild Edibles

To begin with, let’s define “foraging.” Foraging is the acquisition of food by hunting, fishing, or the gathering of plant matter, per Dictionary.com.

Most people know about mushroom hunting or picking blackberries. But do you know about searching for ferns, dandelions, cattails, or clovers? How about sharpening a stick into a spear and using it to catch fish? Or setting snares for rabbits? There are all kinds of ways to forage for food. And even more types of food to forage for. I’m not going to pretend that I know very many of them. Because I don’t. This will be one of the articles that I learn along with you. So let’s get started!

Why would one want to know how to forage for their own food? Well for starters, if there is ever a dire survival situation when you would need to know, it is a handy skill to have. Do I honestly think most people will wind up in a situation like that? Not likely. So let’s go over some other reasons. I found a really good website here that gives 10 good reasons. So I’m going to take a few of their 10 reasons and expand on them.

1. You can do it no matter where you live. Whether you live in the city or in the country, there are a variety of things that grow wild around us that we can eat. Example: Did you know that dandelions are edible? They grow all over the U.S. The whole plant is edible, greens, flowers and roots. And in foreign countries, they are seen as common place in salads as lettuce. A word of caution, however, is to make sure that you do not eat Dandelions that have been sprayed with chemicals. Learn more about harvesting and eating dandelions here.

2. Foraging changes your vision. What were seen as annoying and troubling weeds take on a whole new dimension. As do a lot of other things. Where before you were confined to finding food at the store, a whole new world of possibilities has now opened up. And odds are, once that happens with your food, you will find yourself applying that to the rest of your life as well.

4. Foraging teaches patience. Who couldn’t use a little more patience in their life? You can’t just walk out into your yard and find a buffet of free food waiting for you. I mean, you could if you knew what to look for. But you still have to look for it. It’s not going to pick and package itself and lay on a shelf for you like at the store. You have to put the work into learning the skills and then the work into finding and harvesting the food.

8. Foraging can help save money on your groceries. Actually, it can help save a lot of money on your grocery bill. For example: I can go down the road about a quarter mile and pick blackberries when they are in season. I can usually end up with around 7 to 8 gallons of them by the end of a season, if not more. Then I can freeze them so that we can eat them through the whole year. Or I can go to WalMart and pay around $4.50 per pound for frozen blackberries. To equal what I could pick in 1 gallon, I would have to buy around five bags of the frozen. Which would make the cost for a 7-gallon season $157.50! Not to mention the cost of gas. And who knows what chemicals and whatnot were used on the store-bought berries prior to packaging?

10. You don’t need to be an expert to do it. I think this is one of the biggest reasons people DON’T forage. They think they have to have some special knowledge to be able to do it. While you do need a working knowledge of plants, you can still forage some even without being an expert. I’m sure that most people know what mulberries, blackberries, black raspberries, raspberries, blueberries, etc look like right?

Berries

So where does one start when they are wanting to learn about foraging? I went to two different places, but I also suggest a third. I started out by going to the Internet. Then I went to friends who knew how to forage. And the third place I wish I would have gone (but didn’t have a ride to) was the public library. We live too far out of town to take advantage of the public transit system. But I did learn a lot of valuable things! And for those like us, there is the nifty thing call Amazon where you can order books and they are shipped to you. (This is a very magical thing for me! And yes, I have a Kindle on my phone and I do take advantage of free e-books when I can. I’ll list some of my favorites in a later article.)

One of the websites I came across on the Internet (view it here) made a very good point: Be neurotic. You need to be hypersensitive to what you are picking, the area you are in and whether you know what is safe or not. Some plants look dangerously similar. You can accidentally pick a poisonous one thinking it is safe. Also, make sure that 1) you have permission to be on the property you are foraging (some places don’t allow foraging), 2) you know whether the plants have been sprayed with chemicals, 3) you know whether the land around the plants has been treated with chemicals. (Ground water can transfer chemicals quite far. For more information, click here.)

So you know about foraging now. But what do you look for in those three places? Well, for starters, you look for information on the plants in your area. It does no good to go out in the woods to find dinner if you have no idea what is poisonous and what is edible.

Because I am a mother of an almost 5-year-old girl, a scene from the movie "Brave" comes to mind. Merida’s mother was changed into a bear. And she has no idea how to survive in the wild. She attempted to pick berries, but then found out they were Nightshade berries, which are highly poisonous. This just goes to show that you truly need to know what you are looking for before trying to ingest it.

One of the suggestions was to check your local area to see if there are any classes offered. Maybe through your local extension office or a local college. If you can’t find a class, or someone to teach you, then turn to books. Lindsey G. says, “I would look on Amazon for some cheap wildlife/plant books. There are some really great ones, and you can get pocket-size books with photographs. My children have a couple, and they love to take them along when we are hiking, or just exploring nature.”

You can also look into organizations like Boy/Girl Scouts. Or, Ashley E. recommends the Rainbow Family. “I go to Rainbow Family gatherings. You can look them up: The Rainbow Family of the Living Light. I think you'll be interested in what you read. They're not an association or an organization. It explains on their website.“ (Author’s note: The website is a little confusing, so be sure to do your own research.)

Some of the easiest plants to start with grow right in your own yard; dandelions, for example. Some grow in the woods along the road, such as morel mushrooms or berries. Just be sure to do your research and make sure to learn before you eat! You don’t want to wind up in the hospital.

Some ideas on how to teach foraging to your children, from the world of Facebook:

  • “Teaching them about 'unsafe' and 'safe' plants, using those that grow nearby as well as the ones at local parks and such. Some area nature preserves have free classes in foraging, native wildlife, etc., ... take advantage of them! Fishing and camping trips on weekends. Play games that build observational skills, like 'I Spy' or backyard scavenger hunts.” – Mia M.

  • “Family outing to parks/areas of recreation. See if you can find any 'local' edibles. None that I can recommend off hand, but I am certain there are awesome books out there for that exact purpose, such as survival and info about different places. I would suggest asking the local library about such books. Probably would cover other areas, like how to build a fire, shelter, and tie knots.” – Heather M.

  • “Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts both do camping trips, and they reward the children for learning these kinds of skills. Also, you can go to any national park and camp out in the woods for either 14 or 30 straight days at one site. I can't remember exactly how long. We go to gatherings and do that several times a year with other like-minded people, many of them with children.” – Ashley E.

Next month’s skill: Hunting/Trapping

Further Reading:

Mushrooms

Blogs

Foraging

Berries

Miscellaneous