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Facts About Foraging

Mary LewisPlease read all the way to the end. Never, EVER, eat any food you forage without knowing for certain that it is not poisonous. Do your research, or better yet, take an expert along with you on your foraging adventures. Always wash wild edibles before eating.

Growing up in Maine, I gauged my summers by harvest times. June was strawberries, July was blueberries, and August was blackberries. The blueberries and blackberries only cost us in time, because we picked them on public land. This is called foraging, and you can do it, too.

Foraging is defined as searching for wild food resources. This is how humans used to survive, before factory produced foods and grocery stores existed.


My husband and I were hiking at the Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area a few years ago and came across wild plum trees. It reminded me of when I was young, and I wondered aloud if we could pick some plums. As fate would have it, we made the acquaintance of a DNR Conservation Officer, and we asked about foraging. He told us to feel free to pick the plums, but damage to any plants was a fineable offense. Minnesota code, under 6100.0900, Subpart 2, states explicitly: “Collecting or possessing naturally occurring plants in a fresh state in state parks is prohibited, except that edible fruit and mushrooms may be harvested for personal, noncommercial use.”

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We have foraged for plums, black raspberries, and apples over the years. We stumbled upon an old apple tree 4 or 5 years ago on public land. A neighbor and her daughter went with us to pick apples from that tree. We assume the land was originally a farm or homestead, and the tree was the only thing that remained. We still have a couple of bags of apple wedges from that tree in our freezer.


I have friends who love wild mushrooms. They really look forward to Morel season in the spring. I’m not a fan, but I definitely applaud their enthusiasm. If you do go mushroom hunting, be absolutely certain the mushrooms you take are not poisonous. Pinch the mushroom from the base and pull up. And collect them in a mesh bag, so that the spores can scatter as you walk through the woods.

If you’re fortunate enough to have friends who own land, foraging opens up to things other than fruits and mushrooms. One of my friends owns over 20 acres, and has offered up comfrey, jewelweed, and other plants. If I wanted acorns, I would have more than I ever needed.

Hints for Foraging

  • Check the weather forecast and plan accordingly
  • Be prepared for mosquitoes, ticks and stinging/biting insects. Use your bug deterrent of choice.
  • When foraging for mushrooms, collect them in a mesh bag so that the spores can fall freely as you walk.
  • Bring along a bucket with a handle and cover when picking berries.
  • Backpacks are great for carrying apples, pears or plums.
  • Never take more than you will consume.
  • Only harvest in areas where the plants are abundant and be sure not to collect where plants are rare or protected.
  • Use caution when collecting along heavily traveled roadsides or areas likely to be polluted.
  • Beware of pesticides, herbicides, and other pollutants. Plants near busy roads are tainted with exhaust fumes.

In the United States, 38 out of 50 states allow for foraging, but there are different laws for every state and state parks. Wildlife Management Areas also allow taking of fruit and mushrooms for personal use. Contact your local department of natural resources or ask a forest ranger for your local laws and regulations.

Save the Bees

Mary LewisI have a secret. I used to be terrified of insects that sting.

When I was a small child, I was stung by a bumblebee, and it scared me. To tell the truth, I’ve never been stung since, and I don’t actually remember what it felt like. I still have very little appreciation for hornets and wasps, but I suppose they have a job to do, too. These days, if a bee finds its way into my house, I try to remove it without injuring or killing it. I try to coax the bee into a jar and then take it outside and set it free.

My perspective changed a few years ago after writing an article about bumblebees. Through my research, I learned how important bees are to the world. If the bees die, so do we. And the bees are dying.

According to an article on ABCNews, there was a nearly 40% decline in the honeybee population last winter. Bee colonies have been disappearing over the past 15 years, in what is known as "colony collapse disorder." The main factors affecting the bees are pests and disease, lack of forage and nutrition, and incidental pesticide exposure.

If you talk with beekeepers, they’ll tell you there has always been hive loss, usually over the winter. Some loss is expected, but many beekeepers are losing their bee colonies to hive beetles and varroa mites.

Honeybees are critical for the pollination of flowers, fruits and vegetables – without plants, there is no food. People jokingly refer to plants as “our food’s food,” but in this case it’s no laughing matter. Without the pollinators, there is no food for animals to eat, so not only would there be no fruits and vegetables, there would be no beef, chicken, or pork. Approximately 1 in 3 bites of the food we eat every day relies on honeybee pollination to some degree. The global food supply is impacted due to the huge role that honeybees play in North American agriculture. North America is one of the largest food exporting regions of the world.

Minnesota, the state I live in, has earmarked $900,000 dollars for bee-friendly spaces. The endangered rusty-patched bumblebee has just been named the state bee and the Minnesota government will pay the gardening bill for residents who are willing to turn their lawn into bee-friendly spaces. Gardeners willing to grow plants, such as creeping thyme, self-heal and Dutch white clover, known to attract bees could have the cost covered. The program should be up and running in the spring of 2020. This program benefits all pollinators, not just our state bee.

Other plants that attract bees are chives, onions, peonies, roses, and dandelions. Dandelions are pretty much the first plants available to bees in the spring. Yes, they are a weed, but also an important food source for bees.

Ways that we can support pollinators are as follows:

  • Grow plants! If you don’t have a lot of space, window boxes or patio planters will do. Try to grow plants native to your area.
  • Use the BeeSmart Pollinator Gardener App (available for Apple and Android devices) or the Ecoregional Planting Guides.
  • Plant in clusters to create a "target' for pollinators to find.
  • Plant for continuous bloom throughout the growing season from spring to fall.
  • Select a site that is removed from wind, has at least partial sun, and can provide water.
  • Reduce or eliminate the impact of pesticides.
  • Support local bees and beekeepers. Buying local honey supports the beekeepers in your area
  • Buy organic.
  • Buy local.


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