Facts About Foraging
By Mary Lewis
Please 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.”
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.
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