At the top of many people’s minds is reducing their grocery bills. I’m sure you’ve heard people talk about clipping coupons, shopping on sale, cooking from scratch and growing your own garden. But have you considered the concept of eating the food that’s right outside your front door? No, I don’t mean in your garden. I mean the food that grows wild in the fields and woods and by streams in your neighborhood, otherwise known as foraging or wildcrafting. If you love the idea of eating local foods, you should start wildcrafting!
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Why Harvest Wild Plants?
Think about this: There are many plants that grow wild that are perfectly edible if you know what you’re looking for. Harvesting these wild plants is called Wildcrafting. Harvesting wild plants can be a good way to reduce your grocery bill as well as your carbon footprint.
How to Start Wildcrafting
- Wildcrafting Books: Before you start, you need few good reference books like Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons and The Foragers Harvest by Samuel Thayer. Try to find plant guides for your region that discuss which plants are edible and which are not. You can get some specific information about foraging for food in Vermont on Confessions of an Overworked Mom.
- Small Gardening Tools: You are going to need small hand tools and a belt of some sort to take your things into the woods. You may need to dig out roots, snip off small limbs, or carry home berries. A set of small gardening tools will come in very handy when you start wildcrafting.
- The right clothes: You are heading into the woods where streams run and deer poop. A pair of waterproof hiking boots and other appropriate clothing, sun protection, bug spray, and hat are all a good idea before you start wildcrafting!
Consider starting with the easiest of wild edibles, dandelion greens. Most people can identify a dandelion without any problem at all. The greens (leaves) are wonderful when picked in very early spring before the flower has bloomed. They can be eaten raw in a salad much like arugula can or they can be cooked like spinach. Harvesting dandelions is a very easy way to start wildcrafting without too much fear of poisoning yourself! There are many other edible flowers that go great on salads or desserts.
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Tips for Wildcrafting
There are a few rules to remember when wildcrafting. These will keep you safe and reduce the risk of injury and/or liability.
- Always have permission from the land owner if you’re wildcrafting on someone else’s property.
- Never wildcraft on the edge of the road, near power lines or anywhere else that’s liable to be sprayed with pesticides or exposed to car exhaust.
- Make certain that you are positive what you’re picking when you pick it. A good wildcrafting book has pictures and detailed diagrams. If what you’re picking doesn’t match 100%, don’t pick it.
Reasons to Start Wildcrafting
There are many reasons why people start wildcrafting. Your reasons to start wildcrafting may differ completely from someone else’s. However, if this is something you are on the fence about, here are a few benefits to foraging for food.
- Foraging is a fun activity to do with kids and teach both you AND them a greater appreciation for nature.
- A large percentage of what can be foraged are actually non-native and invasive plants. By removing them, you are doing your local environment a huge favor!
- Wild edibles are good for you. Many are considered superfoods and wild foods are a great source of organic, non-GMO food.
- Foraging for your own food is a great way to save money on your grocery bill and save money on organic food.
- Pass on knowledge to future generations. If we forget about our foraging roots completely, who will know the secrets to wildcrafting that we learned hundreds of years ago?
- Explore new flavors. Did you know that certain edible flowers have a spicy flavor? What do nettles taste like? Broaden your taste buds by exploring wild foods.
- Use wild products for health and medicine as well as food. Check out the video below from Wildcrafter TV on how to make dandelion salve.
Tread Lightly While Wildcrafting!
When you wildcraft, you want to make sure you are only taking the part of the plant you need. If you’re picking dandelion greens, don’t yank the whole plant out of the ground, gently remove the leaves you need and let the rest of the plant remain in the ground so it can come up again next year and feed you or someone else again. If you are harvesting something that requires you to remove the whole plant, like a wild leek where you use the bulb of the plant, do not harvest every single plant in the area. Leave some for someone else. This also lets the remaining plants multiply and divide so they come back next year.
Recipes Using Wild Foods
There are an amazing number of ways to use wild foods in your recipes. Here are just a few that I have come across recently:
- Dandelion Egg Noodles
- Dandelion Peanut Butter Cookies
- Wild Mushroom Risotto
- Rose Hip Tea
- Wild Violet Vinegar
Wildcrafting can be a lot of fun and it’s a great way to supplement your groceries. What’s available will depend on where you live in the United States as well as the countryside. You will find different plants near streams, in fields and in the woods. Arm yourself with a good guidebook, a heavy pair of shoes, and a basket to hold your harvest. Start out small and try something new today!
Do you plan to start wildcrafting this spring?
(Note: post has been updated from a previously published post)
Diane has a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology with a Minor in Health Management and Policy. She spent many years working in cancer research, academics, and biotechnology. Concern over the growing incidence of human disease and the birth of her children led her to begin living a more natural life. She quickly realized that the information she was learning along the way could be beneficial to many others and started blogging as a way to share this knowledge with others. While passionate about health and the environment she can’t quite give up her favorite Cheetos and Diet Coke! Learn more about her HERE.