Cooking Tips · Ingredients · Techniques

Foraging for Food

During our time in living in Albuquerque my husband and I visited Silver City, New Mexico. While there, we dined at a restaurant called The Curious Kumquat. It was known as a “foraging forward” restaurant. It was an excellent place to dine that featured many dishes composed of ingredients that were obtained by foraging. The chef, Rob Connoley, has also written a cookbook, Acorns and Cattails, in which the recipes feature “ingredients that any home cook can forage, grow, or hunt.” Have you ever foraged for your food? That is the subject of this Cooking Tip.

Have you ever taken a hike and eaten some of the wild-grown berries? My husband has been known to screech to a stop when he sees blooming elderflower along a country road. He picks it and then makes delicious elderflower cordial. That is foraging. Of course, it is much more than that and one needs to be very careful about what one eats in the wild. There are edible and poisonous plants that look very similar. And, we all have been taught about being careful of mushrooms growing in the wild.

Here are some rules that I have gathered from foraging experts. These presume that you are foraging only where it is legal to do so.

  • Seek the help of an experienced forager. Look for foraging clubs or seminars that might be in your area.
  • Familiarize yourself with what grows in your area – herbs, trees, weed, etc. Learn to positively identify them.
  • Learn to identify poisonous plants.
  • Use good foraging guides and cross reference between them. As I mentioned, there are look-alike plants that you do not want to confuse.
  • Do not eat anything that you cannot positively identify as safe.
  • One expert’s mantra is “Assume Nothing, Test Everything”. He warns that you should not eat any wild plant unless you are 150% (yes, that is correct) certain of its identification. Even then, he recommends testing it to ensure you do not have an allergy or sensitivity to it. Here is what he calls the “Tolerance Test”.
  • Begin with easily identified foods such as dandelions, nettles, strawberries and blackberries.
  • Only pick as much as you need and never take all the plants of any one kind in an area.
  • Do not pick in areas that are subject to pollution such as roadsides or near commercial farms.
  • Harvest at peak time for the particular plant. This is when the flavor and aroma will be best. Good guides will be your helper in this regard.
  • Harvest early in the morning. (This is also good advice for cutting the herbs growing in your own garden.) This is when the essential oils are highest.
  • Make sure you properly cook what you forage and use only those parts of the plants that are edible. For example, whereas ripe, cooked elderberries are edible, the bark, stems are roots are considered poisonous.
  • Consider cultivating wild edible plants in your own garden

This map will tell you what might be available where you live. Just as with all produce, there are seasons for wild edible plants. Here is one website that lists what is available at certain months although not all of these items will be available everywhere.

Do you forage? Let me know.