Foraging 101: How to get started
1. Forage on your own property—“that way you get to know what’s on your land, and it gives you a stewardship role,” says lifelong forager Jonathan Forbes, the owner of Forbes Wild Foods—or ask permission on other private land. (Though foraging is permitted on some Crown or other public land, check local bylaws and with local conservation groups first.)
2. Start by foraging for one readily recognizable food at a time: fiddleheads, for instance; cattails; or berries, such as strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries.
3. Forage in areas where the risk of pollution is low.
4. Beware of look-alikes, and if you’re not 100 per cent certain you can positively ID a plant or fungus, don’t pick it.
5. Use several good field guides—not just one. “But also connect with organizations such as environmental groups, mycological societies, and clubs that forage for mushrooms,” says Forbes. Take workshops and go with experts.
6. Practise sustainable harvesting. Some species are more susceptible to overharvesting than others. And even if a plant seems abundant on your own property, it may not be abundant elsewhere. Ask experts about how much of a species you should be taking.
7. Even with a sure ID, if you haven’t eaten a particular wild plant before, try a small sample first.
8. For more information, wildfoods.ca includes a beginner’s guide to foraging, and Ontario Nature has several guides to harvesting wild edibles available online.
Forage Tip #1: Reindeer lichen
This type of lichen is an important food for animals such as elk and caribou and needs to be cleaned and cooked before you can eat it safely.
Forage Tip #2: Cattail hearts
Reach below the surface, and break off the stalk at the roots. Use the part about 8″ above the break point, and peel away its outer layers. Eat raw or cooked.