A person holding a branch with berries.

If you found yourself stranded in the wilderness—without food—would you know how to survive?

You could if you knew how to forage for edible plants.

Foraging is usually a temporary solution, giving you the energy and strength you need to survive while you wait for rescuers.

But in addition to providing sustenance in emergency situations, foraging for edible plants is a fun hobby!

Learning to forage on outdoor excursions will elevate your enjoyment. Hiking and spending time in nature just got more thrilling!

Plus, foraging for edible plants is a unique way to introduce new flavors to your palate.

But before you head outside and start munching on random weeds, it’s important to learn the ins and outs of foraging for edible plants.

A woman gathering wild mushrooms outdoors to put in a large wicker basket.

The Rules of Foraging

The main reason people hesitate to go foraging is because they're worried they might eat something poisonous.

This is completely understandable!

The number one rule of foraging is not to eat anything unless you are 100% sure it is safe to eat.

And you can learn! Not only are there tons of books, websites, and apps, but there are also classes that teach you how to forage for edible plants.

As you start your foraging education, keep these rules in mind:

  1. Never eat anything if you’re not 100% sure what it is.
  2. Be careful where you forage. Make sure you know the landscape, holes, threats, and water supply.
  3. Stick with a few plants you’re familiar with rather than spending hours searching for new species that might be dangerous.
  4. Memorize a few different types of edible plants common to your area. For example: Grasses are common enough plants in most areas, so if you get lost in the woods beyond your home state, you know that grass is one plant you can count on.
  5. Consult a field guide for preparation and cooking instructions for each plant.
  6. Watch out for animals.
  7. Let someone know where you’re going before you go out foraging.

In addition to rules about keeping yourself safe while foraging, there is another rule that everyone in the foraging community should follow:

Only take what you need, or about a quarter of the plant.

The Manual explains:

That way, not only can other foragers take advantage of the find and harvest some for themselves, but most importantly, the plant will be able to continue growing and thriving. You can even return to the same spot next year and harvest the same plant. You should also only take the part of the plant you plan to use; harvesting and then discarding unwanted parts of the plants is frowned upon.

Bright yellow dandelions surrounded by green grass.

Learn to Identify Edible Plants

It’s best to start your foraging by learning a few plants that are edible in your area.

Once you learn to identify these plants, it will be easier to get outdoors and start foraging.

Start by familiarizing yourself with berries.

According to MasterClass: "Aggregate berries (those with tightly packed clusters, like raspberries and mulberries), are 99 percent edible worldwide. Blue, black, and purple berries are around 90 percent edible (though you should consider an edibility test).”

Next, learn to identify edible weeds—such as chickweed, dandelion, clover, chicory, cattail, and wild mustard—then edible plants.

Finally, learn how to eat wild foods. Some plant parts are inedible, while others can be consumed entirely. Some plant parts are to be consumed differently.

Consider these edible wild foods:

  • Dandelions: The flowers, leaves, stems, and roots are all edible.
  • Grasses: All grasses are edible, but it’s best to chew the leaves, swallow the juice, and spit out the tough fibers. Where the base of the leaves meets the root, there’s a small, white part called the corm. This can be roasted and eaten like potatoes.
  • Goosefoot: The leaves of such varieties as Lamb’s Quarters are gathered and cooked as a vegetable. The seeds are called “quinoa,” a gluten-free grain alternative.
A small, wood sign that reads "caution, poison ivy" in the woods.

Learn to Identify Poisonous Plants

If you spend time outdoors, you are aware that some plants—such as poison ivy—are poisonous and cause skin irritation.

But there are also plants that are poisonous and deadly if they are consumed, such as holly berries.

Many poisonous plants share similar traits. MasterClass advises looking for the following warning signs:

  1. Milky sap: Milky or latex sap is a substance that oozes out of a plant’s branches or stems if cracked or broken. It can cause skin irritation and other strong allergic reactions.
  2. Fine hairs and spines: Fine hairs and spines are usually an indicator that a plant has a defense mechanism to ward off predators. Most of these hairs will cause some sort of stinging or burning sensation when you touch them with bare skin.
  3. Umbrella-shaped flower clusters: Most plants with umbrella-clumping flowers have high toxicity and should be avoided.
  4. Waxy leaves: Also known as the cuticle, “wax” on leaves is a protective layer that helps plants retain water. Sometimes this can indicate that a certain type of greenery is a toxic plant and not safe to eat.

WARNING: Never consume any plants, berries, or mushrooms unless you are 100% sure they are not poisonous and safe to eat.

Where to Go—and Not to Go—Foraging

You can start looking for plants in your lawn or other areas that are regularly cleared—like parks and fields—for edible plants classified as "weeds."

Keep in mind that the types of edible plants that grow where you live depend on the region and landscape.

In humid regions, most of your edible plants will be found in a sunny area or clearing. In drier climates, your wild plants will be found near water sources.

Sometimes, it’s wiser to think about where you should not go foraging.

For instance, avoid foraging in areas where pets poop, or areas that may have been contaminated by chemicals like pesticides or herbicides.

You should also avoid busy roadways, where vehicle exhaust, oils, and other substances can reach nearby vegetation.

WARNING: There are also some places where foraging is prohibited, such as protected wilderness areas.

A person sitting and reading a book about prickly pear plants.

Additional Foraging Must-Haves and Resources

When you are ready to head outdoors and start foraging, there are some tools you should take with you.

Here are some must-haves for foraging:

  • Cutting Tool: True foraging involves cutting only what you need and leaving the rest to continue to grow.
  • Basket or Bag: Bring something along to carry what you forage.
  • Gloves: Gloves will protect your hands from thorns, stinging hairs, and other hazards.
  • Field Guides: Always take at least one field guide with you to help you identify edible plants. In addition to the guide Backyard Foraging, we also offer Edible Wild Foods Playing Cards, a deck of cards with identification notes for foraging.

Additionally, there are several apps and websites that you can consult to make your foraging expedition safe, easy, and fun:

  • fallingfruit.org: This website hosts a worldwide map identifying areas for easy gleaning and foraging.
  • Wild Edibles Forage: This is an app with over 250 plants for identifying wild edibles. The app also includes foraging recipes.
  • Wild Berries and Herbs: This is an app that functions as a field guide in your pocket for wild berries, fruits, and herbs in Europe and North America. The app also includes instructions for how to prepare and cook wild foods.
  • iNaturalist: This app was developed by the National Geographic Society and the California Academy of Sciences. It allows users to connect with other foragers. You can share your findings and ask questions!
Edible weedsForagingNaturePlant identificationPreparedness skills

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