Looking for a fun, free, outdoor activity to help you enjoy the warmer weather? Consider some easy summer foraging for delicious and nutritious ingredients that you can probably find growing near you.
Few of us were taught about the stunning array of edible wild plants that grow all around us, whether we live in small towns or big cities. The internet is helping more people learn how to forage and use wild foods. You can be one of them!
Here are some delicious wild plants you can forage this season, even if you’ve never foraged before.
What does forage mean?
Foraging simply means seeking out wild plants you can eat. If you’ve ever stumbled on a patch of wild blackberries or blueberries and enjoyed a tasty snack, you’ve foraged.
When people use the word foraging, they usually mean the practice of learning to identify and use numerous edible wild plants, from common ones growing in most suburban yards to harder-to-find plants you have to seek out in the woods or other wild places.
Foragers collect edible leaves, flowers, fruits and other parts of plants that have been shown to be safe and enjoyable to eat or use for homemade herbal remedies, ranging from simple teas to skin care and tinctures.
What to know before you forage
If you’ve never foraged before, it’s important to know that the first rule of foraging is to be absolutely sure you have the correct plant. Some features of edible plants may resemble plants you shouldn’t eat, so it’s important to pay attention to the differences.
When you’re foraging plants for the first time, use a good foraging guide and use all the features of the plant, rather than just one or two. Check that the leaves, flowers, bark, growth pattern, and fruit all match the photos and descriptions. While there are numerous delicious dark purple berries growing wild, not all are edible, and some can make you quite ill.
Foraging guides will point you to key differences between the plants you can eat and those you can’t, and as long as you pay attention, most are pretty straightforward to identify. If you want to be extra-cautious, you can steer clear of plants that have especially toxic lookalikes, as many do not. One of the many plant identification apps now available for smartphones can help confirm you’ve correctly identified a wild plant.
You may also find classes given by local foraging experts, or you can tag along on a friend’s foraging expedition. Learning to forage with others is one of the best ways to get familiar with the edible plants in your area, and it’s also a lot of fun!
Other things to know before you start foraging:
Make sure you have permission. Obviously, if you’re foraging on private property, you’ll want to ask the owners if it’s ok to harvest their plants. Some public lands may have restrictions on foraging wild plants, so it’s best to ask before collecting.
Check that your foraging grounds haven’t been sprayed with pesticides. You don’t want your foraged goodies laced with toxic chemicals. Many roadsides and public parks are routinely sprayed with herbicides you’re better off avoiding. Sites with a history of industrial use may also have soil contaminated by heavy metals or chemicals you don’t want to consume with yummy foraging finds.
Harvest responsibly. Harvest no more than a quarter from any one plant or area, taking smaller amounts from many plants in order to leave plenty for other foragers and wildlife and to protect the health of the plant. The USDA maintains a list of threatened and endangered plants you should avoid altogether.
Go prepared. Wear long sleeves and pants to protect you from insects and thorns, and be sure to wear bug repellent to keep ticks and mosquitoes from ruining your foraging expedition. A pair of gardening gloves can be helpful to save your skin from prickles and thorns. Bring scissors and bags or containers to collect what you find.
Below are some common and easily-identified edible wild plants that you may already know but didn’t realize you could eat. Many of these wonderful plants may be growing in your yard or neighborhood right now and are a great place to start for beginning foragers.
Most of us are familiar with this recognizable plant commonly considered a garden weed. Dandelions were brought to North America on purpose by European settlers who used it for both food and medicine. A similar plant called cat’s ear (also fittingly known as false dandelion) is also edible, so no worries if your identification isn’t perfect in this case.
Dandelion roots, leaves and flowers are all edible, and also packed with nutrition. Dandelion leaves contain calcium, potassium, vitamins A and K, and valuable polyphenols, while the roots contain inulin, a prebiotic linked to gut health.†
How to use dandelions:
Dandelion leaves taste much like arugula and are fantastic in salads or on top of homemade pizzas. The flowers can be used as a sunny addition to green salads or baked goods like muffins, while the root is often roasted and made into a healthy coffee substitute.
All parts of the dandelion can be made into tea or tinctured. Herbalists often recommend dandelion to support liver health and as a diuretic. If you don’t want to make them yourself, you can buy dandelion tincture, bagged dandelion tea made from leaves or roots, or delicious dandelion root coffees.
Another easily-recognized plant, plantain is a low-growing green garden weed unrelated to the banana-like fruit plantain found in grocery stores. Plantain grows readily in compacted soils, so you’ll often find it where little else can survive. A go-to for soothing irritated skin, plantain is one of the many home remedies for sunburn and bug bites you can find in most yards.
How to use plantain:
Young plantain leaves can be eaten in salads or cooked in soups and stews; older leaves tend to be tough but are considered exceptionally useful for soothing skin irritations and insect bites. Some enterprising foragers use plantain leaves to make chips akin to the more familiar kale chips.
Plantain leaves contain anti-inflammatory compounds and demulcents that soothe irritated tissues. They can be dried and saved for making tea that can help quell a cough or steeped in oil that can be used in soothing skin salves.
Plantain’s seeds are also edible and are a source of psyllium, a common ingredient in fiber supplements.
Also known as stinging nettle, nettle is famous for its nutritional content and for helping tamp down seasonal allergies. Nettles contain calcium, beta carotene, vitamin K and other beneficial compounds.†
The name ‘stinging nettle’ should tip you off to one important thing to remember when foraging them: Wear gloves to protect you from nettles’ prickly hairs. You’ll find nettles growing in moist conditions, especially along rivers, streams and lakes, though many people have patches growing in their yards as well.
How to use nettle:
Nettles’ sting disappears when cooked, and nettles are delicious in soups, stews and casseroles. Nettle leaf tea is a tasty way to enjoy this useful herb year-round.
A premier herb for helping wounds heal, yarrow is used by herbalists externally as a poultice and internally as tea or tincture. It’s one of the key ingredients in Gypsy Cold Care Tea. Yarrow may also help soothe a cough or seasonal allergies.†
A common wild plant that takes up residence in lawns and gardens, yarrow’s feathery leaves are easy to identify, and their many flowers help attract pollinators.
How to use yarrow:
Add fresh yarrow to herbal teas or make a tincture to preserve it for later. You can also dry yarrow for use in winter as a tarragon replacement or for medicinal tea blends.
A poultice made from yarrow can be handy for cuts and bruises you get while you’re out foraging. Crushed yarrow leaves are also often used to help stop nosebleeds.†
Rich in anthocyanins, easily-identified mulberries grow abundantly on trees that birds plant far and wide. Resembling an elongated blackberry, mulberries come in shades of purple and white and are delicious on their own or added to baked goods.
How to use mulberries:
Mulberries can be enjoyed fresh, on their own or in fruit salads. They can be baked in crisps or muffins or turned into jams or sorbet.
Mulberries can also be dried and used to top your favorite granola. Mulberry leaves are also rich in phytonutrients and can be brewed into tea. No mulberry tree in your neighborhood? You can buy mulberry leaf tea bags
High in polyphenols and utterly delicious, black raspberries, also known as blackcaps, are a favorite among foragers. Most will be gobbled up as they’re picked, but if some make it home, you can bake up a batch of delicious berry muffins or churn them into homemade ice cream.
How to use black raspberries:
These sweet foraged treats are high in fiber and antioxidants and low in calories, so eating them by the bowlful is how most people choose to enjoy them. If you have a huge haul, you can use some to make homemade jam or freeze your surplus for adding to your favorite smoothie recipe.
Black raspberry leaves also make a tasty tea, akin to red raspberry leaf.
If you’re yearning for black raspberry jam but don’t have access to the berries, you can find it already made for you. Their high concentration of antioxidants has made them a popular dietary supplement as well.†
These foraged goodies are just the tip of the iceberg. Once you’ve mastered your first few edible wild plants, you can branch out and enjoy hunting a huge range of delicious fruits, greens, and flowers. Prepare to be amazed at how many plants growing around you can be foraged for your next wild meal!
†These statements have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.