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Foraging is an art that our ancestors knew of and practiced, and could very well save your life. While I’m a firm believer in growing your own food with heirloom garden seed and preserving as much of that as possible, there is a beauty in being able to go out and harvest something God provided without any help or work on our part via foraging.
From a preparedness standpoint, if you have to leave your home, or your home is destroyed from fire or other natural disaster, you can still step foot outside or wherever you may have to relocate to and be able to feed yourself and your family if you have some foraging knowledge and skills.
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Foraging is simply going out into nature and gleaning wild edibles for your food.
There are a few rules we need to follow with foraging though. Because as wonderful as it is, and it is wonderful, it can also be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.
1.Only forage for food that you know for certain is safe. Foraging is not the place to be a rebel or take risks. There are poisonous plants out there and some have lookalikes. A field guide with photos is an excellent place to start, especially one that lists the poisonous lookalikes as this Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants with drawing and photos to help you make positive identifications.
For mushrooms, I highly recommend this book (it was my husband’s Father’s Day gift a few years back) All That the Rain Promises and More it has excellent pictures, what to look for, and eating instructions. We use it all the time.
While a field guide is all well and good, there’s nothing like having a knowledge person take you out into the field for a hands on lesson. I’m fortunate enough that my family has been foraging mushrooms for generations where we live and we’ve been picking and eating them since I was born. It’s a family tradition I’m very grateful for and we’re passing down to our children. It’s a favorite family past time. Here’s how to forage Morel Mushrooms.
When in doubt, do not consume a foraged item.
2. Only forage food in a safe area. Not only do we need to know our food is safe, we need to know it’s not been sprayed with chemicals or exposed to pollutants. Anything near a roadway is not a good candidate for foraging, nor as areas near crops unless you know the farmer or land owner hasn’t or doesn’t use spray.
3. Be a good steward. Don’t forage on private property without asking for permission first. If you’re granted permission, then make sure you leave the property as you found it. If gates are closed, leave them that way, if they’re open, leave them that way.
Also, know enough about the plant that you don’t wipe it out. Now obviously, things like dandelions aren’t going to be endangered from over foraging in a field or yard. But if you’re picking morel mushrooms (read how to forage morel mushrooms) then you know you should always leave part of the stem in the ground to produce spores for next year’s crop and to keep mushrooms in a breathable bag as you pick to leave spores behind and populate new areas.
4. How to prepare wild edibles. You need to know the proper and safe way to prepare your foraged wild edible. For example, you should never eat wild mushrooms raw. You should always thoroughly cook them to kill any bacteria that may be on them.
Some plants the fruit is safe to eat but not the leaves, kind of like rhubarb. Use a reliable source for cooking and eating instructions before consuming.
Preparing wild mushrooms Morel mushrooms need to be soaked in a salt water overnight before rinsing and cooking. But most other mushrooms break down too much if soaked overnight. For Shaggy Mane’s, Bear’s Head, Lion’s Mane, and Chanterelle’s we brush off as much forest debri as possible with our hands or a paper towel. A quick rinse under cold water for anything stubborn, and then lay them out on an absorbent towel before sauteing, baking, frying, or preferred method of cooking.
Generally, we saute most of our mushrooms. Chanterelle’s are delicious when sauteed with butter, onions, and garlic, though we’ve also roasted them this way as well. Bear’s head and lion’s mane we prefer to saute on a low temperature with a bit of butter. Truly, one of our newer favorite mushrooms.
5. Test a small amount first. Don’t eat a huge amount of a wild edible your first time out. Prepare a small amount and eat a few bites to see if you have a reaction. Even though it may be a perfectly safe wild edible, you could have an allergic reaction to it.
Plantain is considered an excellent herbal remedy, but my mother is allergic to it. So start small, make sure you’re don’t have any reactions, and then go for the gusto.
Asparagus (wild, this was what we used to can up over 25 quarts of pickled asparagus this years)
Chicory (you knew I’d have a coffee substitute in here, right!)
Chickweed (this is the second plant I learned to forage)
Chokecherries (not chokeberries)
Hawthorn Berry (hawthorn should not be used if you’re on any kind of medication for your heart)
Lion’s Mane Mushroom (similar to Bearhead’s Mushroom which we find here)
Morel Mushroom (first thing my father taught me how to forage and I taught my children)
Melissa K. Norris inspires people's faith and pioneer roots with her books, podcast, and blog. Melissa lives with her husband and two children in their own little house in the big woods in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. When she's not wrangling chickens and cattle, you can find her stuffing Mason jars with homegrown food and playing with flour and sugar in the kitchen.