Last summer, as I was walking to the local park, I noticed a huge rosemary bush growing through a crack in the sidewalk, leaning up against a building wall.
I ran my fingers through the branches and inhaled. Ahhh. Gorgeous. All this rosemary just sitting here in a public place! While the little packet of fresh rosemary in the grocery store costs $5.
So I furtively glanced around to make sure no one was looking, broke off a piece, and took it home in my handbag.
Then I felt slightly guilty. Was I allowed to take that rosemary? Was it stealing? Does anyone even care?
What is Foraging?
When you think of foraging you probably think of a slightly weird, survivalist-type person picking wild mushrooms and eating roadkill.
But in fact, there are tons of people who forage for food – even if they live in urban areas. Remember making sloe gin in the fall? Picking sloe berries is foraging. Or picking wild blueberries and blackberries. Or, for the slightly more adventurous, picking nettles for nettle tea and nettle pesto. Or even my quickly gathered piece of fresh rosemary.
If you’d like to learn more about foraging, I recommend reading River Cottage Hedgerow and Food for Free.
4 Rules for Foraging
If you’re going to pick wild plants, you want to be safe, legal and gentle on the environment.
Here are my 4 rules for foraging
- You must be 100% certain of the plant you’re picking. This is for your own personal health & safety! I suggest starting with easy to identify plants like blackberries, sloes, nettles, clivers, chamomile etc. A high-quality wildflower identification guide for your local region is a good idea too. Personally I had a local person identify the plants with me the first few times, until I was confident that I could identify the plant from lookalikes. If you’re still nervous – you can always grow your own plants from seed, so you are 100% sure of the origin!
- Find the abundance. Find where there is a lot of the plant growing, and always leave more than you take. Try to pick from several different locations rather than stripping all the elderflowers off one tree, for example. Find what plants are abundant in your area, and find projects to do with those. There are always several plants which can achieve the same goal, so find an abundant plant and learn its many uses. Dandelions are a great example of this – they are everywhere, and can be used in a zillion ways!
- Clean Pickings – wild food is great because it’s free from pesticides and fertilizers … but you need to watch out for other unpleasant additions: pollution and dogs! Pick away from busy roads, and if you’re in a dog-walking area, pick “above dog height” to ensure that your plants are clean and ready to use!
- Don’t pick on private property or in conservation areas. In England, you can forage for personal use, but not if you’re making products to resell. Check your local laws for rules in your own area.
Have you ever foraged for food, herbs or fruit? Would love to hear your experiences in the comments!