As a noun, forage definition means food for animals (or us) especially when taken by browsing or grazing.
As a verb, forage definition means: to strip of provisions: collect forage from or to secure by foraging.
Now that’s the dictionary version. A more relaxed foraging meaning would be the act of gathering food, wild or cultivated.
A forage synonym would be to hunt (or search) for, or to gather wild foods. This can be done in forests, fields, disturbed areas, rural locations, in or around water and there is even urban foraging. The term urban foraging can be defined as taking advantage of the natural foods that grow in urban areas such as fruit trees. However, I refer to this as backyard foraging, even foraging (where legal) in our urban communities.
Overharvesting, particularly due to commercial collection of medicinal plants has brought many once plentiful plant species to the brink of extinction. As foragers we should adopt an attitude of green guardianship for our planet.
Sustainable foraging really depends on what specifically is being harvested. Many edible wild plants produce tens of thousands of seeds per plant so sustainability is not an issue. Below is a general guideline to follow as far as sustainable foraging goes.
A general rule is to collect five percent of any individual patch of a given species within a maximum of 25 percent of an area.
Some plant species are more susceptible to overharvest than others and require careful management. For example, wild leeks take seven years from germination to producing seeds. These can easily be overharvested.
No more than half of the fiddleheads from a single ostrich fern should be harvested to allow for re-growth.
With the exception of harvesting roots, do not remove an entire plant – this provides the plant with an opportunity to re-grow.
Having a trustworthy foraging guide (or several) is a start in the right direction to wild food foraging. Yes, there are many places on the Internet that can help but be sure to check out the website you go to that wild food education is all they do. Many people are publishing foraging guides online thinking this is an “in” thing to do, and there are countless articles out there providing questionable information. You want to learn from those who have a dedicated website to foraging.
Here are some rules that every forager should be guided by:
Wild edibles should be harvested when the oils responsible for flavor and aroma are at their peak. Proper timing depends on the plant part you are harvesting and the intended use.
If you are collecting wild edible weeds for their foliage then to maximize the nutritional content, they should be harvested before they flower. After flowering they are still good for you and they still contain vitamins, minerals and nutrients, just not as plentiful and chances are the plant will taste bitter (but this is ok).
Harvesting roots, such as burdock, thistles and chicory is best in the autumn after the foliage fades.
Some general guidelines include:
The above information is a condensed version of the Universal Edibility Test that appears in a US military survival manual.
There is not a doubt this test is time-intensive but ultimately all wild food educators must share this information to ensure no one becomes ill or worse, loses their life. As adults eating new foods (foraged or cultivated) is really no different than when we introduce “foods” to our young children to ensure our child has no reaction to that food.
Now that you know how to forage, the next thing to learn is how to preserve the wild food you've collected!
EdibleWildFood.com is informational in nature. While we strive to be 100% accurate, it is solely up to the reader to ensure proper plant identification. Some wild plants are poisonous or can have serious adverse health effects.
We are not health professionals, medical doctors, nor are we nutritionists. It is up to the reader to verify nutritional information and health benefits with qualified professionals for all edible plants listed in this web site. Please click here for more information.