Foraging for Food

Oyster mushroom on a trail in the woods.

Lacy Fitts is an amazing wife, mother, and educator.  She loves science and nature and is sharing her passion for the outdoors about foraging for food in a guest post this week!

When I was little at my grandmother's house, I spent hours with my cousin gathering wild food and pretending we were orphans.  We made stockpiles of pecans, pears and wild blackberries so that we could survive hard times.  Although thankfully we've never truly needed to gather our own food in the wild, it's a useful skill and a fun family activity.  

Before foraging for edible plants, it's helpful to know a few basics.  Like this fact - all aggregate berries (clusters of tiny fruits grouped to make one berry, like a blackberry) in North America are edible.  So, if you're walking on a trail and find a blackberry - type berry and don't know what it is, don't be afraid to gather the ripe ones and try them.  The same is not true for smooth round berries, so never eat wild true berries because many of them will make you sick.  

Fresh blackberries are the perfect example of an aggregate fruit that is safe to eat.
 My favorite foraging finds are fungi.  Try saying that three times fast!  I know people who are terrified to eat wild mushrooms, but there are a few varieties that are easy to identify and safe for even beginners to gather.  

Oyster mushrooms were my first, and still my favorite.  Oysters are a white, shelf type mushroom that I usually find on fallen trees or limbs.  They have an oyster shape, smooth tops and gills underneath that extend that full length of the mushroom (instead of stopping at a stem).  The gills alone are enough to identify them, and the next closest look-a-like is another edible mushroom.  Most illnesses from foraged mushrooms come from people gathering white button-looking mushrooms that resemble the kind you get at the grocery store.  Don't do that.  Just stick to some easy to recognize varieties and be bold - no mushrooms are toxic to handle, so don't be afraid to pick, inspect, photograph and learn the differences between the ones growing in your area.  

Oyster mushrooms can be found on trails when hiking or taking a walk in a wooded area.
Other fungi that you can safely identify and harvest include chicken-of-the-woods and chanterelles.  Chanterelles are oranges and have false gills underneath that are not in straight lines and are not separated well.  The false gills distinguish chanterelles from others that look similar.  Both chanterelles and chicken-of-the-woods are abundant in the south, easy to recognize and delicious.  

Chanterelles can be identified by the false gills seen here.
I love foraging from edible public landscapes.  One public space we frequent has a huge community fig tree that produces thousands of delicious juicy figs in late summer.  I've seen fruit and nut trees in parks and on trails, and when the fruit isn't gathered from those, it really just goes to waste.  When foraging in a community space, remember to take a little and leave plenty for others.  The weather is finally cooling off a little, so take a small bag, some insect repellent, watch for poison ivy, and happy gathering!

Figs from a public space can be enjoyed while leaving some behind for others.

Enjoy your foraged treats with cheese and spices for a natural appetizer or dessert.

If this post has inspired to you to get out and try your hand at foraging, consider picking up a book to educate yourself.  Foraging (Idiot's Guides) might be a good place to start.  This book has lots of photographs and information for the beginner.  This is an activity that I hope to enjoy with my family this fall on hikes and camping trips.  If you enjoy foraging, I'd love to hear about your experiences and finds!

This post contains Amazon Affiliate Links.