As we enter the Spring season on the Central Coast, blossoms are populating our fruit trees and seedlings are sprouting in the garden, but these are not the only places on the farm where the promise of a diverse and healthy harvest can be found. A cornucopia of wild greens, fruits, and mushrooms are emerging after a cold, wet winter; and we have been enjoying the addition of these healthy treats into our daily meals. From salads made with fresh, juicy greens like Lamb’s Quarters and Miner’s Lettuce to hearty soups made with Chanterelles, everyone here on the farm has caught the foraging bug. Here we share some tips and beginner guidelines for responsible foraging around your own home!
Forage only from abundant, clean sources
When collecting plants or other food from the wild, make sure that you harvest from sources that are widely available. If the plant you are looking for is fairly common and you find an area where it grows in large quantities, by all means help yourself. If, on the other hand, there are only a handful of this type of plant growing around your area, it is best to look for this treat elsewhere to ensure that you don’t accidentally eliminate the plant from your area by over-harvesting.
It is also absolutely necessary to harvest from clean environments only. Plants draw their nutrients from the soil, and if the soil they grow in is full of toxins or pollutants, such as on the side of a busy road, then the plant may have absorbed some of those bad chemicals. To make sure that your wild diet is healthy, not harming, collect your plants from pristine and familiar environments.
Leave your source alive and healthy
The best way to make sure that your favorite wild treats are there for you and future generations in years to come is to leave your source in good health. This means not only harvesting from abundant sources but also helping the plant continue to thrive where you found it. One way you can do this as you forage is to take only what you need from the plant. For example, do not pull a plant up by the roots if all you need are the new leaves, seed pods, or fruit. Leave the plant as whole as possible.
Another great way to be a good steward with your favorite foraging spots is to be a propagator, like the birds and animals of the forest who spread seeds and pollen so that plants continue to grow year after year. For example, if the plant you are harvesting has seeds try collecting some and scattering them around the area you harvested from. This way, not only will the plants you’ve discovered be there next year but you will have also helped create new ones. This is a great way to create even more abundant sources of wild food for yourself and others in the future.
Go at the right time
Early morning is a great time to go foraging for most plants, as many tend to wilt on warm afternoons. Foraging early also gives you time to clean and prepare what you’ve harvested at home on the same day so that everything is fresh and delicious! Dry weather is also ideal for harvesting most plants. If the weather is too wet, there is always the risk that the extra moisture will make your harvest start to rot before you get home—not to mention the mud!