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Wild Harvest: 5 Tips for Beginner Foragers


5 Tips for Beginner Foragers

Foraging is a wonderful pastime that connects you with nature while allowing you to tune in to something ancient and primal within yourself. Harvesting and consuming these native plants connects us with our ancestors and allows us to glimpse our pasts. When you work with plants native to your environment, you gain not only superior nutritional and medicinal qualities but also the knowledge held within their cells that can help us better adapt to our surroundings. 


But, if you’re new to foraging, it can be a bit daunting at first. From the sheer number of wild plants and fungi to the fact that the appearance of plants can vary significantly between seasons and the knowledge that many edible plants have poisonous doppelgangers, it can be overwhelming. But don’t be disheartened! It’s easy to get started with wild harvesting, and we’ll walk you through our top tips for beginner foragers.


The 3 Basic Rules of Foraging

Before we get started, there are a few basic rules to foraging, and it is essential that you know and practice them. 


Be Safe 

Don't forage alone and use common sense safety when out in the wild. Always carry a basic first aid kit, bring plenty of water and snacks, and stay aware of your surroundings. If you live in bear country (like we do), always carry bear spray or wear bear bells. 


Be Respectful 

Don’t harvest on private land (without permission) or in National Parks with specific no-picking rules. Anytime you are out in the woods, the Leave No Trace rules apply. Be a good steward of the land. Pack out any litter you make or find, fill holes left from digging roots, and try to leave the land as healthy as you found it. 


Be sustainable 

Always forage responsibly and sustainably.  Foraging isn't merely about taking; it's about becoming part of the ecosystem. Never over-harvest or decimate an area or a single plant to the point that it cannot continue to reproduce. Never remove a plant by its roots (unless you’re after the root). Remember that you are not the only one who may want or need this plant. Wild foods and medicines that can be foraged are a prime food source for local wildlife. 


You should also be aware that some wild plants are on the United Plant Savers endangered plants list. Protecting the land, the wildlife, and the ecosystem starts with you. If the plant you are harvesting is on the endangered list, we encourage you to consider finding an alternative species. 


5 Tips for Beginner Foragers

Learn From Others & Seek Advice

When first starting out on your foraging journey, it’s important to seek the guidance of a local plant expert. An experienced guide can be invaluable in helping you to identify the subtle differences between various plant species. Many areas have local classes (you can find our Durango Area Classes here) or foraging groups. You can also get some really great guidebooks if you can’t find a local guide. 


Start Off Simple

As with any skill, you must learn to crawl before you can walk. Start off simple with a few basic species that are easy to identify and don’t have poisonous look-a-likes. A few great ones to familiarize yourself with are dandelion, common mallow, purslane, plantain, thistle, mullein, and lambs quarter (also called goosefoot). Starting off slow will help you build up your identification skills and allow you to gain confidence with trickier species. 


Stay Close to Home

Plants native to your local environment are the ones best adapted to support your ability to thrive in your surroundings. When we ingest wild plants, whether for food or medicine, they impart their built-in resilience to the world we live in. This is why we prioritize native plants when developing formulas for the Byers Ranch Apothecary line. 


Be Positive About Your Identification

Always make sure that you are 100% confident in your identification of wild plants. Never ingest anything you are not sure of. Many plants have toxic or downright deadly lookalikes. Others have parts that are safe and parts that are toxic. Consider this: The tomato and potato are both part of the deadly Nightshade family. On the tomato, the leaves, flowers, and roots are toxic, but the fruit is not. On the potato, the leaves, flowers, and fruits are toxic, but the roots are not. It is essential for any forager to know which parts of a plant are safe to eat and how to process them. 


Don’t “Pig Out”

Wild plants are not the same as cultivated plants. When you first start to introduce wild foods to your diet, start out in small quantities. Begin by nibbling a taste of a common wild edible plant and slowly introduce it to your body and taste buds. This will allow your body to become familiar and give you time to check for any allergic reactions. This is an important part of the foraging learning curve, as some wild plants may affect people differently. For instance, similar to the cilantro effect, the Hawks Wing mushroom is reported as bitter and inedible by some and delicious by others.


How to clean foraged plants

Additional Foraging Tips

Keep it Clean

Always clean your tools, clothes, and shoes between foraging trips to avoid accidentally transplanting invasive seeds, fungi, or diseases to new ecosystems. 


Use the Right Tools

You’ve got to have the right tools for any job. Luckly, the tools of the foraging trade are simple. A good sharp knife or scissors will allow you to harvest plants without causing added trauma to the remaining plant. If harvesting spiny/prickly plants such as thistle, stinging nettle, or wild lettuce, always wear thick gloves. Lastly, never use plastic containers when foraging. Plastic containers can suffocate your harvest and cause mildew. Always collect harvested plants in a breathable cotton sack or a foraging basket. Personally, I prefer baskets, but when footing is tricky, nothing beats a bag you can sling over your shoulder to keep your hands free. 


Be Selective in Your Location

Never harvest from roadsides, places where your pets went to the bathroom, or any area with visible animal scat. Also, never harvest from any location that may have been exposed to chemicals such as herbicides or non-organic fertilizers. 


Welcome to the Wonderful World of Foraging

We hope these tips will help you on your journey into foraging wild foods and medicines. The most important thing, and I can’t stress this enough, is never to eat anything you are not sure of. It only takes one mistake to cause serious harm or even death. As you begin to research and learn the wild foods available in your area, spend extra time learning to identify any toxic doppelgangers. This is especially important if you have your sites set on wild mushrooms, as many of them are toxic even to the touch. Once you are familiar with them, there is much less to worry about. 


Foraging is a passion on Byers Ranch and one we consider to be an essential part of our lives. We’d love to hear what your favorite things to forage are. In the comments below, let us know your favorite foraging finds or wild recipes. Until next time, 



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Tips for Beginner Foragers

Disclaimer:

Content from thisunboundlife.com is meant to be informational in nature and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice. Remember that just because something is “natural” does not always mean it is safe for every person. When it comes to herbal medicine, many plants should be avoided when pregnant or nursing, and some can cause extreme interactions with prescription and over-the-counter medicine.


While we strive to be 100% accurate, utilizing information from scientific studies, trusted sources, and verified publications, we are not health professionals, medical doctors, or nutritionists. It is solely up to the reader to verify nutritional information and health benefits with qualified professionals for all edible plants listed on this website and to ensure proper plant identification.


The information provided by this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Before using herbal preparations, always research, speak to a professional regarding any significant concerns, and never fail to seek medical advice when needed.

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