How to forage for wild edibles with kids

how to forage for wild edibles with kidsWritten by contributor Rachel Wolf of Clean and Lusa Organics

Weeds. They invade our gardens and lawns.

They choke out the plants we’re trying to grow.

We did not invite them, yet there they appear in abundance.

So we seek them out and destroy them.

But Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”

Might we be missing something?

Stinging nettle

Virtuous weeds

Around here we relish our weeds. (Though we prefer to call them “wild edibles”.)

I would contest that weeds have many virtues.

Wild edibles are:

  • Nutritious – packed with minerals and vitamins
  • Delicious – think raspberries or wild ramps
  • Free
  • Fun to harvest

Weeds are more virtuous than we thought.

Before farms

Before agriculture people still had food. (Of course!)

Instead of farming they foraged. Back then wild food was just food.

Roots, shoots, leaves, berries, fruit, and game.

It’s all still out there.

We’ve just forgotten to tap into this abundance. Instead we purchase, farm, or garden nearly all of our food.

Cattail shoots

As a foraging family we’ve decided to try at least one new wild food each season.

Last week my children decided to try cattail shoots.

The harvesting was cool, wet, muddy, and gooey. The cattail shoots first resisted our tug and then woosh! slipped from their skins covered in a gelatinous ooze.

Wow. Who knew?

We took them home, peeled away the tough outer layers and cooked them in butter, garlic and ginger.

They were delicious.

All it took was deciding to try them.

You don’t even need a wetland or forest to get started. Just an unsprayed corner of your yard will do.

Because wild foods are everywhere.

Cattail leaves

Why Forage?

Foraging feeds us – literally and figuratively.

• It creates calm in a busy day. The quiet of the woods and the focus of the search helps us find our center.

• Foraging helps us to better understand the earth. As we forage we learn about habitat, wildlife, weather, microclimates, soil, and more.

• Foraging fills our freezer and pantry without us planting seeds or spending dollars.

With a little persistence we stock our larder each year with dozens of quarts of applesauce, bags of berries, and jars of pestos, teas, and greens. All for free!

• Foraging anchors us in the season.

Nature unfolds at its own perfect tempo. Harvesting wild foods helps us to be mindful of the now.

Get started

Foraging with children can be safe, easy, and rewarding.

Children learn about the natural world and practice plant identification. And most love the treasure-hunt experience of searching the woods for plants to eat.

When you’re ready to get out there, here are some tips to get you off on the right path.

Ramps

1. Gather your tools

Foraging doesn’t require any special equipment.

What you need is already in your kitchen, closet, or garage.

Depending on what we’re harvesting we will bring:

  • shopping bags, buckets, or baskets
  • garden gloves
  • hand trowels
  • field guides
  • water bottles
  • pocket knife or scissors (optional)

Blackberries

2. Begin with the basics

Some wild plants are poisonous. It’s best to start with plants that don’t have dangerous look-alikes.

A few of our favorite (foolproof) plants are:

  • Berries (blackberries, raspberries, strawberries)
  • Nettle
  • Dandelions
  • Cattails
  • Lambsquarters
  • Watercress

Once you’ve learned the basics, then you can slowly introduce more difficult plants.

3. Read

Look for field guides to edible plants at your local library.
A few of our favorite wild food books include:
A great resource for beginner or advanced foragers. Includes lots of recipes.
An enjoyable children’s book of written in the first person (from the plant’s perspective).
If you become interested in using plants as medicine, this book is the perfect place to begin.

Lambsquarters

3. Find your mentor

Connect with an advanced wild food enthusiast. Find a foraging mentor through your homeschooling community, university extension office, or local nature center.

Have your mentor show you and your children the basics.

4. A place to harvest

Over the past few years we’ve discovered a few favorite foraging sites near our home.

We know where to go if we want watercress, nettles, elderberries, ramps, or blackberries – all within minutes of our home.

Check with your local park office to determine if you can forage on their property.

Or ask  landowners for permission to forage. Many are happy to see a few “weeds” leaving their property!
Jewelweed

Resources

I write about wild foods from time to time–some posts that might interest you include recipes for ramps, dandelions, and nettles. I’ve also posted about family foraging here and here if you’re looking for more inspiration!

What about you? What is your favorite wild food? Or if you haven’t foraged before, what hurdles stand in your way?

This post originally published on June 27, 2012.

About Rachel Wolf

Rachel Wolf woke up recently and realized that she's living the life she has always wanted. Her days are spent with and two spunky unschoolers, running LuSa Organics (her small business), and hanging the laundry out on the line. Rachel writes about her homeschooling, homemaking, and non-violent parenting path on her blog Clean.

Comments

  1. Steph says:

    I’ll admit the idea of foraging makes me nervous. I think the thought of misidentifying something and eating something dangerous scares me. But then again, I certainly know what berries and dandelions look like…
    Steph’s latest post: PSA: Marriage is Hard Work

  2. This is something I’ve been wanting to get into for quite some time. Thank you for laying out the basics! How do you prepare the lambsquarters? We’ve got quite a bit of that around here.
    Liz @ The HomeStyle’s latest post: {New Moms} My birth stories (part 2)

  3. We are definitely beginner foragers, but I couldn’t agree with you more about the benefits. Every time we learn about a new edible plant — or discover one on our land — we get so excited.

    Among our favorites are day lillies, although we don’t eat a ton of them, just because it seems so exotic to eat these big beautiful flowers that grow on our back hill!

  4. I loved this post. You did such a nice job of laying out the basics. I especially loved the “Why Forage” section. Yes!

    We’re big fans of eating wild plants and weeds. Not many salads don’t include lamb’s quarters, clover or dandelion greens.

    Here’s a post I wrote a couple years ago on eating common garden weeds.
    http://6512andgrowing.wordpress.com/2010/06/27/a-free-lunch-wild-style/
    Rachel @ 6512 and growing’s latest post: DIY Kitchen: mayonnaise

  5. John Batt says:

    What a great idea! Can I ask what inspired this?..

    Is it something that got passed down generationally or something you just got into?..It looks like a lot of fun, something I might get involved in with the kids myself!

    • Rachel Wolf says:

      John, My career before motherhood was as a naturalist. My work now is creating herbal body care products. Those factors plus my love of cooking and homeschooling means I’ve grown to understand and appreciate wild foods. My parents and sister also forage (and they are better mushroom hunters than I am by leagues!).
      Rachel Wolf’s latest post: Foraging with Kids

  6. Dawn Suzette says:

    Great post. We love to forage for our meals but I do remember the nervousness in the beginning. Now, like you, we are adding new things to try with each passing season. Such a wonderful way to eat and connect with nature. Thanks for spreading the word!
    Dawn Suzette’s latest post: A Taste of Prince Edward Island :: Part 2

  7. I’d love to try more wild edibles but honestly every book (we own a couple) or resources suggests “saute in butter or oil” – we don’t eat much of either and I think a lot of the great flavor comes from the fat. But I suppose I could substitute the fats I do use – nuts, seeds etc… I’m totally up for it just thinking it might lack the flavor… We do love munching on fresh tasty green weeds.

    By the way, this is great post for Simple Homeschool – love it!
    renee @ FIMBY’s latest post: Supplies to Stock the Craft Cupboard

  8. A great reminder about “eating out”. This year we foraged wild asparagus (delicious) and spring dandelion (bitter). Our family also forages for non-vegetarian morsels too (critters). When asked what bunny tastes like, my 4-year-old daughter replied matter of factly, “just like turtle.” I’m just proud my kids are learning that culinary adventure is not limited to the Happy Meal menu at McDonald’s!
    Well Armed Housewife’s latest post: Many facets of being a Well-Armed Housewife

  9. Heather says:

    I would love to get a book on wild edibles. I think that our entire yard is full of weeds we could eat (not to mention my garden). It is something that I think is important to learn, thank you for the resources you provided!
    Heather’s latest post: Home Binders – Part Four

  10. Two Cowgirls says:

    Great post! Honestly, it never crossed my mind to eat wild edibles. I’m definitely going to research this more! It sounds like a lot of fun, and really rewarding :)

  11. Hi Rachel,

    I love your courage and sense of adventure. And this post is so unbelievably thorough. I pointed my readers in your direction when my 8-year-old daughter wrote on my blog about how we are eating flowers — both cultivated and wild — because we are newbies to foraging.

    Thank you for sharing your expertise and joy in the hunt!

    Amy
    Amy @ Frugal Mama’s latest post: We’re Eating Flowers: Our 3 Favorite Recipes, by Virginia Suardi (8 years old)

  12. Talia says:

    The only thing I’ve ever forged for was elderberries. When I was a kid my dad was a rural mailman and during the summer I would ride with him and pick elderberries my mom turned in to the best jam ever!

  13. Kika says:

    We’re not doing much foraging for food but are becoming much more aware of our local environment and becoming better at plant identification at this point (my 8 year old is VERY good at this!). She is loving the Herb Fairies curriculum (Thanks to Renee @ FIMBY for telling us about this program) she began this fall which is helping her/us learn more about edible ‘weeds’ and those we can use for medicinal purposes.

  14. amy says:

    Rachel~what do you do with the jewelweed? I transplanted a couple of plants from our woods to up near our house a couple of years ago and it has taken over! It was lovely and delicate and I thought it would be grand around the house. It has taken that to heart and now it is everywhere!

    • Rachel Wolf says:

      Hi Amy. I replied to you but it didn’t pop up in the right place. To repeat: It’s the perfect itch remedy! Poison ivy, bug bites, chicken pox. Just infuse it in oil and make into a balm with beeswax. I’ll be sharing a recipe on my blog Clean next week, in fact!
      Rachel Wolf’s latest post: {This moment}

  15. Rachel Wolf says:

    It’s the perfect itch remedy! Poison ivy, bug bites, chicken pox. Just infuse it in oil and make into a balm with beeswax. I’ll be sharing a recipe on my blog Clean next week, in fact!
    Rachel Wolf’s latest post: {This moment}

  16. Deborah A says:

    I always taught my children and now my grandchildren how to forage. My father taught me some as a child and I was always looking for wild foods. I was a Girl Scout leader years ago and once we got back late from a campout because I spied ripe blackberries in a field. One of the girls told her parents we were late because I stopped to let them graze. The parents thought that was insulting, but I liked it! After having some of the girls as 1st graders, I happened to be on a trip with them when they were starting high school. As they were hiking, some of them pointed out to girls I had never had many wild edibles…and this is greenbrier, you can cook it like asparagus or chew on it raw, this is….When asked they said, oh, Ms Debbie taught us that in Brownies. They remembered. My sons at 3 & 4 would hang out in the woods for hours and not come home for lunch. I went with them once and they said: This is our blackberry patch, they’re gone now, this is our blueberry patch, these are our grape vines, not ripe yet…they were definitely filling their tummy with healthy stuff! My 4 & 11 yo granddaughters teach their friends. This is what we do.

  17. Rachel S. says:

    Rachel, thanks so much for this post! I am definitely going to look for the books you mentioned. My oldest son, 14, really LOVES the idea of being able to live off the land so I sent this post to him :) I shared with my blog readers and with my homeschool groups as well :)

  18. Great thanks for share this information! i can’t wait to try this.
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    very cheap designs’s latest post: Roland Designs

  19. We love foraging with our kids! Last year I made up a list of 100 things I wanted to learn with the kids over the summer (they helped and it included everything from worms to the Civil War to the distributive property) and foraging was one of the ones I added. I told my husband and he really helped me run with it. We tried so many things — cattails (buttered shoots and the super nutritious golden flour in pancakes), mulberries, raspberries, walnuts, milkweed pods (when they’re tiny they’re like mozzarella poppers when you saute them!) and so much more. He ended up learning so much and getting so good at it that he now has a foraging column, and we have a freezer full of acorn flour, wild raspberries and other goodies.

    I made up a list of 10 homesteading skills that every child should learn and foraging for wild edibles is one of them (http://www.examiner.com/list/10-homesteading-skills-every-child-should-learn). Not only are wild foods so healthy but they’re also free and with a family of our size, that’s a good thing! LOL I am so glad that we all learned about foraging together, and I can’t wait for the new season to start.

    I have a wild edibles board on Pinterest of all the best stuff I’ve found online too, if anybody is interested. I’m adding this article to it. :) http://www.pinterest.com/magicandmayhem/wild-edibles/

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