Thursday, May 5, 2011


For hundreds of thousands of years, humans were hunter gathers.  While the men hunted large game animals the children and women foraged the countryside looking for edibles and medicinal plants.  Even after the advent of agriculture, hunting and foraging have been used to supplement food stocks.  Most medicines were based on wild plants as well.  All through American history we relied on foraging and wild foods to get us through hard times: the Revolutionary War, pioneer settlers, the civil war, the Great Depression, and during the height of food rationing during WWII are the best known of these times.  Hunting, fishing, trapping, and foraging are still used today by more people than you would think as part of the local cultural traditions.  In my own home community in Pennsylvania we were still going out early every spring to gather dandelion greens for a fund raising dinner at our volunteer fire company.  The annual dandelion dinner was a big success for years.

Now, you can get really deep into foraging like Euell Gibbons or modern day Survivalists and back to nature advocates.  That is not my goal here.  If you want to really learn about wild foods and go deep into that subject, there are plenty of books and online resources for that.  At some point you'll want to take some classes or find a guide because many plants are quite poisonous.  For that very reason I won't even touch mushrooms here or in real life.  Mushroom poisoning is a nasty, painful way to die.  What I want to explore are the easy, everyday foraging opportunities that anyone can do with little effort.

Foraging is not limited to crawling around the woods or meadows seeking edible plants.  Foraging can be done in your suburban neighborhood, parks, empty lots, public trails, etc.  Foraging doesn't even have to mean searching for wild food-plants.  There is a small but growing group of people that conduct "Urban Foraging", collecting perfectly safe, edible foods from behind food stores and restaurants.  Food safety laws do not allow restaurants and stores to save foods from one day and use them the next; they must be thrown out.  Americans, being the picky buyers that we are, will not buy day old bread or fruits and veggies with cosmetic blemishes.  So the stores and eateries have no choice but to get rid of it.  They have to pay to have it hauled away so most of them are more than willing to let organizations or individuals take this stuff for free.

I grew up in a family that foraged fruits from all sorts of places such as an apricot tree at our church, berries of all sorts in the city park and state game lands, apples and wild cherries from a land owner my dad met while fishing, and bulk boxes of fruit and vegetables from grocers bought for pennies on the dollar.  Most of these items were turned into jams and jellies but some were cut up and frozen for putting in muffins, pies, and pancakes later in the year.  I don't think I ate store bought jelly until after I joined the Army.  Even then, every time I went home my mom gave me a couple jars of jelly to take along with me.

The next post on this subject will be about early spring greens.  See you then.

No comments:

Post a Comment