How to Forage for Your Own Food

A Friedman School alumna reveals how to recognize the delicious, nutritious hidden treasures that surround you

Do you want to eat a healthier, more sustainable diet or connect more deeply with the place where you live? Get started with the time-honored practice of foraging for local edible plants with these tips.

Read up.

When I was a kid in Palmer, Alaska, I had an illustrated plant book with all these edible and medicinal plants that Alaska Native people traditionally (and still) use in south-central Alaska. Hit your library or bookstore for botanical guides, or check out the many online resources about foraging in all types of landscapes (even urban ones!).

Reach out to local experts.

Often you can learn best from someone actually showing you how this mushroom has gills underneath while this other one does not. Ask neighbors and acquaintances what local plants they like to eat. Find events like nature walks, and connect with others in your community who share a passion for foraging and may know more than you.

Learn your local treasures.

Where I live in south-central Alaska, I can fish for sockeye salmon that then lasts all winter thanks to canning and smoking. I also hike up in the mountain meadows near me to pick wild blueberries and cranberries. In the springtime, fiddleheads and fireweed are welcome fresh treats. Find out what the most common species that live and grow near you are, and take advantage of nature’s bounty.

Take it slow.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the sea of green out there or worried about misidentifying a plant, start with learning just one plant. Get used to how it looks and tastes, and get familiar with using it in your diet. Then incorporate the next thing. When in doubt, check the plant with a more experienced forager, or simply pass it by.

Know where to look.

Keep an eye out for certain kinds of terrain that offer good growing conditions for common edible plants. Disturbed areas and edges of paths are great for mushrooms—morels in particular are amazing after forest fires. Low-bush blueberries are found on alpine hillsides, especially on the sunny side, while huckleberry bushes are down in the forest. And dandelions are found just about everywhere!

Get out into nature.

Go for lots of walks and hikes, either solo or with family and friends. It’s a great way to practice identifying plants and build foraging opportunities into your routine. Plus, you can reap the physical and spiritual benefits of being out in nature, eating wild foods and reconnecting with the natural history and traditions of your area.

As told to Monica Jimenez by Diana Redwood, N04, lifelong forager and senior epidemiologist at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, who holds a Ph.D. in public health.

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