Foraging has rules, too. Rules in foraging are twofold: to respect and preserve natural resources, and to follow laws so that non-foragers don't develop the opinion that foragers are a bunch of law-breaking hooligans. I'm not a 10 Commandment-kind-of rule-breaker, but I have always had a little authority problem. And a speeding problem. Anyway, I do ascribe to these rules, and hope you do, too!
Rule #1: NEVER eat something that you have not identified with 100% certainty. Let me repeat this in a different way just to get through to a few hardheads. If you are not absolutely, without a doubt, positive that the plant in your hand is what you think it is, then DO NOT EAT THE PLANT! (OR MUSHROOM!, OR BERRY!).
This sounds so commonsense that most people say "duh!." But the commonsense reader would be shocked to find that when foragers get excited about a plant they sometimes lose their common sense. I have been on several hikes where I say "I think this is a ...(blah, blah, blah), but I need to look this up to be sure." And someone will say "so I can eat it?" And I say "NO, I am not sure." Oookaaaayyy... which leads me to...
Rule #2: NEVER eat something unless YOU are 100% certain that the plant is what you think it is.
So this is a rule that I have occasionally broken, but when I do break this one, I have 100% confidence in the person that made the identification. For instance, I took a walk with Wildman Steve Brill who really knows his stuff, and I have attended wild food identification walks where I have tried some new things. I won't try a new food if someone else doesn't eate it first, and if they don't have a history with the plant.
For example, imagine taking a hike with someone who points out a plant and says "this is wild carrot," after which your friend eats some of the greens. You also sample some of the greens. Your friend then mentions "I have not eaten this before, but it tastes pretty good." You stop munching; you have read somewhere (like this blog), that wild carrot has been confused with deadly water hemlock. Unfortunately, the damage is done and you are dead. Or getting a liver transplant. I have a friend who had a liver transplant after eating mushrooms. It's no joke.
Rule #3: Try a small amount of the plant/fruit/mushroom
So you have positively identified a plant 100%. Now you can try a little nibble, but don't go crazy. Give yourself several hours (or a whole day) to make sure you don't have an allergy or sensitivity.
On a foraging hike with Wildman Steve Brill, I pointed out some mugwort, or Artemesia vulgaris, to one of my companions. Steve mentioned that he couldn't eat mugwort because he is sensitive to members of the ragweed tribe, to which mugwort belongs. How many potential foragers would fail to make these connections?
Rule #4: Practice responsible foraging for sustainability.
Pop Quiz: Say you find a Soloman's Seal plant (Polygonatum genus). You can easily identify the plant, and know the root is edible and can be used medicinally. So do you dig up the root?
The short answer is no: you should never dig up a solitary plant! Since the plant propagates by the root, if you dig it up you would destroy the plant as well as future plants. When harvesting root vegetables, take only a small amount, say 10-15% max of the available plants.
This doesn't mean you can't go crazy on some foraging foods. Berries and nuts are one area where a forager can take all they want, because Mother Nature will make more! Harvesting fruits won't damage the tree or plant for future harvests, like harvesting some greeny leafs, shoots, and roots.
|Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata); first year growth|
The bottom line is that a responsible forager needs to practice sustainable foraging so the plants will propagate and be available for future years.
Rule #5: Respect Private Property and obey "NO Tresspassing" signs
This rule is a criteria of decorum which allows people to live more harmoniously with their neighbors. The respect for property lines may be a little frustrating to foragers, especially those with *ahem* "authority issues." However, trespassing is a big no-no, UNLESS you really have a desire to piss off your neighbors and have a visit from a local constable.
Okay, I admit to a little "covert" foraging. BUT, I recognize this is wrong and could ultimately land me in jail. The best alternative is to get to know the landowners surrounding your stomping ground and ask for permission.
|Laetiporus Cincinnatus (Chicken of the Woods)|
One day while out for a jog I saw the property owner walking his dog down the street. I stopped hime and exclaimed "I loved your Laetiporus!" After he got over his initial impression that I am nothing short of a total whacko, we started discussing wild edibles in the area. Turns out he even had a pic of the shroom on his phone! Long story short, I now have permission to check out stuff on his property, and I got to know my neighbor a little better!
Do you have any more ideas for foraging rules? If so, please comment on this post!