If you live in the United States, you may not realize there are many different native foods you can forage throughout the year. Here are some of the top foraged foods you can find in this country.
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If you are lucky enough to have a large property with a good amount of wild area, you can freely forage to your heart’s content. However, most foragers recommend that you do not completely deplete the various foods. The animals rely on these foods as well.
Even if you just have a backyard, you might be lucky to find a few “weeds” that are excellent foraged foods. In my own backyard, I have now three separate elderberry patches and I just have 1/8th of an acre in a city!
Another note on responsible foraging, if the property is not yours, you will likely need or at the very least research permission. The Friendly Forager has an excellent article on foraging on public lands you can find here: Foraging on Public Lands. In my own experience, I have researched and looked into state parks near me and most do not have any restrictions on what you take. It really depends, so definitely look into it.
Finally, be sure the area you are foraging from is not sprayed. For example the edges of roads and other high traffic areas might be riskier to forage at because of pollution or chemicals. Be sure to find the safest places to forage food from.
Easy Forage Foods
You can find most of these almost anywhere in the United States. In fact, many people actively work to get rid of some of these foods. Look around and see what awesome food you can get for FREE:
- Dandelions – one of the easiest weeds to find is actually super nutritious. Grow, forage, cook, ferment has an excellent article on foraging for dandelions. Be sure to get the identity correct because it does have a look-a-like, none of them are toxic but will not have the same habits and taste as a dandelion. They have a distinctive puffball when they go to seed and a long straight stem with one yellow flower in the spring and summer. You can use them for all sorts of things and the flowers, leaves and roots are great food when prepared well.
- Purslane – this is another one some consider a weed. Here in Northwest Louisiana, I find it all over the place, especially near really moist areas. They are a perfect addition to salads and pack a great nutritional punch. You can find out more about the awesomeness of purslane and how to eat it, cook it and process it from Serious Eat All About Purslane.
- Chickweed – a relatively easy to identify low growing green, with distinct small white flowers with yellow pollen, these are a great one too look out for on a hike. You can eat it right off the ground if you want for a crunchy treat. Learn more about chickweed here.
- Elderberry – this unique berry has many benefits and can be found in most of the United States. It is important that you harvest these when they are ripe because the rest of the plant is poisonous, including under ripe berries. They are known for being helpful in protecting against the flu and other viruses. Find out more here!
- Mushrooms – As you may know, an excellent food to forage is mushrooms. From chicken-off-the-woods to lions mane, there are many, many unique and excellent tasting mushrooms for the taking. Here at my home, old cut down trees have provided wood ear mushrooms! You can find more about getting started here.
- Wild blackberries – If you live in the Pacific Northwest, wild blackberries might actually be a huge nuisance for you. Despite this, the berries themselves are excellent food. You can find them almost anywhere in the US. Here in Louisiana a close cousin, called dewberries, grows along disturbed areas and ponds.
- American beauty berry – these berries are so unique looking. They are BRIGHT purple. They almost look fake, or worse they can look poisonous. But do not worry, they are not poisonous. However, they’re not very sweet. The best way to eat them is to turn them into juice for jelly (with plenty of sugar). Find out more about beauty berries here.
- Pecans – there are lots of pecans all over the US which can be found in parks, backyards, etc. Some of them are in wild spaces as well such as forests. They are harvested in the fall and can keep for a long time. They make excellent candy and pie. You can get more information on finding and using pecans here.
Identifying forage plants to eat
The most important part of foraging is if you did not plant the seed and know exactly what the fruit or nuts was before, then you must be 100% sure of your identification to be able to safely eat it. Luckily there are lots of tips and tricks for identifying food. There are books, youtube channels, and regional resources for you to make sure of your wild food.
Also, many of the foods you are considering simply d not have a look alike or all the lookalikes are just as edible. Mother Earth News has a good article on identifying composite berries such as raspberries, dewberries, and blackberries.
The wild grocery store
Although I did not go into depth in this article, there are lots and lots of foods you can harvest that are native that are also found in the grocery store. In fact, persimmons, plums, grapes, asparagus, mustard greens and many more fruits and vegetables are available in the wild.
Since most people know about these in terms of what to do with them as they are common in grocery stores, they are not in the list above but they are just as enjoyable and an excellent way to test your culinary skills.
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