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A beginners guide to foraging



For me and my family simple, intentional living means following the seasons and understanding what is growing and not growing at that time of year. It's also about the simple pleasure of being outside and the joy of finding edible foods that are not shipped halfway across the world but can be found in our own back gardens and nearby nature.


I started foraging at the age of 7 (it was probably earlier to be honest) going out with my dad early in the morning to pick mushrooms. When we got home my mum would cook them for us and i never forget that delicious smell of freshly picked porcini cooking in butter with a good grind of black pepper. They are a far cry from anything would you buy at a supermarket. My dad always jokes that he is "snacking from the hedgerow" when he picks and eats berries and nuts on the go and it taught me early on what I can eat and not eat. I've passed this on to my own children. Not in any formal way, but simply by letting them know what is edible and what is not and how to identify it, where is safe to eat and what to avoid. So now even my 6 year old can confidently go out into nature and pick berries and leaves without me having to panic that she might poison herself! Foraging is fun and educational for children. but it's fun and rewarding for us adults too.


As a lifelong dedicated forager I love to encourage others to get out into nature and do the same thing. So I thought I would share some foraging tips with you to motivate you to do the same thing either as a beginner or as a forager already. Of course I am basing my advice on the northern hemisphere which is where I live, but if you live further south there is no reason why you can't get ready for next seasons foraging or perhaps you are able to forage through the winter (I dream about that!).




Why forage?


It's fun

Foraging is one of life's simple pleasures that can bring so much joy into our lives. It's fun! Learning new things, getting outside and following the seasons is all fun and you will delight in the newfound knowledge you have the exciting discoveries you make.


It gets us outside into the fresh air

You can't forage from your lounge! You have to get some shoes on, grab your equipment and get outside into nature. Not only will you be getting some fresh air, but you have a purpose to get out there. As you search around for you latest forage you are moving your body, taking deeper breathes and allowing nature to work it's special magic of calming and grounding us.

It's rewarding

Once you see that basket of yours filled with edible treats that you have cleverly identified and collected yourself you will have the foraging bug! It's incredibly rewarding to bring home delicious finds and try new flavours and produce that is absolutely fresh from nature. You will discover new recipes and learn new skills.


We can eat what we pick

Of course we can, that's the whole point. Eating what we pick connects us with past generations who did exactly this. It's a sustainable and environmentally friendly way of eating. Of course, you will probably not be able to make an entire meal of a forage (well done you if you can!), but even one dish is a fantastic achievement.


We learn about native plants

Not every plant growing in our region is something that is native (supposed to be there). There are often garden escapes and plants that have been introduced either rightly or wrongly. Foraging teaches us what is natural to our region and we begin to learn a huge amount about the eco-system and environment we live in without even trying.


We embrace the seasons

You can't forage for raspberries in the winter, that's logical. We need to check the seasons of each plant we are foraging. It makes perfect sense not to expect to pick berries in the winter, but we know that they are in abundance in the summer and autumn. So we are already noticing the seasons. Foraging helps you notice the seasons in even more detail. You will find yourself looking out for th first dandelion flower in the spring and the ripeness of the hazelnuts in the late summer. All at once it will be second nature and you will be following the seasons like a pro.


How to get started


Research and education

I can't stress this enough. I know you are enthusiastic and motivated, but take some time to learn about the kind of plants you will picking and eating. There are lots of books and guides for this, or you can learn online or in person on a guided foraging walk.




Essential Equipment


A basket or trug

I've tried foraging without a basket especially if I get caught out on a hike and realise I should have brought one a long and only have my rucksack. I can promise you that it's much easier to pick and put straight into a basket or trug (one of those special gardening baskets). Baskets are firm so your finds don't get squashed, they have nice open tops so it's easier to put things into them and they are usually spacious. They also look and feel nice to use and we are allowed to bring a little hygge and nostalgia to our daily lives if we want!


Scissors

Scissors are always a piece of equipment to bring on a foraging trip. You frequently find that a tough stalk needs cutting and you are tearing at it with your hands and in the worse case pull up the plant. Scissor are a more elegant way to deal things and a lot more practical


Secateurs

Secateurs are great if scissor are not quite man enough for the job. If you've decided like I frequently do, that you are going to cut a few buds to put in a vase the secateurs are your best friend.


A small knife

A small foraging knife can be an invaluable piece of kit in your foraging basket. Not only is it ideal for cutting things, but also for digging up small root. My favourite knife is made by a Norwegian company called Brusletto and it has a lovely leather sheath that fits through my belt so I can just reach down and grab it when I need it. It feels rather professional to whip out a knife to cut something and it's vloely to use that something that has been lovingly handmade.


Gloves

Sometime we find ourselves wanting to pick things that sting or we simply don't want to get our hands too dirty. Nettles are case in point. I certainly would not try to pick nettle tops without gloves unless I fancied getting very red hands. Thick gardening gloves are the best. Don't try to pick nettles in woolly gloves, I speak from experience!!



Good foraging books

I don't recommend starting any foraging journey without first doing some research and if you jae already done that you will benefit from a few field guides. Field guides are books that are designed to be brought out with you so they are smaller and more compact. Even as a seasoned forager I still never take a trip without a couple of field guides with me. You never know when you might have a moment of "is it, or isn't it" with a plant, or discover something and kick yourself that you don't have a guide to refer to.


Small plastic bags or boxes

These are always useful if you plan on picking different things. Small plastic bags or the kind of little boxes you get strawberries or mushrooms in from the supermarket are ideal for separating what you have picked and they fit nicely into a basket and prevent everything from getting mixed or crushed.



That's all our "dos", but what about our "do nots". This is more common sense than anything


Do nots


Do check the law where you live

Spend a few minutes checking whether you are allowed to pick and forage where you live. There might be restrictions in certain areas. We have lots of nature reserves in Norway and one is not allowed to forage on any of those because th plants and animals are protected. But the same plants are not protected in other areas but they are mucn more abundant.


Do not pick near where dogs are walked

This goes without saying and we won't go into too much detail, but definitely avoid areas where you know people walk their dogs. If you want to pick in those areas choose plants that above dog leg height so you are less likely to pick something that has dog wee on it. Trees are good example of this.


Do not pick at the side of the road

With the removal of lead from petrol some years ago this is less of a hazard, but it's still dirty from road traffic. In my opinion it's best to avoid roads altogether if you can. There are also not the most aesthetic places to forage and if I have choice between roadside or fields and forest I will always pick the latter simply because it makes me feel better.


Do NOT chance it with something you are not 100% sure about

This is where our research comes in. Only pick and eat what you are confident about. They are key ways to identify edible plants and mushrooms and you need to learn them before you start picking things that you are not sure about. Once you become more experienced it will feel like second nature.


Do not pick more than you should

Im going to tell you a little story about picking more than you should. Here in my region of Norway, Vestfold, we have a lot of areas that where wild garlic flourishes. 3 or 4 years ago it was incredibly abundant growing in vast areas of the county and doing very well with just a few savvy foragers picking it sustaiably. But there was a bit of a trend of people sharing where they had picked it and talking about it on social media and more and more people started picking. a couple of years ago it went crazy with people sharing photos of 20kg bags of wild garlic they had picked and they were not alone. They didn't care very much about the plants and the delicate roots were being pulled out of the ground and discarded. The result was that it was so devasted by reckless picking that last year the Norwegian government put wild garlic in Vestfold on the red list for threatened species and it is now forbidden to pick it in my area. So the moral of this story is only pick what you need. If you find a plant you want to pick take a moment to look arund and see if there are plenty of others growing and do not pick everything or next time you come back there might be nothing growing.


My top picks for field guides and foraging resources


My top picks for foraging guides



Useful websites:


So now you are set to start or rekindle your new hobby. I'd love to hear what you have found and the new discoveries you have made. Do come into the Living a Nordic Life Facebook group and tell us all about it. We are a community of more than 10,000 people who all share a lovel of simple, intentional living the Nordic way.


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