Foraging, also known as wildcrafting, is the practice of gathering herbs, plants, or mushrooms from the wild to use for food, supplements, or craft. Traditionally, foraging takes place in wild places, such as forests, meadows, or other natural spaces rich in flora and fauna.
Urban foraging, in contrast, is the practice of finding and eating wild plants in developed areas: suburbs, towns, and cities. Not all of us have access to wild places, flourishing with herbs and nourishing foods! Don't let that discourage you from participating in your own version of wildcrafting; urban foraging!
Urban foraging developed as a movement to empower urban residents to reconnect with the environment and discover the many sources of food that exist right outside your door: in backyards, overgrown empty lots, parks, and open spaces throughout a city.
The practice of urban foraging encourages time outdoors, learning about local plants, and fosters relationships among communities. Today more than ever resources abound to assist you in learning how to urban forage, and the list below outlines just a few key resources and considerations to get you started!
Urban Foraging Considerations: *Remember: With all foraging, never harvest or eat anything you cannot identify!*
Urban Foraging 101
1) Assess Plant Location
This is a very important first step to ensuring that you safely consume urban plants! Is that cluster of dandelion right next to a busy road? Is that lambsquarter at the head of a major trail that dogs travel on? It is important to find plants that are away from environmental contaminants, such as car exhaust, agriculture or lawn care chemicals, or dog excrement. This is especially important in urban environments. Plants absorb the “food” in the air, water, and soil around them, and will accumulate that in their plant tissues.
When you eat those plants, you will get a heaping dose of whatever they ate – which is great if its nutrient-dense soil; less great if its car exhaust fumes. Beginning in your own backyard, or a neighbor’s backyard, is often one of the best locations to start. You know what exposures exist there, and can better discern the health of the plants. If you are foraging in an open lot or nearby park, find out if chemicals are used, what industrial processes are happening in that area, or other potential environmentally toxic exposures. Always investigate and do your research before harvesting and eating!
2) Learn to Love Weeds
Weeds are one of the easiest places to begin when searching for urban edibles. They are abundant, generally easy to spot (think dandelion), and people generally do not care if you harvest them (since most people are trying to exterminate them). Edible weeds, such as lambsquarter, purslane, milk thistle, and dandelion thrive in disturbed soil environments, which is why they are pervasive in urban areas.
If you are unaware of the many different edible weeds, there are plenty of materials to support you in identification and use in mealtimes. One of my favorite resources, and recipes books is The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival by Katrina Blair. It’s simple, beautiful, and makes urban foraging feel accessible to even the most inexperienced plant forager.
3) Divert Food Waste
Each year, thousands of edible plants go to waste. Many landscaping plants are abundant in edible foods that are never consumed, such as crabapple or rosehips. One way to identify the edible abundance that exists in your area is to use the service, Falling Fruit. Falling Fruit is an app and website that maps where specific food sources are around the world. Type in your address and you may find that you have a neighbor down the street with an apple or pear tree.
Often the production from these fruit trees is much more than a single family can use. Asking the residents if you can gather from their tree or bush, and offering to share some of the harvest, is a way to draw from plant abundance that already exists in your area, and may be wasted otherwise. Also, familiarize yourself with cooking techniques that utilize less common fruits, such as rosehips. Rosehips are an underutilized plant food, a potent source of vitamin C, and also make a delicious jelly.
4) Plant a Small Home Garden
One way to begin to learn the plants is to actually develop your own garden with the plants you aim to eventually harvest. This could be a container garden or a backyard garden, depending on where you live. Plant peppermint, dandelion, lavender, and wild sage, or other plants you are likely to find growing in urban places. As you take care of these plants, you will learn what they look like in their various stages of development, improving your plant identification skills, and you will learn how to cook with them and use them in daily meals even before the first time you forage.
5) Make it Simple
Start simply. If you are already familiar with and can accurately identify dandelion, start by foraging dandelion. Find a safe patch, away from environmental contaminants, gather some leaves from the dandelion plant, rinse, and add a few of the bitter leaves to a salad to promote healthy digestion.
Or, dry the dandelion leaves on a screen, crush, and make into a loose leaf tea, or add to another loose leaf tea blend to cut the bitter, such as blending dry dandelion leaf with ORGANIC INDIA Tulsi Tea. This is an incredibly simple way to incorporate urban foraged foods into regular daily life.
ORGANIC INDIA's Wildcrafting
What is ethical wildcrafting?
Ethical wildcrafting is the practice of harvesting plants from the wild in a sustainable manner, without depleting the population or damaging the habitat of the plants that are being harvested.
Why is ethical wildcrafting important?
The population of many plants that grow in the wild is declining due to over-harvesting and loss of habitat. It is important to harvest plants in a way that ensures that they will continue to grow back each year, thus maintaining the delicate balance of their eco-system and ensuring the continued supply of these natural resources.
ORGANIC INDIA is committed to ethical and sustainable wildcrafting. Wildcrafting is a tradition to many farmers in India and thus comes as a second nature. The small family farmers and tribal wildcrafters involved are educated in organic and regenerative agricultural practices. ORGANIC INDIA is committed to regenerative organic agriculture and strives to leave the planet in better condition than they fount it. This commitment involves practices that heal the Earth, enrich biodiversity and regenerate the soil.
This network of farmers and wildcrafters stretches over thousands of acres of organic farmland in India to provide quality, organic crops and herbs, while simultaneously reversing environmental degradation in Indian farming communities.
Learn more about the impact of ethical and sustainable wildcrafting!
About the Author
Andrea is a food justice activist, feminist, alternative health media producer, community organizer, certified nutrition therapy practitioner, and “moments embosser” (those who make regular moments pop). She was home schooled until high school, of which she attributes her insatiable curiosity, out-of-the-box-approach, and general poor taste in clothes. She loves meeting new people, especially the unapologetic beautiful weirdos, and has decided that her next professional calling is to write a sexual health rock opera, coming to a stage near you. Andrea currently works too many jobs, but they share one common mission: bringing people she knows, and those she still has yet to meet, dignity, joy, and love through food and community.