Foraging for food is an ancient aspect of the human condition but to most urban dwellers it is a concept and a skill long lost to history. Many view foraging as a “primitive” and “uncivilized” way of living but this ignorance of the wide variety of edible plants simply leads to lower food potential and continued living with unsustainable food producing systems.
Edible wild plants are available everywhere, including urban and suburban environments. Urban parks are one of the better places to begin urban foraging. Park grounds are rarely sprayed with pesticides or chemicals but if they have been signs are clearly marked to inform the users. Urban foragers should also avoid plant locations prone to hazardous contaminants such as industrial areas, busy roadsides, and pristinely manicured lawns with signs advertizing herbicides.
Again, city parks are generally a safe location for foraging with the added benefit that they contain a wide variety of edibles and many of these tend to be non-native species so any collection of these plants will not adversely affect the local environment or sensitive plant communities. One such example of a very common edible plant is the dandelion.
Urban trees can also be another great source of foraging potential. Shade trees along sidewalks or parking lots often have edible fruit; these include mulberry trees, basswoods, crabapples, plumbs, and even pear trees.
If you happen to find a residential fruit tree overburdened with fruit don’t be afraid to ask permission from the owner to harvest; oftentimes these fruit trees are seen as a burden and many owners may be happy to have someone else harvest the fruit rather than clean the fallen fruit from the sidewalk.
The key to eating wild foods and urban foraging is proper identification; many plants have poisonous cousins so when starting out it is best to stick to those plants without lookalikes. Common urban edibles include amaranth, birch, raspberries, burdock, watercress, clover, dandelion, lemon balm, black walnut, wild grapes, wild onion, garlic mustard, cattails, and pine nuts.
Foraging can be a sustainable if practices responsibly.
- Harvest only items that are in abundance; if only a few specimens of a particular edible are available move on to another patch and allow the small patch to grow and expand.
- Leave the biggest and healthiest of the species to continue to propagate.
- When gathering greens from a plant, ensure enough of the leaves (75%) remain to keep it alive.
- Ensure that threatened and endangered species of plants are not harvested.
Foraging for wild plants can be a great way to supplement food provisions. It is part of urban agricultural systems and the local food movement.
But, some plants are poisonous and some parts of plants are not edible. It is always best to be sure of what you are eating and be confident in plant identification -KATHY FAIRCHILD