Forgotten Foods: What You Need to Know About Foraging

Foraging, or finding food in nature, is a luxury that many of us have in the Finger Lakes that addresses many of the problems within our modern food system.
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Wild oyster mushrooms. Photo: Wikimedia Images

This article is a general overview of what foraging is and how those who are interested can give it a try. It’s part of a new monthly series called Foraging in the FLX. This piece is written by Jon Brown, a Watkins Glen native who runs the Finger Lakes Foragers Club Facebook page, and enjoys foraging as a hobby. Jon is a registered dietician and has a private nutrition counseling practice, Fork in the Road Nutrition.

By Jon Brown, RDN, B.S.

I never liked mushrooms until I had some wild oyster mushrooms sautéed in butter that completely changed my perspective.

These tasty mushrooms are just one example of the benefits of foraging.

Foraging, or finding food in nature, is a luxury that many of us have in the Finger Lakes that addresses problems within our modern food system.

Foraging has nearly zero environmental impact, as mother nature provides. Foraged foods are unprocessed and are some of the healthiest foods you could ever consume. Perhaps most importantly, foraged foods can be free and delicious.

Wild leeks and fiddlehead ferns. Photo provided by Jon Brown

Foraging is rewarding for anyone who enjoys spending time outside. Children are even surprisingly good foragers because they have eyes close to the ground. Last year I taught my five and six-year-old nephews how to identify a plant around the edge of my yard, just to prove this to myself. Foraging is a challenge that can turn an aimless hike into a real adventure. The physical activity involved is a great bonus. 

It is important that you only eat things that you have identified with 100% certainty. Some plants and mushrooms may have toxic look-alikes. It’s also important to watch out for signs of possible contamination in the area, such as the spraying of pesticides or manure. Public lands may have laws around foraging that you should also consider. 

There are many resources to help get started. I enjoy joining more experienced foragers on hikes. When you learn a new food, try to study it by engaging all of your senses.

Some additional tips for the fledgling forager:

Challenge yourself to learn five new foods each year. Be mindful of the lifecycle of the food you are consuming. Some are invasive and can be eaten without hesitation and others have long reproductive cycles that make them easy to deplete. Harvest sustainably so that you do not disrupt the ecosystem. Leave some for the forest critters and so that the plant can reproduce. Mushrooms usually have already ejected their spores before you find them, so get them before the bugs do. While it may not be practical to eat only foraged foods, foraging can be a great complement to a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle. 

Jon Brown is a registered dietitian/nutritionist from Watkins Glen, currently working on his Master’s in sports nutrition at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. He runs the Finger Lakes Foragers Club Facebook page, and enjoys foraging as a hobby. He has a private nutrition counseling practice, Fork in the Road Nutrition, and is looking to help individuals with their health and fitness goals. 

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