Finger Lakes Forager: A Hobby that Heals

This past year has brought to my attention the importance of not just physical health, but also the social, emotional, mental, spiritual, financial, environmental, and occupational aspects of health.
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Photo by Shannon Hazlitt Harts

By Jon Brown, RDN, B.S. of Fork in the Road Nutrition

When we talk about health, we tend to think of it as existing in solely a physical realm. This past year has brought to my attention the importance of not just physical health, but also the social, emotional, mental, spiritual, financial, environmental, and occupational aspects of health. While it may not be obvious, becoming a forager has the potential to improve your health in every aspect of wellness. 

Farming and supermarkets have allowed us to forget all that we can harvest from nature. Wild foods are fresher than almost any other foods you will ever eat and are grown sustainably in a natural environment. It is common for food to travel 1,500 miles or more before it reaches your grocery store. Foraging allows you to travel to your food, a win for all.

Some farming practices can decrease soil quality and nutrients, making plants or mushrooms from natural soil often more nutrient-rich.

When you stumble upon a good spot for foraging, there is an overwhelming feeling of gratitude and achievement that is only surpassed if you can make your find better in the kitchen. It gives you a true appreciation for the fertility of the land, and how lucky you are to live in such a magnificent part of not just the world but the universe. Foraging can be a spiritual experience for even the least religious people.  Finding wild foods provides perspective to the other wild foods out there that you don’t know, and may never know. 

It’s hard to escape gratitude when foraging, whether you find wildlife, waterfalls, or dinner. Gratitude has shown promise for improving many areas of health, even reducing inflammation and blood pressure. Foraging is absolutely free and can provide a substantial amount of food when fortune, skill, and dedication collide. If you have the fortune of joining other foragers on hikes, I am confident you will at least benefit socially. For some, learning these skills seems dutiful. Acquiring and passing down this forgotten knowledge can give a sense of purpose.  

When we eat more types of plant foods, we consume more fiber and more types of bacteria, resulting in a microbiome that becomes healthier and more diverse. The microbiome is 3 to 5 pounds of symbiotic bacteria living in our digestive tract that has a profound relationship with health. The microbiome plays a role in disease prevention, metabolism, mood, and immunity, just to name a few. Microbiomes tend to be healthier in people who spend more time in natural settings. 

You should go foraging some time. Even if you can’t find your shadow, you’re sure to find some benefit. It’s also a great way to get in all that physical activity that everyone is raving about. 

Check out the photos below for some specific foraging finds you can discover in the Finger Lakes!

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.

A hemlock tree covered in Reishi mushrooms. This mushroom is also known as Ling Chi, or the mushroom of immortality. This mushroom has many medicinal properties that were first discovered in ancient Chinese medicine. Photo provided by Jon Brown

The appropriately named “pheasant back” mushroom, also known as Dryad’s Saddle, which can be used culinarily in a variety of ways. Provided by Jon Brown

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