Foraging Tips

Amy Harvests Turks Cap Flowers for a Salad

  1. Properly identify the plant and the plant parts that are edible. Refer to The Useful Wild Plants of Texas the Southeastern and Southwestern United States, the Southern Plains, and Northern Mexico by Scooter Cheatham, Marshall C. Johnston and Lynn Marshall or use Delena Tull’s Edible and Useful Plants of Texas and the Southwest: A Practical Guide. Working with a guide or teacher that knows the plants is best!
  2. Harvest responsibly and legally. Learn the rules on public land and get permission to forage on private land. Federal and state laws generally protect plants on public land.
  3. Honor the plants. Reflect on why you need to harvest the plant. Ask for permission. 
  4. Harvest only what you need. Leave some roots, leaves, flowers and seeds behind so the plant can reproduce for many years to come. Harvesting at the right stages will sometimes encourage the plant to produce more leaves, fruits or flowers and this can be a good thing for extending the life and range of plants.
  5. Sample small amounts at first and give yourself time to acquire tastes for some of these new foods. This will also give you time and space to experience any reactions to the food. If you simply don’t like something, try it again. Tastes vary from plant to plant and from year to year. Eat slowly so that you will be able to experience its full flavor.
  6. Expect to find only small amounts of things, but be prepared with bags or baskets for harvesting. Keep a small trowel, kitchen tongs and scissors or pruners on hand. A pair of gloves and sturdy boots might also be useful. Those pesky, plastic supermarket bags can actually be useful to foragers since they squish up into pockets and have handles. They can easily be pulled out and filled with a surprise find. Remember: take only what you need. Leave at least half of what you find for reproduction and wildlife.
  7. Avoid harvesting in sprayed or polluted areas. Pay attention to runoff from roads and parking lots and try to harvest on the uphill sides of places where there might be large amounts of pollution.
  8. Look for wild foods along edges where two or more ecological zones come together because there is often more plant diversity there. The edges may be large such as the place where the Texas hill country meets the coastal plains, or where our Eastern pine forests intersects the post oak savannahs. Edges might also be small like where your garden bed touches the path, or a trail converges with the wild forest or a fenceline meets a field.
  9. Areas where soil has been disturbed are usually filled with wild edible plants. Consider harvesting in areas that you know will soon be scraped or developed. 
  10. Riparian zones along water are rich with wild edible plants, including ancient pecans and black walnuts. Tread lightly though – waterside habitats are fragile and should be protected. Use established trails when possible, leave roots, and prevent erosion on streambanks by switching back and forth when walking up or down a slope.
  11. Remember that you don’t necessarily have to get off the beaten path to find something wild to eat. An average urban lot will sometimes harbor more plant diversity than an entire farm. With a bit of encouragement such as mowing strategically and watering, your lawn can become a valuable source of fresh, wild foods. Spread seeds from your wild harvests in your garden to encourage a plant population in your own space.
  12. Wash things before you eat them! Rinse greens thoroughly in water. Soaking them in cool water for 5-10 minutes (sometimes called hydro-cooling) will perk them up and help them last in cool storage for several days. Scrub dirt and other debris off fruits before eating them – crunching on sand is not fun!
  13. Keep kitchen items on hand that will help with processing your foraged finds. A salad spinner (for drying greens once they’re washed), food processor, blender, coffee or spice grinder, cone sieve or cone ricer, a food mill, mortar and pestle, jelly bags and cheesecloth will all come in handy when processing your harvests. If you plan on preserving, stock your kitchen with canning jars, lids, pectin, sugar, vinegar and several large pots for processing.