5 Ways to Not Die from Foraging Mistakes
By Derek R. Benoit
January 5th, 2021
Been bitten by the foraging bug? Outstanding! You’ve just opened up your gastronomic options to a new world of interesting flavors. In contrast to the questionable food supply (thank you, Covid-19) foraging wild ingredients gives you reliable seasonal options that will complement your store-bought fair. Nevertheless there is a problem. Mistakes in plant or fungi identification can, at best, make you extremely uncomfortable with GI consequences. At worst, they can kill you. It’s not likely to be a pretty ending, either. Let’s prevent such pleasantries from happening, m’kay? Here’s how:
Avoid Dying from Foraging: Find Local Groups
Find a local foraging group. There is no better way to be ABSOLUTELY sure of what it is you’re going eat than to have experienced teachers showing you the ropes. Some very useful groups can be found using this fantastic website database by Rob Greenfield: http://findaforager.com/. Please also be sure to visit Rob’s foraging home site at http://www.robgreenfield.org/.
Furthermore, resources for foragers-to-be include Facebook; LOTS of groups can also be found here. Also check out the North American Mycological Association at https://namyco.org/. This is a group focused on mushrooms and fungi. Lots of scientific information is available here.
1.) Get Good References
Invest in REALLY good field guides to bring with you. Use them to practice plant/mushroom/fruit identification. Get recommendations from your mentors in the groups you’ve found specific to your region.
2.) Practice with the Local Groups
Consequently, verify what you see with good mentors. Practice with such people as often as possible. Don’t skimp on field trips. Clearly, the more supervised trips you make, the lower the chances that you’ll get confused and misidentify a foraged item.
3.) Keep it Simple
Number 4 brings us to this: stick with common, easily recognizable and safe items. Wait a while and gain some experience before going for something easily confused with something dangerous. Furthermore, put in extra time to study the differences between safe items and those with which they are easily confused. Your life depends upon it.
4.) Never… EVER Guess
You’ve heard this before but… if you don’t know, don’t roll the dice. Just don’t do it. You’re not in Vegas. You will likely be a long way from your vehicle, and most certainly medical care. If you guess wrong, it will go wrong… very, VERY quickly.
5.) Avoid Dying from Foraging for Interactions
Cross reference edible items against any medications you take. Furthermore, do the same with herbal supplements. Even common grapefruit can interfere with certain medications, rendering them ineffective. I should know. I have to avoid grapefruit (sadly) to avoid interactions with transplant medications. A reaction will suck. A LOT. Think sirens, flashing lights, and very concerned ER personnel.
Altogether, foraging is a fascinating, empowering, and belly-filling activity that can be safe and rewarding… IF you have help from very experienced foragers to decrease the learning curve. Reach out, dive in, and make lots of new friends while adding to your pantry. You’ll find wild foods for every season, and for just about every flavor profile!
For nutrition that won’t kill you, check out these other pieces: a fantastic orange duck recipe direct from Maryland’s Chef Carol Cherington, and a shootout between two nutritional supplement drinks, Nepro and Novasource Renal.