Hunting and gathering is a time-honored manner of providing food for community and family groups. Recently, there has been an upsurge of interest in renewing the homesteading or off-grid way of life, and the traditional skills and knowledge that were seemingly forgotten are being brought back to the forefront. Wild food foraging is the hot new trend taking over the food scene.
Finding and foraging wild foods is a skill that anyone, from country bumpkins to staunch urbanites, can develop and hone with just a little bit of know-how. Unlike hunting, foraging requires very little physical prowess. Most of the food eaten by early nomadic peoples was gathered, and hunting accounted for only a small percentage of the food consumed.
If you are keen to swap your grocery store aisle for the forest trail, this guide can help get you started on your new hunter-gatherer foraging lifestyle or hobby and provide useful information about the art of finding food in the wild.
Gear and Equipment
While hunting and foraging in survival situations can be accomplished without specific clothing, having access to hunting apparel such as camouflage pieces and lots of pockets is beneficial. Start with a good moisture-wicking base layer composed of either wool or synthetic material. Outer layers should be camouflaged to help you blend in, as well as be water- and weatherproof.
The equipment needed to forage is very simple. Pack a few bags for your finds within a larger one, like a backpack, to carry it all. Tools such as a knife, hand trowel, and scissors come in handy, as well.
Proper Identification Is Essential
The most important aspect of foraging for food is properly identifying and differentiating between specimens. Always make sure you can confidently identify what you have foraged before eating it. Have a plant guide on hand, either in book or app form, such as PlantNet or PlantSnap.
Plants, such as buckeye, wisteria, and pokeweed, have fruits that look like edible foods. However, the “fruit” of each of these has a varying level of toxicity. Many edible plants also have poisonous doppelgangers. Sweet almonds, wild carrots and parsnip, wild garlic, and morel mushrooms are among the many edible wild plants that have highly poisonous look-alikes.
Avoid wild foods that taste bitter. Even when you are certain you have identified your food, make your first bite the tester, as most plants are only lethal in higher doses than one fruit or berry. If the test-bite affords a bitter taste, err on the side of caution and discontinue eating what you’ve found.
Seeing animals eat a plant does not render it safe. Many fruits and plants that animals can safely eat are toxic to humans.
Responsible gathering takes many forms, all are geared toward preserving the environment and the plant. Make sure you only take as much as you need and never completely deplete a plant in one area.
Refrain from collecting anywhere near where chemicals are sprayed or too close to the road. Plants absorb the chemicals and pollution and transmit it to their fruits or nuts. One way to tell if it’s a good area to gather is to look for bug life, as a lack of insects can indicate too much chemical use in a specific area.
This also applies to hunting. As long as you are not in a survival situation, be choosy with what you hunt. Try to avoid females, if at all possible, as overhunting females can hunt the game to extinction in your area.
Know Your Seasons
An experienced hunter-gatherer knows that seasons strongly affect what foods are available in the wild.
Fruits ripen at certain times of the year and eating unripe fruit can cause anything from an upset stomach to serious illness. While there is a variety of fruits, nuts, and roots accessible at every season, this changes from region to region, so target your seasonal research to your area.
For those who are new to hunting, don’t expect to wrangle much on your first, second, or even third hunting attempt. No matter what sort of game you are pursuing, hunting takes an incredible amount of practiced skill and acquired knowledge.
A hunter-gatherer’s time can be wasted on hunting that leaves them empty-handed if they do not put the time into researching how the targeted game thinks and eats. Food, shelter, water, and security are every creature’s primary objective, though the needs of each will vary.
Explore areas that are close to water, food sources, and adequate shelter for your targeted game, and set aside time to observe these areas for animal activity. Most animals are more active at dawn and dusk, and it is best to plan your hunting and observation outings for these times.
Make It a Group Thing
There’s a reason our nomadic ancestors worked together in tribes. It was impossible for one individual to hunt and forage enough food for an entire group to survive throughout the year. Instead, the many jobs that needed to be accomplished for finding, sorting, and storing foraged foods were carried out by various members of the group, each with a range of different skills.
Take a hint from the early foragers and make your new hobby or lifestyle a group activity by getting the whole family involved. Doing so can instill important and under-taught survival skills in your children and encourage them to appreciate outdoor pursuits.
Additionally, foraging in groups mitigates your chances of becoming lost in the woods on your own and makes the experience more enjoyable.
Foraging for food requires time and patience, but it is a gratifying and character-building process. Knowing that you procured your food lends a sense of agency and capability. Finally, it teaches you to appreciate the basics of nutrition and what it really means to nourish your body in a world of overly processed and “fast” foods.