By Dr. Nicole Pierce NMD
We are so fortunate to have an abundance of medicinal and edible plants in the Treasure Valley and surrounding landscapes. Foraging is a great way to harvest wild and native plants while connecting with the environment, but it must be done with caution and respect. If you're new to the foraging game, read on for some guidance prepared with help from our resident herbal expert and all-around Renaissance Mama Erika Knipe of Wild Ginger Farm and Forage.
5 Tips & Advice for Successful & Ethical Foraging
- The most commonly asked question from aspiring foragers is “where can I find wild plants?” The simple answer is to learn, you have to get out and start exploring! Generally, experienced foragers are pretty tight-lipped about their favorite places to harvest because they don’t want to encourage overharvesting. The best way to find your very own sweet spot for foraging wild ts is to head to wild spaces and look around! A really big part of foraging is just wandering around the forest looking for something amazing and then researching what that plant is and what gifts it offers. Some people even say that the plants you need will call to you when you’re ready! A healthy curiosity will help you collect information before you actually start collecting plants.
- Keep a journal. This can be a plain notebook, the back pages of your favorite foraging book or even the notes section of your smartphone. Each time you get out to explore, take notes on what you see, the date, location, and any other important information. Take photos and add them to your journal entries. You can also keep a list of when plants in your area should be harvested - nettles in March, elderflowers in June, huckleberries in July, elderberries in September . . . you get the idea. Before long you will have your own full list of plants and places to find them!
- Always, ALWAYS properly identify wild plants before harvesting. It is also a good idea to familiarize yourself with non-edible lookalike plants that you might encounter. Do not eat anything that you cannot identify and deem safe. It just isn’t worth the risk of having a bad reaction, getting sick, or worse.
- Be prepared. Dress appropriately for the weather, wear proper shoes for hiking, bring sun protection and full water bottles. Put together a foraging kit with baskets and bags to carry your harvest as well as a pocket knife, scissors or a Leatherman and gloves. Be sure to bring your journal, a pen, and your favorite foraging book for reference too!
- Harvest gently and conservatively. Humans have a tendency of taking more than they need and doing more harm than good. When foraging, it is critical that you inform yourself about the ecosystem you are taking from and do nothing that the plant community cannot recover from. This is particularly important when foraging in a popular area shared by others. It is recommended to follow the “rule of thirds” and never help yourself to more than 1/3 of the plants or wild food you find. Leave behind enough to feed the wildlife that depends on these food sources and to ensure the plants can continue to thrive and reproduce. Of course, do not waste by taking more than you will actually use. Take care not to damage plants by trampling them or breaking their branches and always thank them for the wonderful gift they have given you.
Thank you Erika for the foraging tips! Erika will be teaching, creating, and answering your questions at Vervain when we open this summer! In the meantime, you can enjoy the Farm and Forage Tea she specially formulated for us. You may have tried some of this tea one of our spring pop-ups - click here if you need some more! For those ready to forage ethically and sustainably this fall, check out Erika’s luscious Elderberry-Rosehip Syrup recipe!
Elderberries and rosehips are abundant in the mountains and trails and backyards all over Idaho. Rosehips are famously chock full of Vitamin C and flavonoids, and Elderberries are a powerful and delicious medicinal food shown to inhibit viruses and reduce the length of cold and flu symptoms. Keep this syrup handy for “flu season” as well as year-round enjoyment and fortification.
- I cup fresh elderberries (1/2 cup if using dried berries)
- 1/2 cup fresh rosehips (1/4 cup if using dried)
- 4 cups water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 3 whole cloves
- small piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped or grated.
- 1 cup raw honey*
Place elderberries, rosehips, water and spices in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Smash the berries and rosehips to release remaining juices and strain the mixture. Allow the liquid to cool to room temperature. Stir in raw honey. Elderberry-Rosehip Syrup can be stored in the refrigerator and used within 3 weeks or kept frozen for several months.
*If you prefer your syrup less sweet start by adding half the honey. Local, raw honey adds medicinal and immune-boosting properties to this syrup and it also helps preserve the mixture keeping it fresh longer. Raw honey should not be given to infants under 1 year of age.
Local Foraging Resources
For many, foraging and wildcrafting is a life long practice. There is also more to learn, and what follows are some influential resources that you many enjoy.
Darcy Williamson is an herbalist, author, and educator based in McCall who has been sharing her deep knowledge of and relationship with Idaho plants and botanical medicine for over 40 years. I have been lucky enough to join her on collecting trips and in her hilltop workshop and was thrilled to see her speak about wildcrafted plants of Southern Idaho at Nampa’s World of Nutrition a few weeks ago. Her books will be a permanent feature in our shop so that we can all continue to benefit from her extensive knowledge and love of plants.
I enjoy following The Fungal Forager on FB and her cheerful and accessible posts like this video about the sensible harvesting of cottonwood buds along the Boise River in early spring. Cottonwood is one of my favorite and most nostalgic scents and the sap from downed branches can be used to make an incredibly healing salve that heals skin from the inside out. Cottonwood oil also acts as a natural preservative so any salve you’re making will last longer. If you’re lucky enough to have collected your own, I salute you! If not, you’re in luck: the amazing folks at Woodland Wildcraft still have some of the liquid gold available on their website, along with so many of their other amazing, sustainably wildcrafted botanical offerings.
The Fungal Forager is a consistent fangirl of The Wondersmith, as am I. Recent posts, accompanied by luminous photographs and breathtaking descriptions, include a recipe for locally-foraged Rose Petal Jam, as well as a Summer Solstice foraging escapade to gather St. John’s Wort, Yarrow blossoms, Pineapple weed, and Elderflowers. The Wondersmith also hosts the Treasure Valley Foragers page, where people go to share their foraging finds, including some helpful elevation tips for finding elusive mountain fungi.
If you missed out on your own morel haul this year, Idaho Wildcraft ships their sustainably harvested bounty anywhere in N. America. Check out their enviable hauls on their Instagram page and get ready to head to the woods next spring!
Want to learn more? Check out these book lists compiled by The Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine: The Ten Best Books on Foraging Wild Foods and Herbs and The Best Regional Books for Plant Identification and Foraging Wild Foods and Herbs
What is your relationship with foraging? We want to hear from you! Please join The Vervain Collective on FB and IG and tell us: what are your favorite experiences foraging in your area? What would you like people to know who are new to the experience?