Foraging is the harvesting of wild organic material, such as plants and fungi, for food, souvenirs, or other purposes.
Still today, some communities in the world live as hunter-gatherers, and even in technologically advanced countries, foraged berries and mushrooms remain as a part of the local cuisine.
Fruit and berries
Most biomes have some kind of fruits and vegetables. Many fruits and berries are edible, some are poisonous. There is no general rule to know which are edible, so learn to know the ones you are going to pick.
Berries in temperate climate
- Bilberries and blueberries grow in temperate forest regions of North America, Europe and Asia.
Cutting down trees without permission from the landowner, whether it be for a campfire, shelter or decoration, is usually prohibited, or at least very restricted. Trees hold high economic and ecologic value.
Gathering of dead twigs on the ground is usually allowed.
Wild flowers are usually picked for decoration, though they can have ceremonial purposes, and some are edible, too.
In temperate climate, the most diverse flowerbeds are usually found in livestock grazing grounds.
Fungi can be great food - many species are very tasty, and in many parts of the world you can get them for free if you collect them yourself. On the other hand, their reputation for being poisonous is justified, too - quite a few are, and some of them can be deadly. There are no general means to distinguish these from edible ones. Never eat any mushroom you do not know well enough – and this includes knowing whether there are poisonous fungi looking similar, and how to distinguish the edible ones from the poisonous ones. When travelling, be especially sure you know any local doppelgangers (e.g. the destroying angels of Europe and North America are unknown in Southeast Asia).
There are also caveats for edible mushroom. Most mushrooms are easily spoiled, so they have to be handled promptly and carefully. The first time you eat a specific mushroom species, eat only little, as not every edible species suits everybody. Most mushrooms aren't edible (or at least not tasty) until they are cooked or fried. Some mushrooms are poisonous until treated in some specific way, often by cooking in abundant water then thrown away, repeatedly at least for some species.
The best way to learn to pick mushrooms is to have a local expert show you. There are also guide books. Learn to recognize only a couple of mushroom species at a time, forget about the other ones until you are confident in these and then – perhaps next year – study a couple more. Some edible mushrooms are quite safe, as they, with some care, are easily distinguished from dangerous ones, others should not be picked until you are an expert, some perhaps not even then.
If you get ill after eating mushrooms it may be important to be able to tell your doctor about your mushroom dish. Some of the poisonous mushrooms do not give any early warning signs, so this applies also a few days afterwards.
Foraging includes the collection of butterflies and other small animals as decorative souvenirs. Some travellers collect insects and larvae for eating. Do not harm endangered species. Also, common ones may be protected in places like national parks. See animal ethics for some other concerns.
- A basket is the classical vessel for berry- and mushroom picking. A plastic bucket can also be practical.
In most countries, foraging is restricted, if not prohibited. In nature reserves, the leave-no-trace principle might be enforced. The Nordic Right to access is permissive, but not all foraging is allowed even there.