And thus, I've put together my Forager's Toolkit- a list of all the things I think are important to have whenever you go out to forage... which, in the case of an avid forager like myself, is pretty much any time I leave the house. Not that I always carry all these, but I definitely think people should bring all these things along when they know that there is a goo bd chance that they will be foraging.
The single most important thing to have when foraging, other than the plants themselves, is a way to transport the loot home. This can be as varied from Tupperware type containers to plastic bags or whatever. Depending on the season, and depending on which plants I hope to forage, I usually take a few different types of containers along.
- Plastic Shopping Bags- I use these when I'm hoping to forage large quantities of larger leaves or plants, such as mallow, grape leaves, wild mustard, and purslane, or when foraging hardy fruit or nuts like lemons, apples, or almonds.
- Sandwich Bags- I use these for those tiny little things that I forage, such as mustard seeds, fennel seeds, pine nuts, and capers. I use these especially for things that would get lost if I put them in a larger bag.
- Freezer Bags- I don't use these as much as the others, but they work well for things that are too large to fit in a sandwich bag, but have little parts, which I'm afraid I'll lose through little holes if I put them in a shopping bag. Examples of this are large plantain plants and sumac.
- Covered Containers- aka "Tupperware"- I use these when foraging delicate items that get crushed easily. When putting things in bags, the sides of the bag and things next to the bag often damage the things inside them. I use containers generally for soft fruit like figs, grapes, and apricots, as well as flowers. I also use these for especially prickly/thorny foods that would tear holes in the sides of my bags, like prickly pear and milk thistle.
While it would be nice to be able to pick everything by hand and call it a day, sometimes your fingers just don't cut it.
- Scissors- Some plants can be picked easily with just your fingers, leaping into your hands without any effort on your part. Other plants can be removed by hand by twisting them and bending them back and forth a few times until their stems break. Yet others, if you attempt to pick them by hand, will either fight your attempts to sever them from their source and not yield, or will break at a very terrible place, so that an entire branch ends up in your hand when you're trying to pick the fruit. (Or like when I tried to pick my yucca blossoms and the whole top of the prickly tree came tumbling down on top of me, much to my embarrassment.) Scissors are a handy tool- use them!
Another benefit of using scissors to forage is that you can just cut plants at the lower part of the stem, leaving the roots intact, so they can keep on growing.
When foraging plants like stinging nettles, scissors help keep your fingers safe from the stingers, usually allowing you to escape unscathed.
- Gardening Gloves- Scissors don't work perfectly for things like nettles; gardening gloves offer much better protection. But don't use gardening gloves for things like thorns, or you'll be sorry.
- Hard Plastic or Cardboard "Mitts"- As much as you'd think gardening gloves will save you from thorns, they don't; thorns often poke you right through the glove. All gardening gloves do is give those thorns and prickles a nice place to embed themselves so that next time you use those gloves, you can again get pricked, even though you're no longer near any prickly plant. Thorns do not come out in the wash. When I've used gardening gloves to pick prickly pears before, those gloves ended up needing to go in the trash.
Instead, when picking things with thorns, make "gloves" for yourself out of something that the thorns cannot penetrate. For example, if you take a plastic soda bottle and cut off one end, you can use the other end as a "mitt"- hold the bottle from the outside, and cup the end with the hole over the prickly pear, squeeze it shut over the prickly pear, and twist it off. You can pick things like milk thistle or even prickly pears by wrapping some cardboard over the plant, then grabbing the cardboard to pick the plant.
- Long Sticks. If you're trying to pick fruit or nuts from a high tree, a long stick can be useful to shake the branches to release the fruit or nuts.
- Mini Hand Trowel. If you're foraging plants for their roots, while you can dig with your fingers or a rock or a stick, a trowel makes the job so much easier, not to mention less messy.
When dealing with nature, such as when foraging, despite precautions you take, its inevitable that sometimes you may get small injuries (and of course, the rare big ones). The smart forager plans in advance and carries some basic first aid supplies with her to deal with foraging injuries.
- Needles and/or Tweezers- AKA Splinter and thorn removers. Splinters and thorns are the most common of my foraging injuries, often from things like prickly pears, but most recently from foraging mustard seeds. Thorns embedded in the skin are so painful, and while there's a chance that someone might offer you a bandaid should you get injured, there aren't many who carry around needles or tweezers, even more so that would let you use them, because of contamination of bodily fluids when dealing with things like splinters... Bring these along, otherwise you might just regret it. I know I have.
- Bandaids- For when you scrape yourself, or for after removing a splinter.
- Plantain Leaves- While this isn't something you're usually able to get from a pharmacy or probably even a health food store, this is one of the best first aid things to have with you when foraging. I'll write a full post on how to identify plantain, hopefully soon, but I always like to have a fresh plantain plant with me while foraging, as it works immediately to heal stings from stinging nettle, poison ivy rashes, mosquito bites, and sunburns.
Dirt, and nature in general, is messy. When foraging, you'll likely get your hands all dirty, not to mention that the plants may be not so clean.
- Water. To drink, of course. But also to wash off those plants before you eat them... just in case an animal decided to pee on them.
- Wet Wipes or Washcloth. If you're doing anything in the dirt, or dealing with any sap, or dealing with any fruit, its very possible your hands will get dirty, sticky, and messy. Disposable wipes to clean off your hands, so you don't have to wait until you reach a bathroom, or a washcloth to wet with your water, will do a good job of cleaning your hands, etc...
While I think all the above is necessary to have on a foraging expedition (give or take a few things, depending on what you'll be foraging), there are a few more things that are good to have while gathering wild edibles, even if your expedition won't suffer to greatly without them.
- Digital Camera- Spot any plants you don't recognize and would like to find out what they are? Snap a picture with your camera, then when home, scour the internet to try to find a match.
- Pocket Mirror- I can't tell you how many times I've gone foraging, then came home, only to discover upon my arrival home that my face was smeared with dirt, soot, or other foraging messy matter. A pocket mirror can help prevent such embarrassing episodes, so you can spot any messes and take care of them before anyone else notices them.
Are you a forager, or have you ever foraged anything? What types of stuff do you feel are important to bring along when on a foraging expedition? Anything on my list you feel is unnecessary? Anything you think I missed?
Have you foraged any or all of the stuff I've mentioned in this post? Which things?
What do you think of my challenge to attempt to serve at least one foraged food a day? Do you think I'll manage to keep up with it for a while? Have you ever done anything similar?