City Survival: A Guide To Urban Foraging

Harvesting edible plants and fruits is no crime when you’re in the wilderness, but what about the urban jungle? A recent sustainability trend called “urban foraging” seems like it’s here to stay. Participants comb their cities in search for edible plants and fruits that others seem to walk right past and fill their tables with natural foods while reducing their carbon footprint.

How Do I Start?

The only thing that you need to equip yourself with (besides a container for collecting food) is knowledge. How does one go about collecting such knowledge? Your most valuable information is going to come from mostly local sources. A website about central Texas plant identification won’t help you if you’re in the pacific northwest.  A quick Google search of “(your city name) foraging” is sure to yield some local blogs or Facebook pages. If the Internet isn’t your thing, hit up a public library for plant identification books, and try to find out if your community has a foraging tour group that you can join.

What Are the Rules?

There aren’t any hard-and-fast rules for urban foraging, just as there aren’t any in cases of regular foraging. Still, abide by courtesy and common sense.

  • Don’t take more than you need. As they say, leave some for the fishes! But really, if you’re not even going to be able to eat everything, why take it?
  • Don’t overpick in a manner that could damage the natural resource. Try to think past today.
  • When possible, ask permission. Trespassing is a crime that is fully enforceable in the US. Don’t be that guy (or girl) who got in trouble with the law over a blackberry bush.

Safety Concerns

You don’t want to get sick from eating something you’ve picked out in the wild, so exercise caution. Please note that every person has different levels of tolerance in terms of reactions to wild greens or berries. Before you consider ingesting anything the first time, try rubbing a bit of it on the inside of your wrist and waiting thirty minutes to test for a reaction. Next, chew up a little bit of it raw or cooked (or both), spit it out, and wait again. It’s important not to ingest in case you have a reaction. Not any symptoms like itching, headaches, or nausea. Follow these guidelines, too:

  • Don’t eat anything that looks dirty. If there are nearby oil stains, chipping paint, or even water runoff that could have chemicals in it, stay away!
  • Don’t harvest from the side of the road or where puddles of water tend to stand stagnant.
  • Steer clear of plants that you think may have been treated with pesticides. Look for wilting or chemical deposits on leaves.
  • Only eat something that looks vibrant and healthy. If you eat a plant that is dying or wilted, you’re asking for trouble.
  • Rinse and wash your collected plants thoroughly before eating.
  • If you are uncertain of a plant’s identification, don’t eat it. You may end up in the hospital for eating a poisonous counterpart. Remember, this is about survival!

Emily Kaltman writes for The Grass Outlet in Austin, Texas. She enjoys spending time outdoors and writing about nature.

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