Foraging in Maryland

foraging

Foraging is finding food in your local environment. It can be as simple as adding some dandelion leaves to your salad. It can also be more complex, like processing acorns for bread.

There are thousands of other plants out there to try beyond the few that we have domesticated and grow regularly. Some delicious options are out there even if we don’t grow them for whatever reason. Maybe they are hard to grow, or don’t last long, or aren’t as pretty.

With foraging, you too can try new flavors and have a lot of fun doing it!

Why Forage for Food?

With our easy 24 hour access to food, why would you spend time foraging? Well, foraging offers free, hyper local food that you won’t easily find at any grocery store or even at the farmers market.

Foraging combines exercise, nutritious food, and nature. A plant walk lets you unplug as you learn more about the species around you, and slows you down. You get exercise from hiking and a better appreciation for the world around you.

Foraging is a great seasonal activity. You will learn more about what plants and foods are available throughout the year.

Foraging gets you out to enjoy spring, summer, fall, even winter. Too often the season is something to manage as you go from your house to your car to the store.

Other than growing it yourself, foraging is a way to obtain free food and ensure it is locally grown. For someone who has the time, it can be a healthy, cheap hobby to enjoy.

Foraging is a great opportunity to bond with your kids as well. They love trying new tastes and learning more about the environment around them. Being able to snack as you walk is fun.

Foraging means you are less dependent on the economy as well. It also gets you to eat unprocessed foods, as fresh as possible. A wild crafted salad may have more nutrients, is certainly fresh, and you don’t have to pay high prices for exotic greens.

There are over 30,000 edible plants out there in the world. Yet we have only cultivated 6-7K of them throughout history. Just because something isn’t easily grown by man doesn’t mean it’s not tasty or nutritious.

These days, we only grow about 170 crops regularly for food. Only 30 of those are used regularly. Foraging books have loads of plants that grow in Maryland that are edible.

Even worse, 75% of our food comes from just 12 plants and 5 animal species. Global agriculture depends on a few of genetically uniform crops, and is susceptible to failure. Foraging means you will be less dependent on it.

Since many of these foods are not easy to cultivate, most people will never get the chance to try them. Maybe they don’t produce enough, or aren’t pretty enough, or simply are too delicate to withstand shipping. With foraging, you can try them for free.

And foraging is more than salads. You can find nuts, fruits, mushrooms, even acorns for flour. Foraged food can be a great way to supplement your diet and enjoy new flavors!

How to Get Started Foraging in Maryland

Getting started foraging is as simple as identifying plants you can eat, and eating them. Of course, things that should be simple are often a lot more complicated!

When you start foraging, the first thing you need to do is learn how to identify the plants. You can do this with books, with mentors or classes, or with online resources like Eat the Weeds. Starting with easy to identify plants is best.

Foraging can be done in your own yard, while hiking, or just around your neighborhood. You do want to make sure you have permission to forage, and you want to ensure that what you are foraging isn’t sprayed with pesticides or contaminated with pollutants.

Obviously, starting with your own yard means you know you have permission and that things aren’t contaminated. In fact, you may be surprised to learn how many “weeds” in your yard are actually edible!

Permission to forage may be complicated. People have gotten ticketed in Maryland for picking berries in a public park. So be smart!

When starting to forage, it’s best to start looking for plants that are easy to identify and don’t have poisonous lookalikes. Make sure you know what part of the plant is edible, and when it should be growing.

Learning about poisonous plants in Maryland is a good idea as well. If you know how to identify them, then you’ll avoid trying to eat them.

Some plants that are great for foraging are invasive weeds and plants that grow back quickly. Some examples of those are dandelion, nettle, plantain, and lamb’s quarters. You don’t have to worry about overharvesting these.

For most plants, you don’t want to overharvest them. Leave some for others, and to allow the plant to recover. Don’t harvest rare plants.

Don’t forage near busy roads or where plants might be contaminated. Stick with healthy plants, and start with trying just a bit when it is an unfamiliar plant. You never know if you will be allergic!

There is nothing like taking a class or getting a mentor to help you learn more. Books and videos are great but you want to be 100% sure that what you are trying is edible. Stick with latin names for plants because common names change.

Learn the season and the habitat where you will find the plant you want to try. A plant that is edible in spring might have a poisonous lookalike that grows in fall. Knowing when and where your edible plants grow is important.

Some edible plants are only edible before you can easily identify them. To try them, you need to learn where they grow so that the next year you can try them when they are edible.

Keeping a foraging journal can be very helpful. Keep track of where you see the plants, what season, how they tasted, how you prepared them. It’s easy to forget by the next year, so a serious forager will keep notes.

Be smart when out foraging, just like when out hiking. Bring a basic first aid kit, lots of water and snacks, and be aware of where you are.

Finding the edible plants is only one part of the equation. Learning new ways to prepare them is fun. Some might need special treatments to make them edible, so make sure you know what needs to be done.

Foraging isn’t hard. Just be smart! Learning just a few edible plants can be fun. You don’t have to learn them all. Find ones you like and enjoy your foraging trips.

Plant walks can be fun for the whole family. You get exercise, you get nutritious snacks, and you are a little less reliant on others when you can find your own food.

Adopting foraging as a frugal hobby is a lot of fun, and lets you try lots of new flavors!

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