One of our favorite things to do on the weekends is forage for wild edible and medicinal plants. Jon and I love it so much that we created a series of online foraging workshops (the first one opens for enrollment this week!) so that we could share that love with you and teach you more about how to ethically and sustainably forage for wild plants and use them in your own kitchen and apothecary.
Aside from learning how to properly identify plants and wild-harvest in a sustainable way that promotes the overall health of the local ecosystem, being mindful of your safety is one of the most important things you can do as a forager. There are several things you can do to make sure that your next foraging experience is a good one and I thought I’d share a few of them here with you today.
Note: We discuss each of these safety tips in more detail, along with other foraging safety topics, in our Summer Foraging online workshop.
Prepare for Your Trip
Being prepared for a wide variety of situations takes a little bit of extra time before you set out on your trip. It may not be as necessary if you’re planning to stay in your own neighborhood, but since many of the best foraging spots you’ll find may be in more remote areas, it’s a good idea to work your way through a pre-departure checklist like this one before you leave:
· Fill the car’s gas tank.
· Bring more water than you think you’ll need (and maybe even a water filter that is suitable for wilderness situations).
· Pack extra shelf-stable food.
Jon and I were out foraging a few weeks ago and had planned to be home in time for lunch. On our way back down the mountain, we ended up sitting in traffic in a remote area on a two-lane road because an accident had happened, and no one could go anywhere until a life flight had made it in and out and the rescue crews had cleared the road. We ended up parked on the road, cars turned off, with folks walking around the road to and from a small-town convenience shop, sitting in the shade, and talking to each other while we all waited to be able to resume traveling. There was no back way into town from where we were, so we all just had to wait. We were so glad we had packed extra food that day because we didn’t make it home anywhere near lunchtime.
· Pack toilet paper, biodegradable soap, and a blanket to cover you (if needed). It may seem excessive, but you’ll be glad that you did if you end up needing to use “the facilities” when you’re out in an area that doesn’t have any.
· Have a written copy of your map / directions out and back in case you lose signal.
· Check the weather report before you leave.
· Be aware of the kinds of wildlife you might meet in the area where you’re going and know what to do if you encounter them.
Stock Your First Aid Kit
It’s always a good idea to make sure that you at least have some basic first aid supplies to help you deal with things like bites, stings, burns, sunburns, heat exhaustion, and sprains and strains. Being able to handle those things immediately until you can receive further care when it’s needed is imperative. Pack clean bandages, sterile gauze, Benadryl, an epi-pen if you have one, an extra pair of contacts / glasses if you wear them, tweezers, antiseptic, and herbal first aid preparations. A snake bite kit might be a good idea too, if you live in an area where snakes are present.
Keep your first aid kit strapped to you at all times when foraging so you can access it quickly and easily if needed. It’s a good idea to keep it in a waterproof pouch if you’re going to be near water. It may also be wise to keep self-defense items in or near it so you have quick access to those if needed too.
Join Our Insiders Group
Have a Check-In Contact
Tell someone you trust where you’re going, how long you plan on being gone (be generous, as you’ll often end up staying out longer than planned and you don’t want to worry anyone unnecessarily), and who you’ll be with before you leave. If you’re not back around the time you expected to be and are unreachable via phone, your contact will be able to phone emergency personnel and the local ranger’s station (if applicable) to let them know to be on the lookout for you. It’s also a good idea to make sure your contact knows the make, model, and color of your vehicle and its license plate number.
This is important because you may not always be in an area with reception and you may not always be able to phone for help yourself. Having someone else who knows where you were headed and notices that you’re not back yet a few hours after you planned to be can save precious time in an emergency. Without a contact person, folks might not notice that you haven’t returned for a day or more and that time can be critical in an emergency.
Only Harvest What You Can Identify with 100% Certainty
Bring your plant identification books with you. Learn to identify the poisonous plants that grow in your area. Never harvest anything or consume anything that you are not 100% certain you have identified correctly. Many plants have poisonous lookalikes, so it’s important to learn how to identify both the plant you’re after and its lookalikes before setting out to harvest it.
Practice Awareness of Your Surroundings
Before moving away from your vehicle after arriving at your foraging spot, take a few moments to just be still and listen to the sounds of the area, observing everything around you. Be mindful of any other cars around that could indicate the presence of another person.
If you decide to forage on a regular basis and make it a part of your lifestyle, it’s a good idea to take a class on wilderness awareness and learn more about wilderness survival skills and animal tracking as well, so you can be more aware of the wild animals that might be nearby and know how to handle many different situations.
Travel in Groups
Never go foraging in a remote area alone. Always have at least one other person with you. Aside from there being safety in numbers, having another person with you makes you less likely to be attacked by a wild animal and gives you a built-in safety buddy in case one of you becomes injured. The uninjured party can address first aid issues and even go for help if needed.
It may be tempting to drink less water when foraging because you’re keeping busy and don’t want to have to stop, but it’s so important to stay hydrated. Drink water every few minutes, walk in the shade instead of direct sun if you can, and don’t ration your water unless you really need to. Dehydration puts you at greater risk of headaches, heat exhaustion, and sun stroke, which can all be dangerous.
There are so many other things you can do to help ensure your safety when out foraging, but I hope these preliminary tips were helpful for you. If you’re interested in learning more about foraging for wild edible and medicinal plants, check out our summer foraging workshop here.
Want to learn more about foraging?
Check out our Summer Foraging Workshop!
In it, we’ll teach you how to properly identify and sustainably forage for 12 common edible and medicinal plants that can be harvested in the summertime. We’ll also cover more information about foraging safety, teach you how and where to find the plants you’re looking for, show you how to use the plants once you’ve harvested them, and teach you how to cultivate a relationship of stewardship with the land where you forage. To learn more about this online class, click on the button below.