Foraging for Fun
"Hunter-gathers, by nature, store information for use, understanding that there may be a time when information is scarce.”
~Brian C. O'Connor, Jud H. Copeland, Jodi L. Kearns
Our Family Hikes
Spending time in nature with the kids is one of my favorite pastimes. I’m not sure who has more fun on our hike,s the kids or myself. It’s a great learning experience for everyone as we identify plants and insects, and we forage berries and bring them home for Mom to turn into cans of jelly and jam. The kids catch butterflies, crickets, minnows and water bugs with the nets. We gather an assortment of herbs and plants including sage, roots and cedar bows for medicinal and spiritual purposes.
The walks have turned into quite a smorgasbord in the late summer, as we identify new plants. We walk up the trail eating rose hips and anything the kids recognize, as we catch crickets and butterflies. And we’re always trying new plants and recipes.
We picked some Oregon grapes and tried a watermelon and cinnamon juice recipe last year, but it wasn’t very popular. I have a couple foraging books and use our iPad; we try to discover a new plant every hike and anytime we do the kids are very excited. I’ve stepped on red ant and wasp nests going too far off the trail picking berries, so we always stay on the trail, unless we’re at the creek.
The creek is my favorite place on our summer hikes. It's very hot and humid where we live and the rock walls on either side of the creek make it the coolest place to relax and play with the kids. Their favorite thing to do is swim up to a cave we’ve found and jump off logs into the water. The kids chat with people they meet on the trail and love it when we run into people we know. Many of our friends and family members take advantage of our local park. There are lots of different trails, a few bridges and staircases, a rock water slide and a small waterfall the older kids jump off. I always bring a lunch and the creek is where we have our picnics.
It can be quite tricky identifying plants especially for a beginner. The first year we could only identify a handful, but the kids were excited each time we found one.
Now that we’ve learned more over the past few years, it’s become easier to find new ones and it’s always a thrill. If you’re new to foraging it can be a little frustrating at first, but its gratifying when you do discover a new plant and its always an adventure.
Our favorite plant to pick is sage and we use it for smudging our house all year round. I mix sage with dry cedar, burn it in a clamshell and fan the smoke around my house with an eagle feather. We have identified lots of poisonous plants and berries, so we stay away from the stinging nettle and poison ivy along the trail. The kids have a strict set of safety rules and they never try anything without me.
Last year we picked a variety of berries for freezing and canning. Its hard to keep up with the kids who enjoy eating the berries as fast as I pick them. The job is prickly so the kids usually play while I battle the thorn bushes. The huckleberries we get up in Northern BC, when we make a trip every year to visit family who take us picking. The blackberry bushes are within walking distance of our house and we’ll spend a couple days a year picking them.
We also pick choke and pit cherries on this trail, which we mix into our jams and jellies. It’s a great feeling walking back from our hike with three tired purple kids and a couple of buckets of berries. Every year we watch in anticipation as the blackberries bud and ripen.
Foraging in the Winter
Even though the conditions aren’t as favorable in the winter months you can still forage for roots, bark and mushrooms. Foraging is a great way to clear your mind and get you out of the house, so having this hobby all year round is a real benefit. It’s easy for us to become hermits in winter, and stomping through some snow and eating some deeply nutritious food is a great idea when your feeling cooped up. It’s especially beneficial during the holiday season when you tend to eat more sugar and exercise less.
Five Dangers of Foraging
- Misidentifying plants that are poisonous can be lethal. Even knowing which plants not to touch should be a priority.
- You can catch a parasite. There’s literature that documents the risks of eating, drinking, and even walking in the wild.
- The forest has dangerous wildlife. There’s always a danger of snakes, insects, and larger animals trying to make a meal out of you.
- There’s a concern foraging is a growing social trend and there’s the danger that too many people will be trampling nature.
- Foraging in the city can be illegal depending on the bylaws. Some cities will actually charge people for foraging in public parks.
More by this Author
Every year my family takes a trip to Hazelton, BC, where I catch coho, chinook, sockeye, and steelhead. My wife is from the Gitxan Nation, whose name means people of the Skeena River.