Foraging 101: As A Herbalist Sees It

Foraging 101: As A Herbalist Sees It

It’s spring, the most wondrous time of the year, where rebirth is upon us and green things are sprouting. Among our favorite pastimes is wandering the wild wood and foraging for medicinal plants, edible herbs and mushrooms. If foraging is something that sounds fascinating to you, but you don’t know where to start, this article might serve as an ignitor for inspiration.

You might be feeling as though the forest is such a mysterious and strange place to wander, but ignorance of the unknown breeds fear. It’s normal to feel the calling of the wilderness after a long winter, with the bright greens and fresh flowers, yet the notion of taking something growing wild and consuming it can even strike fear in the hearts of those who have great experience foraging and find comfort in the wild places. Don’t go out and eat the first mushroom you find, and don’t eat your way through the forest, because frankly, you won’t make it very far.

One thing about Ohio is that it’s one of the kindest places to live. Jenni’s husband often says, “If you find yourself starving to death, and you faint from hunger, simply turn your face to the green and start munching.” With that said, don’t take that too literal. It takes considerable study to go into the forest and know exactly what you’re looking at and what is safe to harvest and consume. We don’t wish to discourage, but you must be sure. The best way to do that is to find a local person who is knowledgeable and to apprentice through them. The next best thing is a really good field guide, which we’ll get into later.

Brandon recalls his first foraging experience, “Jenni walked me around the surrounding woods of her property, and we started gathering rosehips, which are the red seed pods left over well after the rose petals and most leaves have fallen in late autumn. I weaved between thorny bushes and overgrown areas, wandering excitedly, which the bandaids could attest to.” As a good rule of thumb, we follow as the old ones have passed down… to leave the first seven plants we find for future generations, the eighth for the animals, and the ninth and beyond, we harvest. “With sterilized shears, I made clean cuts as to not hurt the plant by spreading disease, and cut the bunches, gathering only what we needed in a basket. When we returned to the house, we rinsed the pods before picking them off the branches.” After letting the rosehips dry completely for several days in the open air, we had a powerful medicine for immune support and for use as a source of vitamin-C for the many illnesses winter was about to bring.

Rose is a safe herb to start with because the entire plant is edible, full of vitamins and minerals. Another great place to start is with dandelions, as you can eat every bit of the plant, but maybe avoid the white fluffy puffball because yuck. Do avoid harvesting from roadsides and in yards that have been treated with chemicals in the past. Residual chemicals, as well as contaminants from exhaust or brake dust are all things best to be avoided.

Foraging is a beautiful practice and art, because you tap into something natural within, and you gain the ability to enjoy many of nature’s gifts, unspoiled and filled with vitality. Where our modern farming practices strip the soil of their minerals and nutrients, the forests are teeming with life, microbes and nutrients. These natural substances not only sustain life, they aid our growth and evolution, as well as boost the medicinal value of the plants.

Another reason foraging locally is so important is it aligns our body with the seasons, and as they change. Mother Nature gives you what your body needs in the moment that you need it… Tonics in the spring as the world awakens from the long winter, like burdock, dandelion, plantain, cleavers or sarsaparilla. Cooling herbs in the summer like mint, lemon balm, or berries. Immune boosters in the fall, like elderberry, marshmallow or rosehips.

It’s important to understand that we take only what we need when harvesting, and we harvest with great respect. The plant gives a part of itself, and at times it's life, to nourish, feed, and to heal us. What an amazing gift to humans. As an act of respect and thanksgiving, our family leaves a gift in return when gathering. We leave a pinch of tobacco (a sacred herb) as instructed by our elders, a few seeds, or another appropriate gift of thanks. Each of us have our own way, our own gifts shared, and our own words of thanks. When harvesting with grateful hearts and when respect is shown as well as good intention, our sacred food and medicine only grows stronger and is that much more healing.

Find someone who knows the land and who can teach you what to look for, and start slow. Only take from one or two plants at first that you have zero doubt on their identity. Never take more than you need, and always leave plenty of plants and seeds to inspire new growth next year, and for years to come. There’s something in humans that make us want to take every bit of something, but if you do that, you will return next year and that plant will be gone from that land forever. That is the type of mentality and approach that has wrought such damage upon this planet, and why conservationist foraging techniques are so important. Get out there, and practice foraging mindfully, and you will discover more about life and yourself than you ever thought possible.

Lastly, when you're tramping through wilderness and forest areas, please be kind and be mindful of where you walk, and how you leave the places you've been. Practice the "Leave No Trace" mindset, and do not disturb or destroy any natural place. Do not leave trash and tread gently. Wear forest safe bug deterrents made of natural things instead of those made of poisons.

Below are a few of our favorite foraging books. But use caution when using smart phone apps that take a photo and name a plant. Jenni’s mama used one for a season and together they checked out all sorts of stuff for fun, but it was right only 3 out of 4 times. One wrong ID could mean a very sick belly, or worse, much worse. Why chance it when you can rely on elders like Steven Foster or Jim Duke? If you want to find your own foraging books, try and find foraging books local to the area that include real photographs and not just illustrations.

Wild Flowers of Ohio  Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs  All That The Rain Promises and MoreTom Brown's Field Guide


Brandon Elijah Scott & Jennifer Parsons

Brandon Elijah Scott & Jennifer Parsons

Brandon is a wanderer and world traveler, an author and artist, a herbalist as well as a photographer, thinker, designer, nature lover, and seeker of truth and wisdom. Jenni is a life long herbalist who is a book obsessed, nature lover, who follows the old ways, and who lives and loves by wit, wisdom, and community.


Lovely article about foraging. Never knew that about rosehips. Good tip about getting books to refer to ,

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