The Latest Culinary Obsession: Foraging


Photo via wildmanstevebrill.com

When I read Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, it was the first time I got the lowdown on the foraging movement. As expected, this trend has been hot among foodies in California and New York City for years. (New York, you ask? Yes! Check out naturalist and environmental educator “Wildman” Steve Brill, who’s been foraging for decades.)  

Foraging–the act of looking or searching for food–is what humans used to do to survive before agriculture was introduced.

Now, foraging is the new organic in the culinary world. In fact, “searching the woods or parks or even cracks in the pavement for edible plants has become the latest culinary obsession,” according to an article in this week’s issue of Time magazine. 

In San Francisco, forageSF hosts the monthly Underground Market, a venue for tasting and purchasing the food that is being produced in backyards and home kitchens in the Bay Area. 

A restaurant in Los Angeles called Forage lets people bring in the stuff they find in exchange for credit toward dinner. 

There’s even a company, Mikuni Wild Harvest, which is “committed to exploration of nature’s greatest bounty: food”–especially food found in the wild. 

You can also check out Ava Chin’s blog posts about her urban foraging adventures in The New York Times. 

And, two cookbooks on foraging are coming out this fall: Noma, by Rene Redzepi of Copenhagen’s restaurant Noma (first on the list for the 2010 S. Pelligrino World’s 50  Best Restaurant Awards); and The Wild Table by forager Connie Green from Northern California. 

What do you have growing in your back yard and in the woods near you? If you want to give it a try, check out Foraging.com for resources to help you find edible plants where you live.

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122 responses to “The Latest Culinary Obsession: Foraging

  1. I can identify lots of edible plants in my area but have yet to learn how to make them taste really great!

    • I am a complete novice, Ignatz! I would love to learn more! I think I could handle the cooking part as long as I don’t die from choosing the wrong plant!

  2. If my husband could forage for everything, he would!

    He loves to get to know the older locals who know where to find everything. I’m going to have to make him read this post!

  3. very cool – I had a fig tree in my back yard that produced amazing figs – except I don’t really enjoy figs – I like the idea of donating to a restaurant so that they end up with fresh local ingredients in return for credit to enjoy the food that is made with all the ingredients – I really like the idea – thanks

    • I think it’s a great idea, too, Robert. I give Time magazine the credit for sharing that tip with us about Forage restaurant.

  4. Hmmmm… this is interesting, I would love to have something like that in the back of my house. However, the deer in the back of my house would tear it apart lol

    • I know what you mean, Lakia. I’m having enough trouble keeping the rabbits away from my kale and carrots. There must be plants they don’t like that we do…..I’m just too much of a novice at foraging. But I thought it was a really cool article in Time!

  5. Love this! We get blackberries from the edge of the woods surrounding the house and occasionally dandelion greens from the yard since we don’t fertilize or use weed killer – it harms the frogs and toads that help keep the bugs down in the back yard.

    • We don’t use any pesticides either. I will have to start trying dandelion greens! I love snagging blackberries, too!

  6. This post is such a wonderful coincidence.
    My husband and I just discovered the foraging phenomenom yesterday while doing research for our blog (www.withrespectforfood.com). And here is it today I stumble across your wonderful blog that talks about it as well. (A welcome accident, by the way, to come by your website.)
    Going to add you to our blogroll and definitely going to check back often to read more from you.

    • Thanks, Laura, for visiting and for adding my site to your blogroll. I will add yours to mine as well! It’s great to find other people who care about the source of their food!

  7. Lovely post!

    Here in SE South Dakota, we forage for “weeds” such as stinging nettles, lamb’s quarter, yellow dock, and purslane (I don’t have to go far for these–they’re in and around my gardens), as well as wild asparagus, mulberries, and morel mushrooms.

    http://flyingtomato.wordpress.com

  8. I love this idea! I have ramps growing on my little half acre in my urban neighborhood. Don’t know how they got there. I know this area was orchards before they built the subdivision in the ’60’s. But I’m not new to foraging – I grew up on a farm where we searched for morels every year. I do think there is a lot of good food going to waste because we plant things like crab apple trees for decoration. North Coast Muse @ http://sally1029.wordpress.com

    • Good point about the food that goes to waste, SallyK. People go crazy for morels here in Michigan. I’m not a huge fan of mushrooms but I know there are a lot of other edibles around here….if only I could educate myself to make sure I don’t eat the poison stuff!

  9. geez, I had no idea foraging was some kind of movement. I hunt for mushrooms, eat the ones that are tasty and learn about the rest. It gives me a chance to walk through the woods with my two Newfs, Memphis and Ellie Mae, it provides me with exercise and it sure beats watching TV. I’ve just posted some pictures over at my place on what I collected yesterday in a nearby forest. You’re welcome to drop by anytime.

    PS I bet those madcaps who take to the woods because its a movement give up pretty quick when the mosquitos come out to welcome them..Har!

    • It’s great to hear from people like you who forage. And I did check out your pictures….nice photos. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Right, foraging isn’t new, some of us (like me) have been foraging for decades. That said, though, this summer I’ve been foraging more and have identified 35 feral foods on our 2.5 acre northern Colorado place.

    Thanks for the link to Foraging.com, I’ll check it out!

  11. I believe the Wildman is harvesting Japanese Knotweed, a terrible invasive in VT. I get the very small pink shoots in the Spring, tastes and cooks like Asparagus. I am glad to see you Farest, spreading the foraging love!

  12. Good skill to have, in case of apocalypse, but this sounds like a hipster fad to me.

  13. I have just started a small blog about food and I know of many other receipes which uses your technique.
    -Lekha

  14. Wow- even the culinary industry has its fads!

  15. Wow. Very interesting. To think as a kid picking the wild berries was foraging…how about wild mint, wild onion grass, that’s about all I’ve done but I like the idea. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    evelyngarone.com

    • Thanks, Evie. It’s the first time my blog has hit the big screen in almost a year of blogging!

      Yes, I guess all those wild plants would have been foraged by you. I used to collect beech nuts from the tree in our yard and roast them in an “oven” made from rocks when I was a kid.

  16. Given the topic of your blog, I wonder if you’ve heard of (and read) The Thrive Diet by Brendan Brazier (titled “Thrive” in the US). It’s written by a triathlete who proved the establishment wrong by being VEGAN. It was previously thought that one needed the protein from meat in order to be an athlete (not to mention, one who does triathlons).

    It’s a great read.

    With Love and Gratitude,

    The Intentional Sage

    • I haven’t heard of that book but I’ll certainly check it out. I am always interested in reading about others’ philosophies toward food. Thanks for stopping by!

  17. peoplefightingparkinson

    Thank you for such insightful information. We will be discussing this in our group. Have a good day.

  18. Someone gave a new word/title to thingS, plural, that already existed. When I look for food, I don’t call it foraging – I’m looking for food. If I were to garden in other people’s back yard or in public, I wouldn’t call it foraging- I’d be rummaging for food, otherwise known as gardening in other people’s back yard or public, otherwise known as scrounging, rummaging, or stealing.

  19. Nice read. well written 🙂
    -Noor
    http://noor724.wordpress.com/
    🙂

  20. Interesting. But weird.

  21. I love weeds. My friend from Bangladesh taught me about purslane and lambs quarters. Absolutely scrumptious sauted with onion and garlic.

  22. HUZZAH! Oakland Fruit harvesting.I love not WASTING perfectly good edible items.

  23. Great article! I am a huge fan of foraging, and have published a few recipes using wild foods. The response has been incredible. And last month, the Washington Post had an article on wild foods for the taking in the DC area. Euell Gibbons would be so happy to see this renewed interest in wild foods 🙂

  24. Love this idea. 🙂
    It would be great to see our ideas of ownership and property challenged in this area. I may spread a few seeds myself on my daily run. (Not in the same way animals and birds spread them though!!!). Casually drop a few every few hundred metres and see what takes or survives.

    Alan

    • I agree, Alan…..Ownership and property can be very subjective; I’m sure foragers are often challenged during their “hunt”.

  25. Here in the Philippines there are myriads of edible plants some has therapeautic effects. Ferns ae also edible but it tastamosquito

  26. dragonflystew

    Great topic!
    Imagine how enhanced foraging could be if more trees and shrubs on city lots were planted with foraging/harveting in mind!
    I’ve been increasingly drawn to this in recent years – we harvest fiddlehead ferns in the yard each year as well as plums and sometimes red currants, though for years I had no idea what they were and kept hacking it back. I have what I think are puffball mushrooms sprouting in the yard and if I can be 100% sure, I’ll make use of them too. A neglected corner of the yard yielded wild blackberries this year – delicious!
    I plan to help myself to some rosehips in a local park, crabapples from trees at work and will plan a fall visit past the black walnut tree I discovered last week.
    I can only imagine what I might find if I was actively seeking things out!

  27. SCOD supports you! Forage on!!

  28. We have a garden here, and when I was a kid, sometimes I’d pick some fruits straight from the tree and eat them at once. I’m not sure if I could be as hardcore as Steve Brill (he’s the guy who forages in central park, right?). But who knows? Maybe I’ll start munching on a couple of leaves and really start from there. I think there’s a certain thrill to foraging, like a childhood adventure, or, simply a back-to-basics approach wherein you could loosen yourself while enjoying the good stuff thrown to you by Mother Nature. Nice post, btw!

    • Yasdr, by “here” do you mean Manila?

      I think picking fruit is definitely foraging but Steve Brill (yes, the guy in Central Park, NYC) is definitely hardcore.

      I agree with the “thrill” of foraging you suggest. Like I mentioned in an earlier comment when I roasted beech nuts in an “oven” in the woods, I loved gathering stuff in the woods that could potentially become food when I was a kid. It’s sort of like when you’re hiking and you spot interesting wildlife….the potential to find something tasty in the world of plants is all part of the excitement.

      Thanks for visiting my blog!

  29. I’ve never heard of this movement. Seems like a great avenue, but I wonder how it works in the winter months. Probably something some people can commit to year round, while others may have to be seasonal foragers–or would there actually be edible twigs and berries and such in the winter? Very interesting.

    • That’s a good question for the “Wildman”, Heather. I agree that it must be challenging to forage in winter in places where the snow is deep and temps go well below freezing. I know in the north country, such as Michigan where I live, the Native Americans created a store of food to ride out the winter, so there probably wasn’t a lot of foraging to be done in the Great Lakes region in the cold months.
      That’s one reason I envy the folks in Northern California….it seems there’s almost always something in season out there so I bet they can forage year-round.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  30. What a terrific, and timely post! We urban guys get a thrill out of the idea of returning to something so obviously natural and yet so foreign to most western eaters. We had the good fortune of joining Iso Rabin of ForageSF for the latest underground foraged dinner in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago. It’s a bit of shameless self-promotion on our part, but if you’re interested in seeing what we had for dinner, take a look at our write-up of the event at http://yourfoodchoices.wordpress.com/2010/07/19/foragesf-dinner-friday-july-16-2010/

    Cheers,
    Jason & Steve

    • Nothing shameless about it at all, guys! I’m happy to share your blog post. It looked like a fantastic experience! Thank you for visiting my blog!

  31. Don’t take this wrong, and I say this with the utmost respect, but foraging for food in the cracks of the pavement? Oh, I can think of nothing worse. My germ antennae just shot way up, and I am cringing. I mean even with a guidelines book, I couldn’t do that in these times. Now, on the other side of the coin. If a hole was torn in the sky due to war, like in the movie, The Book of Eli, and food was scarce, and everyone was starving, including me, then maybe the morsel of plant food in the crack of a pavement would be my treasure. Knock on wood, I hope I never have to find out. I am foraging for food in the grocers.

    • I agree that the places where feet tread might be a little risky, too! But don’t forget the listeria, E. coli, and salmonella that lurks in the grocery stores. No one is safe! 🙂

  32. There is so much wilderness available and when you learn to snack as you go it gets much bigger.

    check out this site and links good stuff.

    I grew up in the mountains and never ate better.

    http://www.ofthefield.com/html/suggested_links.html

  33. buytupperwarebangalore

    I have been guilty of helping myself to a plant or two to add in my garden but this…….

    http://rodas-recipes.blogspot.com

  34. That is very cool! I remember seeing something on Foot Network about this a while ago. Then I found out there was a small cafe a few blocks from me in New Orleans that both grew food in the garden in back of the restaurant and also foraged locally. I love the idea… I think it would be a great class to take (learning how to forage)… or perhaps a great “how to forage” blog post 😉

    Take care and congrats on the feature!

    • Thanks for the comment and support, sociosound. I think a “how to forage” blog post would be great….I just have to learn how! I think the most I’ve managed in my life is picking berries along hiking trails!

  35. There are communities of dalits/untouchables in India, and many families from these communities forage for undigested grain among cow and horse dung, which they take home and wash and boil to eat. Just one small example of foraging of the other kind.

    • Very interesting, Rumjhum. I think I’ve heard of something similar to that in relation to coffee beans in South America. Thanks for your comment!

  36. Dionne Baldwin

    Wow I must be out of the loop I had no idea how big this was. I joke about foraging because I look for deals, grow my own plants for eating and storing etc…but this is literally foraging. That restaurant in LA sounds interesting! I wonder if this is an attempt to get back to the basics or sheer boredom of readily available foods?

    • I think it might be both…back to basics, but also, as the Time article says, “…food snobs had to do something to feel superior.” It’s another interesting way to procure food for those who are really into finding their own in the wild.

  37. Gayle Peterson

    I have 3 large gardens this year…but my spot that had been set aside for sweet potatoes grew up in “weeds” as my sweet potatoes never arrived from the mail order company. I was just out there today and identified amaranth and lambsquarter…also have purslane (which we love for its tangy flavor in salads)….and, I am sure there are many other edible weeds. I am hoping that my “weeds” will be an new gardening and culinary adventure for me.
    Good info here on cooking with amaranth:
    http://indiacuisine.blogspot.com/2006/01/weekend-herb-blogging-16-amaranth.html

  38. Got to be careful foraging in public parks which are regularly sprayed for pests.

    It’s against the law to pick anything I find in the wonderful rustic parks of Gwinnett County, GA.

    BTW, no way would I eat anything I found in a sidewalk crack!

  39. lol,that is great if it works.

  40. My father loves foraging! His favorite “harvest” is saluyot (jute leaves, from our neighbor’s very wild garden) which he throws in a pot of sardines with tomato sauce. Very tasty and healthy!

  41. Now this is one trend that deserves Thumbs Up- Have started Blogging only a few months back and discovering that its a wonderful and a very beautiful world here..
    Great post about a very encouraging practice.. Sure way- when we talk of de- forestation, global warming, pollution- I say- “foraging”

    Congratulations..!!

  42. I love the idea of foraging, but you do need to be careful of pesticides. The “Natural Areas Program” extensively uses Garlon on blackberry bushes, oxalis (a sour leaf that can be an accent in salads), and other wild plants.

    http://sutroforest.com/2010/04/17/garlon-in-our-watershed/

    The factsheets on Garlon 4 say people should not eat berries treated with Garlon. They don’t mention oxalis or wild radish but I imagine it applies there, too.

  43. Hi Marcia
    Great post. I particularly love the photo you chose.
    I can’t say I’ve had that much experience of foraging but a friend did teach me how to forage for pine mushrooms this autumn and so I’m looking forward to trying it for myself next year
    Cheers
    Bee

    • Thank you, Bee. I think I need to do some foraging with the “Wildman” next time I’m in NYC! My husband and I are going to try and do some foraging around where we livle, too! Thanks for stopping by!

  44. interesting, interesting.

  45. RIP Alexander Supertramp. Be careful what you forage for…

  46. It would be interesting to know more and more of our plants
    wild, most are almost medicinal, but I find
    which is fine this article as propaganda, I think
    that have been discovered almost all plants are
    edible and beneficial to humans

  47. useful, but I’d only end up eating something poisonous and being on the loo for 6 weeks or worse…dead!

  48. Ive always wanted to learn how to identify edible plants and things but never got around to putting in the time to learn. Maybe ill give it another thought now!

    http://sylviangirl.wordpress.com/

    • I have to admit I feel the same way. With all the comments I’ve gotten on my blog, I think I’d better learn to forage, too!
      Thanks for visiting, sylviangirl.

  49. Wow, I didn’t realise there were resturants which actually accepted foraged food and gave you a lovely cooked meal in return! Any ideas if there any are like this in England? Would love to visit.
    When I was little we used to go to some woods that my mum knew the owner. I remember eating some massive mushrooms cooked over the campfire, and berried for afters. Pretty basic foraging, but good memoried none the less 🙂
    Hmm inspiration, I might write an aticle about those memories more indepth sometime. Please feel free to have a look at my blog, although I am just getting started really.
    http://theturniphat.wordpress.com/
    Keep up the good work!

    • Sorry, but I don’t know of any restaurants like Forage in England since I got my information from the Time magazine article. It would be a good research project as a follow-up post, though. I will look into it!

      I think you should definitely right down your stories about foraging with your mum. You have a great blog in the works. Keep it going!

      Thanks for your comment!

  50. I heard about hunting but this is different…interesting ofcourse

  51. Lots of food foraging trips and courses around the world here:

    http://www.ooh.com/all/food-drink/food-foraging/list

  52. Thanks for posting this. I definitely want to get involved somehow.

  53. I love the idea, but how do you know that what you’re picking hasn’t been sprayed with pesticide?

  54. This is not anything I would have ever considered before.
    I am going to stew over this thought a bit. People really even look in the cracks of the sidewalk?

    I am about to go have Italian for lunch. Am I missing out somehow?
    -Renee’

    • Several people have commented on the cracks in the sidewalk thing. That’s a quote from the Time magazine article. I’m with you: I’d probably draw the line there, but it’s an interesting idea to try and figure out ways to make the most of the flora surrounding us, especially when global food stores are reaching an all-time low. Plus, there seem to be a lot of tasty foods out there. Perhaps we are missing out!
      Thanks for your comment, Renee’.

  55. Marcia, I don’t want to put you off your dinner tonight. To my grandparents’ generation foraging was a way of survival.

    However, foraging has now been taken to a higher level: No, not slaughtering your neighbour’s trespassing dog or cat but roasting road kill. I am not particularly squeamish but that’s just one step too far to stimulate appetite.

    In certain quarters it’s all the new rage here (England).

    Other than that be careful when picking mushrooms.

    U

    • I have heard of the roadkill delicacy, and I agree…that’s pushing the limit for me!
      Luckily, I’m not a mushroom fan, so I don’t have to worry about eating poisonous ones, but several people have commented on the concern about eating food poisoned by pesticides (although lots of the grocery store food already is, too) and I think that’s something we all need to watch out for. I have never officially foraged except for picking berries but I would love to learn more about it so I know what plants to choose.
      Thanks for visiting my blog, Ursula!

  56. Pingback: Time to forage? http://lifeisfare.wordpr | Anthonybianconi's Blog

  57. Fantabulous! Wonderful links and photo to go along with post.

  58. I’m reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”. It’s a great book!

  59. It is such a feeling of independence to eat “natures gifts”. Nagging a fried dough wrapped elderberry flower , eating a dandelion salad with violets.
    Relearning the skills our grandparents to eat “weeds” (and learning what we should not eat from the wilderness!) is a form of liberty about consumerism.
    But, we should be aware, that transforming them into a new yuppie hype, might just be another social “herbicide”.

  60. hello there.
    im happy being in this site reading all comments. generally all are nice comments and suggestions except for a few.
    bcause of foraging that we had known many
    foods to eat. bcause o f foraging we will not know that tomatoes are good, sweet potaoes are edible with its young leaves, berries are eatable , some mushrooms can be eaten..etc. ect.
    what i wanted to share is this:
    when you eat something with seeds,please dont throw them in the garbage, throw in a land or anywhere that has soil. so it will grow and can be forage by anyone and foods be abundant too. if we do that , no need to call for a reforstation. it would help nature and would help man

  61. Good news but the fact is that people Asia already collect their food from nature.

    • Yes, it seems much of the world is more connected with nature than the United States is. I think it’s a lost art here, unfortunately because of the abundance and convenience of processed food.
      Thanks for your comment, lycons!

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