Since this is my first blog post on this site, I feel the need to begin with a foundational question that all experienced or aspiring foragers contemplate at some point:
Why forage wild food?
Why are we so drawn to the wild parts of nature, to the point where we want to find out how much of it we can consume? I wonder how many of us have ever fantasized about subsisting entirely on wild food, feeling the freedom and expansiveness of escaping society, even just for a short span of time?
I believe that even if we aren’t consciously aware of it, we have an instinctive and primal genetic memory of the way our ancestors lived, and of the living elements that made up the backdrop of all their joys and accomplishments, as well as their struggles and heartaches, and on some level we yearn to reconnect with this living canvas that makes us feel more deeply human.
Most of us spend some of our time in nature, but no longer rely on it for our basic needs, and there can be a sense of loss and disconnection in that, and a yearning for reconnection. On the other hand, there is much naivety in the assumption that “living off the land” is a simple or easy thing, and is devoid of often extreme levels of hard work and advance planning to achieve and maintain even the most basic of physical comforts, not to mention the monumental task of having to rewire our brains and bodies from the domesticated dependencies we have come to develop over the past several generations.
Maybe there is a “happy medium” where we can exist in both worlds, and be better off for it? We cannot fully go back to the simple ways of the past, while almost everyone else in our society is living with daily internet access and convenience foods. If we were honest with ourselves, I bet the great majority of us wouldn’t even want to give up our modern way of life! Although we may have occasional nostalgia, and sometimes glorify the idea of simple living off the land, the way of our ancestors, they had much hardship to deal with that we likely cannot even fathom.
Still, the yearning remains inside many of us to reconnect to nature. Foraging, along with hunting and fishing, are among the most immersive activities we can do in nature, as they involve not only fully experiencing the elements, but actually consuming the wild genetics within our local landscape. This is a type of sensory immersion that isn’t quite achieved by just hiking through the woods, or swimming in a river. But hiking through the woods snacking on wild blackberries, or swimming in a river next to a stand of pawpaw trees full of ripe fruits… now that really hits the spot!
Every forager has their own reasons they are drawn to foraging. My initial interest was ignited by a combination of realizing the importance of nutrient dense food for maintaining optimal health, and wanting to feel less dependent on cultivated food distribution systems with its rising prices and often dubious or questionable quality and purity. Wild food is considerably more nutrient rich and medicinally complex than cultivated food, meaning it can act as a food, supplement and herbal medicine source all at once!
Although it takes time and effort to gather and process wild food, you can feel more confident in its quality, as long as you’re familiar with the area you’re harvesting from and are confident that it’s free of recently sprayed herbicides, excessive car exhaust and other dangers. Since wild food is growing naturally within any given area, there are no fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides needed to produce quality food parts. Even organically grown cultivated food still allows for certain types and levels of pesticides, as well as synthetic fertilizers, making wild food generally cleaner and more nutrient dense than even organically grown food, not to mention conventionally grown or genetically modified food.
The majority of pharmaceutical drugs are derived from plants, and especially wild plants. Wild plants are very chemically complex, containing a wide variety of medicinal and nutritive elements that can affect the body in a variety of ways. Our ancestors used wild plants medicinally, and these were the very first “drugs” used by humans. Many people today still choose whole plants as their medicines over their synthetic counterparts. Learning to identify and use the medicinal wild plants in your local area can be a powerful resource and tool, as all humans need some amount of the medicinal elements found in natural herbs and plants to thrive and stay well.
Likewise, when it comes to calorie rich staple foods like fruit, grains, nuts, seeds and roots, wild species often have higher quality carbohydrates, fat and protein, and considerably more vitamins and minerals, than their cultivated counterparts. Plus, the flavors are unique and incredible! Many wild species, especially fruits and nuts, are not sold commercially simply because they have a shorter shelf life, or are more difficult to process with machines, but NOT due to lack of flavor. Some good examples are wild versus cultivated persimmons (the wild version is so much more delicious!), pawpaw, mulberry and black walnut.
Having a relationship with the natural world that includes a degree of knowledge and experience feeding ourselves from our landscape can bring a deep feeling of security, as we no longer feel fully dependent on the worldwide food production systems that we may have no personal control over. This in itself is a strong motivation for many who are drawn to wild foods.
Lastly, an often surprising and unexpected benefit of foraging is the indescribable feeling of satisfaction from the process itself! Whenever I take the time to get out into nature for a morning or afternoon, and engage in the repetitive yet prayerful task of gathering a bounty of in-season goodness, I come back glowing, fulfilled, and feeling accomplished.
What do you love about foraging, and why are you drawn to it? Please share in the comments below! 🙂