Illustration by Chelsea Wood

Explore Nature Through Your Tastebuds

Forage for free food locally while learning about your environment

Forage for free food locally while learning about your environment

If you’ve ever dreamed of living off the grid and growing your own food, foraging is the next best thing to fulfill that desire.

Foraging is a fun and rewarding way to immerse yourself in your local environment. Here in Humboldt County, there are plenty of opportunities for outdoor food morsel scouring. You can find dozens of wild plants that are both useful and edible, from anise, dandelions and yarrow to cattails.

If you know what you’re looking for, urban food foraging is quite simple. Some yards in Arcata have fruit trees that are tempting to take from, but be sure to ask for permission before picking.

If you don’t know where to start looking, you can use the Falling Fruit website or app. This site features a global map with geotagged locations of edible and useful items within your area. When you identify something new, you can mark it on the map to help others locate your foraging find.

If you want to look for wild herbs, fruits and vegetables beyond the cityscape, take a stroll to a park or the community forest and chances are you’ll find something forage-worthy, whether it’s morel mushrooms, blackberries or ginkgo.

If you aren’t well-versed in fungi identification, there are options in the wild for food finding beyond the typical mushroom hunting. It’s best to steer clear of gathering mushrooms unless you are with an expert or have definitive knowledge of a particular type you are searching for.

Foraging is a helpful way to inform yourself about natural food cycles. We often forget about the different produce seasons as grocery stores usually supply all types of seasonal produce year-round, but foraging for your own food helps you learn when produce is ready for harvesting.

Explore beyond the city streets and forested land for scrumptious surprises from the sea.

If you’re foraging for sea life, ensure you’re legally licensed to do so. You can forage for loads of coastal edibles like seaweed, snails and goose barnacles, but many items require a fishing license to take as well as prior knowledge of eligible sizes and harvesting limits.

Make sure to have the proper equipment for specific foraging needs. When coastal foraging, it’s necessary to have have measuring equipment for the sea life you’re searching for to verify your finds are within size regulations. Bring a bucket for your finds and a knife or prying tools like a spudger to scrape off treats like limpets or sea snails. Gloves and knee pads are useful, but not necessary as long as you’re cautious on slippery terrain.

Be aware of red tides and other contaminants that may affect coastal harvests. Humboldt and Mendocino County undergo an annual mussel quarantine form May 1 to Oct. 31 which prohibits mussel gathering to protect people from shellfish poisoning due to oceanic toxins. Avoid this concern by foraging for univalve organisms which don’t filter throughout their body and have singular shells, like periwinkles or black tegula snails.

Foraging for insects can also be an exciting addition to your food gathering excursions. There are hundreds of species of edible insects including crickets, weaver ants and silkworms.

Identifying edible insects can be tricky if you aren’t completely sure of what to search for. The most advisable way to consume insects would be through home cultivation of a species like mealworms or crickets.

Don’t ever consume something that you aren’t 100% sure is safe to eat, whether it’s a fungus, plant or creature. Be sure to know how to properly identify items before your search.

In addition, prepare foraged food properly. Make sure to wash findings thoroughly and cook it correctly so as to not have an upset stomach.

Remember, do not forage on private land, or at state and national parks. It’s illegal to take items including rocks, wood, berries and nuts from these parks as they’re protected by state and federal conservation regulations.

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