Wild foods connect us to the world we inhabit, helping us to honor and value the living systems on which we depend. Foraging offers safe, economical, and nutritious food. Our world is inhabited by many plants with a long history of human use.

We Evolved to Forage

As young children we spend years crawling on the ground with a tendency to taste everything within reach. This human characteristic prepares us to have the literacy to recognize plants as food and medicine as we mature. We can rediscover this capacity in our modern environment.

Wild edible foods are readily distributed by people in our ordinary movements through the landscape. While some foraged fare can be found in the deep woods, most wild foods can be found in close proximity to human activity. Food grows in the faded shadows of our footsteps.
Wild Food Benefits
  • Grown without pesticides
  • Nutrients remain intact
  • Contains diverse nutrients available in soil
  • Creates wildlife habitat
  • Signals regenerative life processes that restore the environment and human health
Industrial Food Concerns
  • Can be coated with pesticides
  • Irradiated, destroying nutrients
  • Grown in depleted soils
  • Requires habitat destruction
  • Product of an extractive economy that degrades ecosystems and human health

Cool-season Foraging

Look for leafy greens and shoots of the following wild plants when they are vibrant and stretchable during the cool seasons. If the greens are tough or coarse, or the plant has shifted its energy into the flowers, the greens are often no longer palatable and sometimes unsafe. The following leaves and shoots are easy to identify.

asparagus
basswood
beebalm
beech
chickweed
chicory*
clover
dandelion*
dock*

garlic mustard
ground ivy
hairy bittercress
henbit
mallow
mugwort
plantain
purple deadnettle
redbud

sassafras
sheep sorrel
shepherd’s purse
stinging nettle
violet 
wild bergamot 
wild lettuce
wild onion
wood sorrel*

Flowers make a bright garnish, bulking agent in salads, or flavorful appetizers. Gather at the height of bloom.

basswood
beebalm 
black locust
chickweed
chicory*
clover
dandelion*

daylily
evening primrose
garlic mustard
ground ivy
hairy bittercress
henbit
mallow

purple deadnettle
redbud
violet
wild lettuce
wild bergamot
wild onion
wood sorrel*

High in energy, winter foods help humans store fat to get through winter.

acorns
black walnuts
chestnuts
chinquapins
hazelnuts

Jerusalem artichokes
hickory nuts
maple syrup
pawpaws

pecans
persimmons
rose hips
spicebush

 

Warm-Season Foraging

After the spring equinox, late season annual plants emerge and bask in the lengthening days.

amaranth*
clover
evening primrose
goldenrod

hibiscus
lambsquarters*
milkweed
pepperweed

pineappleweed
purslane*
sassafras
yarrow

* High in oxalates.


Sugar is rare in nature. Enjoy fresh fruits in season, and learn how to cultivate and optimize nourishment.

aronia
beach plum
blackberry
black cherry
black raspberry*

blueberry
elderberry
grape
mulberry
red raspberry

passionflower
strawberry
sumac*
wineberry

* High in oxalates.
** Avoid if allergic to cashews.

Plant Toxicity

All plants contain compounds that are toxic to humans. Many plants have nutrients that are unavailable without processing. We urge all novice foragers to begin by accompanying an experienced mentor, and to reference multiple books for authoritative information.

Testing for Sensitivity to New Foods

Upon positively identifying a new food, we advise following the following steps:

  1. Crush a small portion of the plant and rub it on the inside of your wrist. Wait 20 minutes.
  2. If no reaction occurs, rub the crushed plant on the outside of your lips. Wait 20 minutes.
  3. If no reaction occurs, taste the crushed plant and spit it out. Wait 20 minutes.
  4. If it tastes good and no reaction occurs, eat a tiny amount of the plant. Wait 1 day.
  5. If it tastes good and you’d like more, go ahead and harvest some of the plant for use.

Focus on taste and listen to your intuition. Your tongue and body will warn you if the plant contains harmful compounds. Tune into your human instincts.


Students in the Food Lab learn how to gather and prepare wild foods to maximize nutrient bioavailability.

Students in the Food Lab learn how to gather and prepare wild foods to maximize nutrient bioavailability.

Ethics + Guidelines

  • Collect only what you need, no more than 25% of a population of wild plants from an area.
  • Avoid gathering plants from areas contaminated by pollution; always wash food.
  • Harvest plant parts at the appropriate stage of growth based on its life cycle; some plants are toxic if collected at the wrong stage. Learn how to avoid or reduce harmful plant compounds.
  • Start by foraging where you live. Observe plants throughout the growing season.
  • Do not eat any plant if you are not 100% confident in its identification, or if it does not have a long history of use by humans.

Best Practices in Foraging and Wildcrafting

Meet the Family

Plants can be easily recognized by learning similar growth characteristics shared by their botanical relatives. Check out the books Botany in a Day or Shanleya's Quest by wild foods instructor Thomas Elpel for examples of this method.

More Recommended Books

Family Patterns

Plants in the mint, mallow, and mustard families are generally safe to consume, and a great starting place for beginners.

Plants in the carrot family can have highly poisonous lookalikes.

The amaranth, buckwheat, purslane, and wood sorrel families tend to have plants that are high in oxalates, and ought to be consumed in moderation.

Use Scientific Names

Plants have a variety of common names, which can cause confusion when it comes to identification. Learn the family, genus, and species of each plant you decide to eat.