When we forage food from the wild, grow it in our gardens, or obtain it from local farmers or gardeners whom we know personally, we are nourished on multiple levels. Beyond the physical nutrition the food provides, it nourishes relationships. Foraging for edibles strengthens our connection with the wild, and with the friends who join us as we harvest; gardening deepens our bond with the land where we make our home; interaction with local growers enhances the network of social relationships that are the foundation of community life. Foraging and gardening provide our bodies with a bit of the exercise for which they are designed; these activities help to restore the ancient balance between the consumption of food calories and the energy expenditure required to “earn” the food. And I find that, when I eat food procured in these traditional ways, the flavor of the food is enhanced by pleasant memories of how I got it. When I pour maple syrup on my pancakes, I also pour the memory of an April afternoon in a steamy sugarhouse, chatting with the sugar maker as he stokes the wood fire below a tub of bubbling sap. And when I take a bite of cranberry sauce on a frozen winter night, I’m transported back to the golden September day when I paddled across the waters of a wild bog with dear friends to gather the fruit.
It’s very important to be certain of the identity of any wild plant you intend to consume. A good guidebook will help novices to identify edible plants and to distinguish them from other plants that are somewhat similar in appearance but may be harmful to eat. However, the gold standard is to learn the art of foraging from a local expert. If you don’t personally know anyone with this level of expertise, there may be nonprofits in your area that offer instructional programs.