Foraging has gained popularity in the last decade as the movement for fresh and sustainable ingredients has grown. While many chefs nowadays use suppliers or farmers markets to find the perfect ingredients for their restaurant, foraging can be a great way to bring new ingredients to their kitchens. For chefs who enjoy the hunt of searching for food or provisions, it can also be a fun hobby to pick up outside of the kitchen.
While it may seem like chefs would inherently know what to hunt for, foraging actually takes years of experience and knowledge to safely gather ingredients in the wild. However, there are some simple tips to follow and easy ingredients to identify that will help you become a successful beginner forager. Read below to find our guide to getting started and easy ingredients to look for begin your first foraging adventure!
Tips to Getting Started
- Invest in Books. This seems obvious, but books are a great resource for foraging. There are many knowledgeable experts who have spent decades researching and writing about foraging. Expert forager Steve “Wildman” Brill, who has been foraging for 35+ years and lives in the New York City area, has written many books on the subject. If you are foraging in New York, we recommend starting with his book Foraging in New York: Finding, Identifying and Preparing Edible Wild Foods.
- Find a Mentor and Speak With Experts. Finding a mentor is the key to foraging safely. While you may be able to find many ingredients in your own backyard, it can be dangerous to ingest them without consulting an expert. An expert or a mentor can help to identify plants, and can be a great resource for learning more about what to forage.
- Start in Your Own Backyard. Like we said, foraging in your own backyard is possible and fun! When you become familiar with the plants in and around your backyard first, it will help you to gain your foraging confidence before you venture elsewhere.
What to Start Foraging
There are endless edible plants and wild mushrooms to forage for, but it can be daunting trying to identify them all. Depending on your level of expertise, start with these plants below and, as always, consult with an expert before you eat anything. As a rule of thumb, always consume small quantities to ensure that you are not allergic to anything first.
Level 1: Dandelion Greens
You read that correctly— those pesky weeds that pop up everywhere are edible. These “weeds” are easy to identify due to their yellow flowers and pointy leaves, and are safe to eat. Expert foragers use dandelions in everything from salad to pesto, coffee and even wine! The entire plant is edible, so research recipes beforehand to get the most out of the plant. It is also recommended to forage for these in your own backyard because they have a tendency to be sprayed with pesticides.
Level 2: Field Garlic
On a recent foraging trip to Prospect Park, our Professional Culinary Arts with Farm-to-Table class experienced field garlic firsthand. Like dandelions, field garlic is found almost everywhere and during every season of the year. It is easy to identify and has a distinct garlic/onion smell. With long green stems that look like chives and bulbs at the end of the stems, the whole plant can be utilized anywhere that you would normally use garlic. Note that it does have a lookalike that is toxic, but the lookalike plant does not have a smell. Before you eat field garlic, make sure that you smell a distinct garlic smell first.
Level 3: The Foolproof Four
Mushroom hunting is perhaps the most exciting part of foraging. Mushrooms are delicious, versatile and harder to find, which makes for a fun hunt. The difficulty of finding mushrooms is that they can be found in different locations, and from year to year, can grow in different areas. Although you may have found a delicious chicken of the woods mushroom, on a tree trunk one year, the next year it may not be there.
The foolproof four in mushroom hunting includes morels, chanterelles, giant puffballs, and chicken of the woods. These mushrooms are the easiest to identify and are widespread. Morels are one of the most sought after wild mushrooms and have a distinct, wrinkled look. Chanterelles have a wavy cap and can vary from a yellowish color to an amber. Giant puffballs are easy to spot in the woods and can grow to be the size of a volleyball—and often times look like one! They are white in color and vary in size. Chicken of the woods are also easy to spot due to their yellow and orange color. Growing mostly on tree trunks, their edges are the best for eating as the center of the mushroom is often tough.
It is best to go on tours with experts and forage in groups when you’re first starting out. This makes foraging more fun, but it also makes it safe.
Books are a great resource when first getting started, but should not be the only resource you use to identify plants. Experts in the world of foraging are an easy resource at hand and can typically identify plants using pictures. When in doubt, never ingest something that you aren’t sure of, and always be sure to forage in a sustainable way! Click here to check out our tips for safe foraging!