We've grown so used to supermarkets providing food for us that we have forgotten how to find food for ourselves. Well, not everyone (but the majority of people have). Believe it or not, people actually trust the grocery store more than the plants growing around their home. Whenever I even suggest the idea of foraging to most people, they look at me like I have three heads. The problem with grocery stores is you cannot see the process the food undergoes. You cannot watch it grow, know who picked it, or understand how it was treated. You cannot see what chemicals may have been sprayed on it. You cannot see how it was processed in a factory. Essentially, you're in the dark.
This is not to say I hate grocery stores. Absolutely not. They're convenient and helpful. That said, when I'm there, I do my best to make the most informed decisions I possibly can, such as choosing organic. I also try to avoid buying anything packaged in wasteful plastic. But foraging requires no packaging. It requires no factories or monoculture based food farming. It only requires you, and knowing the landscape. You're in control when you forage: You know the whole process because you can locate a plant, watch it grow, and harvest it all by yourself. Foraging truly connects you to the food you eat. Not only will you feel more informed of where the plant is coming from (and reassured nothing has been done to the plant), but you'll also learn a lot more about the area you're foraging in.
To get you started, here are 5 plants that may be growing around your area. As a general guideline, do not harvest these plants if they grow by roadsides. The only reason I say this is because they can absorb the pollutants from cars and fumes. Try finding these plants in open fields, forests, and even parks (it'll be safer to harvest and eat from there).
Note: For reference, I live in New York. Keep in mind the plants that grow in your area may not be the ones I'm naming, since these are the ones I see on the daily.
I'm lucky enough to have these growing near my house. I've never picked them before, but every year they come back, and this year I'm determined to pick some!
Description: The mulberry tree has alternate, lobed leaves with rough surfaces and blue or black seeded fruits.
Location: These trees are found in forested areas and near roadsides in temperate and tropical regions of the United States.
Edible parts and preparing: The fruit can be consumed either raw or cooked and it can also be dried. Make sure the fruit is ripe before picking it though; otherwise it can cause hallucinations and extreme nausea.
Roses are my favorite flowers, but they're not just pretty to look at! They have a variety of different uses, and I've harvested some rosehips before from local beach roses.
Description: This shrub has alternating leaves and sharp prickles. It has red, pink, yellow (and sometimes white) flowers and fruit (rosehip) that remains on the shrub all year.
Location: These shrubs occur in dry fields throughout the country. Try looking for some near your local beach (mine has beach roses planted close to the sand, but not actually on the sand).
Edible parts and preparing: The flowers and buds are edible raw or boiled. You can make rose water too (which can be used for beauty or in cooking/baking). Boil fresh, young leaves to make tea. The rose hips can be eaten once the flowers fall and they can be crushed once dried to make flour. Personally, I like to make rose hips into tea or jam. Rose hip tea is actually quite delicious and filled with 50% more vitamin C than an orange, making it super healthy and great for your skin.
I've spotted a few thistles growing around my neighborhood in the spring and summer. They can grow to be quite big too, and are quite resilient, growing from even the worst soils.
Description: This plant may grow very high and has long-pointed, prickly leaves.
Location: Thistle grows in woods and fields all over the country.
Edible parts and preparing: Peel the stalks, cut them into smaller sections, and boil them to consume. The root may be eaten raw or cooked.
I see chicory growing everywhere in the summer. It's a very pretty flower, but not many people know that you can eat it too!
Description: This is quite a tall plant, with clusters of leaves at the base of the stem and very few leaves on the stem itself. The flowers are sky blue in color and open only on sunny days. It produces a milky juice.
Location: Chicory grows in fields, waste areas, and alongside roads. It grows primarily as a weed all throughout the country.
Edible parts and preparing: The entire plant is edible. The young leaves can be eaten in a salad. The leaves and roots may also be boiled as you would regular vegetables. Roast the roots until they are dark brown, mash them up, and use them as a substitute for coffee.
I know someone who grows a sassafras tree on their lawn. It's a tiny one, but I've seen a few wild ones too. They're really easy to identify, but not as common as everything else I've seen on this list.
Description: This shrub has different leaves – some have one lobe, others two lobes, and others have none at all. The flowers are small and yellow and appear in the early spring. The plant has dark blue fruit.
Location: Sassafras grows near roads and forests in sunny, open areas. It is common throughout the eastern states.
Edible parts and preparing: The young twigs and leaves can be eaten either fresh or dried – add them to soups. Dig out the underground portion of the shrub, peel off the bark, and dry it. Boil it in water to make tea. Also, just as a little side note, shredding the tender twigs will make a handy toothbrush (pretty cool, huh?).