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Urban Foraging – Finding Food in Unlikely Places

Learn about urban foraging and the skillsets needed to forage for food in your surrounding areas. Whether you live in rural, suburban or urban areas, these tips will help get you started.

A woman crouched in a field with foraged plants.

About Lisa Rose

Lisa M. Rose is an anthropologist with a professional focus on community health and local food systems. She has gathered her food, farming, and wild plant knowledge from many people and places along a very delicious journey.

Beyond the Great Lakes, Lisa’s interest in ethnobotany and herbal medicine has taken her across the United States, Central and South America, Asia and Europe to study plants, people, health, and their connection to place. When she is not in her gardens or kitchen, Lisa can be found in the fields, forests and jungles of the city to glean inspiration for her work.

Lisa has written four books, Grand Rapids Food: A Culinary Revolution (American Palate), Midwest Foraging, Midwest Medicinal Plants, and her latest book, Urban Foraging, released in October 2022.

Foraging in Urban Settings

It’s always our desire to encourage people, no matter where they live, to get started with these incredible life skills right where they are.

You don’t need to live on 40 acres in north Idaho to forage for wild edibles. You can start foraging in your backyard (or the park around the corner).

Lisa shares her tips on how to get started…

Jars of dried herbs on a counter.

Know What You’re Foraging

First and foremost, Lisa’s biggest piece of advice is to harvest only that food that you can identify, and that is safe for consumption. She always taught her kids if you don’t know what it is, don’t pick it.

This is so important as some plants out there can cause great harm. But don’t let this fear keep you from learning. Pick up a field guide and just start taking walks, identifying plants and flowers to get yourself used to the idea of foraging.

Understand the Local Environment

One of the main concerns when foraging in an urban setting is the safety of the food harvested. Is it safe to harvest food along the roadside? Do we need to worry about contaminants and run-off?

Lisa’s advice is to understand the land use where you’re foraging. She does this on her own property by soil testing, learning the history of the land, and how it was used generations ago. Also, knowing what surrounds her property, such as dairy farms that might be upstream where there may be runoff that would affect her water supply.

This information will be invaluable for someone wanting to homestead on a piece of property and forage. Then, it comes down to the personal decision to decide whether or not you’ll want to eat the crabapples (for example) from the tree growing next to the road where there may be contaminants from the roadway.

Safety Practices and Considerations

In the books Lisa has written, she covers the safety practices and considerations to make concerning:

  • Wastewater management
  • Agriculture contaminants
  • Easements with railroad tracks, powerlines, right of ways, etc.
A woman reaching for herbal oils in a cupboard.

Don’t Wait!

We’d like to give anyone reading this a word of encouragement: not to wait. We never want to motivate by fear. Rather, we want to share that learning to forage for wild edibles is a skill that doesn’t happen overnight.

One simply can’t pick up a field guide and be able to forage food for their family “if everything goes belly up.” You need to practice and hone this skill, especially for your specific area.

So please, take this as an encouragement to get started. Even if you can currently buy all the food you need at the grocery store. There may come a time in our or our children’s lifetime when foraging for food is necessary.

Isn’t that a skillset and a preparedness mindset worthy of passing on to the next generation?

Mullein plant growing in a field.

How to Get Kids Involved

In my own experience, it’s much harder to get my children excited about foraging for dandelion greens than it is the wild huckleberries. I asked Lisa what her tips are for getting children excited and involved with foraging at a young age.

Some tips for getting kids excited:

  • Tie it into their homeschool curriculum (kids are always more excited to do school outside!). This is one way where they might not be as excited during their own “free time,” they’ll certainly be excited to stretch their legs during school time.
  • Teach children about the nutritional value of wild edibles.
  • Get them involved in the entire process, from foraging and harvesting, all the way to preparation or preservation. When they make the connection all the way through to the final product, they may have a different outlook on the process.
  • Ask kids to explain what they’re experiencing. Many kids will say something is “gross” when what they don’t know how to explain is that something is slimy, fuzzy or spicy.

Can Foraging Save Money on Groceries?

With the current reality of our food system and inflation over the past years, it’s important to consider how we can supplement our grocery bill by utilizing foraging and gardening.

It’s not probable that 100% of the food we buy from the grocery store can be supplemented by foraging. What foraging teaches us is the interconnectivity and reliance upon systems in our generation.

Instead of thinking that you’ll be able to forage 100% of your food, Lisa encourages us to remember how, just a couple of generations ago, people were not self-reliant for everything but rather relied upon the community.

One person might forage for wild blackberries and turn them into a jam to share or trade with neighbors. Another neighbor would raise cattle and trade/barter for goods with the rest of the community.

In today’s day and age, we have become so isolated. Taking a lesson from generations past is one of the best things we can do for our future.

Book cover for "Urban Foraging: Find, Gather, and Cook 50 Wild Plants"

About Urban Foraging

In Urban Foraging: Find, Gather and Cook 50 Wild Plants (Timber Press, Oct 11, 2022), herbalist and expert forager Lisa M. Rose puts a metropolitan twist on scavenging for food. From wild apples to wood sorrel, this indispensable guide profiles 50 common edible plants that can be found in the concrete jungle.

Interesting recipes show readers how they can transform their harvest into new and creative cooking ideas, such as wild apple tarte tatin, honeysuckle honey, and strawberry-knotweed pie. Plus, helpful entries detail how to gather food safely with added notes on further culinary uses and proper harvesting techniques.

Start with a simple dish like fresh sorrel sauce and you may be surprised what new favorite recipes you find.

Where to Find Lisa

A sunny field on a fall day.
A man and wife smiling.

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Josh and Carolyn bring you practical knowledge on how to Grow, Cook, Preserve and Thrive on your homestead, whether you are in a city apartment or on 40 acres in the country. If you want to increase your self-sufficiency and health be sure to subscribe for helpful videos on gardening, preserving, herbal medicine, traditional cooking and more.

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