History, Present and Future
While many of these plants graced our grandparent’s dinner plates, filled their pantries and medicinal chests just a few generations ago, today they have either now been forgotten or classified as weeds. And this is why many herbalists believe it’s no coincidence that modern chronic diseases have run rampant as wild foods disappear from our diet.
Growing where and when mother nature chooses, wild plants are not only free but easy to cook with, delicious and good for you. Consuming just one wild plant a day can go a long way in improving our health. And if that isn’t reason enough to learn about the foods that grow all around you – consider that they help strengthen local food security and forge a relationship with nature that is good for us and the planet.
Now more than ever, we need wild foods. It is a sad fact that industrial agriculture has stripped our cultivated fruit, grains and vegetables of important nutrients. Soils have become so over-farmed (not to mention saturated with herbicides and pesticides) that they are depleted of the critical vitamins and minerals we need to thrive. However, wild food, brimming with vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, phytonutrients and antioxidants in such short supply in our conventional diet—are the world’s most nutritionally potent superfoods.
Wild foods are the originators of all fruits, grains and vegetables, wild foods are the plants that our ancestors ate. By eating wild, we are eating unadulterated, seasonal, nutritionally balanced foods in their original form – as nature intended.
Most “wild foods” are not rare endangered indigenous species, but rather invasive plants, like dandelions, plantain , nettles, yarrows, and garlic mustard that were introduced here by the early settlers as food. But today cities spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to eliminate (often with herbicides) these nutrient-rich foods from our lawns, gardens, parks and green spaces. Of course, wild foods will never feed whole populations, but they have been historically used—and can be again—as a vital food supplement to enrich all of our diets.
Harmony with Nature
Foraging promotes community health and well-being through more than just nutrition. Countless studies have shown that spending time in nature reduces blood pressure, anxiety and stress levels. Humans’ connection with the natural environment is very important for our health and wellbeing. Getting in touch with the outdoors has another great benefit: those who know and love nature work harder to protect it.
Foraging means learning to harvest what nature gives us in time, it teaches us to observe the cycles of the seasons, the changing foliage, the flora and fauna. We begin to gain a deeper ecological understanding of our local environment – and we believe this motivates us to become better stewards of nature, especially the nature that lies just outside our front door.
The more people understand about how the ecosystems work, the more respectful they will be of our parks, enjoy greater connection with their local environment, and as a part of the gathering process, share and maintain significant local environmental knowledge. This element – the connections between nature and people – is among the most deeply significant motivations for people to engage in the practice of foraging – it’s an intimate connection. You can go out and appreciate nature and say “Oh my, isn’t it pretty,” but when you interact on this level, when it becomes part of your pantry, when it’s part of what you eat, now you have a relationship. You’re not an outside observer. It’s not this ‘other’ thing. It’s part of you and you are part of it.
Gathering the food we need to survive is our oldest, most basic relationship with the planet. Ancestral food wisdom reconnects us to a vital truth, it’s the Earth that sustains us. This is why I believe wild foods should be valued as an important community resource in localized food systems. They pave the way towards a future in which foraging supports a sustainable connection between people, land and food, one that nourishes us and brings us into a harmonious relationship with nature.