The Forager's Buying Guide
Calendars & Identification Charts
(1) Pacific Northwest Conifer Identification Poster by The Far Woods (2) North American Plants 2017 Calendar by Erin Vaughan (3) North American Trees 2017 Calendar by Erin Vaughan (4) Wild Edible Mushrooms of Quebec Poster by Mathilde Cinq-Mars (5) Northeast Local Foods Wheel by Local Foods Wheel
Calendars, charts, and posters make great gifts for new foragers and plant nerds as they can help one learn to identify native edible or medicinal plants, trees, and fungi. Beautiful identification charts and calendars created by illustrators and painters double as a resource and artwork.
We are also impressed with the unique Local Foods Wheel -- a project created by three women to help teach about the locavore movement and also show which regional foods (including wild ones) are in season throughout the year. Food wheels are available for the Northeast, Upper Midwest, Northwest, Southern California, and the San Francisco Bay Area.
Body & Health
(1) Bite & Sting Soother Spray by All Terrain (2) Deet Free Insect Repellent by Yellow Bird (3) All Natural Insect Repellent by Burt's Bees (4) After Sun Soother by Burt's Bees (5) Jewelweed Poison Ivy Spray by Mother Mountain (6) Poison Ivy/Oak Solution System by All Terrain (7) Paddler's Salve by Sigrid Naturals (8) Tick Remover (9) Oxybenzone-Free TerraSport SPF 30 Sunscreen (10) Herbal First Aid Kit by Generational Goods
These are essentials if you're a forager, hiker, backwoods camper, canoe or kayaker... or you just live in a rural area like we do. The sun buns, mosquitoes swarm by the hundreds, black flies are devil spawn from hell, poison ivy and oak lurk behind every other tree, ticks can sneak a bite with lasting consequences, and skin can get blisters, bruises, and scrapes. You almost never anticipate how many bugs there will be until you're deep in the bush!
Hats, sunscreen, insect repellent, closed toed shoes, long sleeve shirts, and pants were all essentials for our wild harvesting forays this summer. The more clothes you wear, the less skin there is for mosquitoes and flies to bite and the less likely you are to accidentally walk through poison ivy. Practical first aid items like poison ivy treatments (like Sigrid's Jewelweed Salve or Forest Farm's Sweet Fern Spray), a tick removal kit, and a first aid kit (from the pharmacy or a herbal company like Generational Goods or Nootka Naturals) are good to have in your backpack or vehicle while out foraging.
Field Guides: (1) & (2) Peterson's Field Guides (3) National Audubon Society Field Guides (4) Identifying and Harvesting Edible & Medicinal Plants in the Wild by Steve Brill and Evelyn Dean (5) Lone Pine Publishing Field Guides (6) Mushrooms and Other Fungi of North America by Roger Phillips (7) Pocket Naturalist Guides (8) Nature's Garden by Samuel Thayer
Smaller field guides meant for identification are great to take foraging with you in a coat pocket or backpack. The more thorough and therefore heftier identification and reference books can be left at home to help you double check the i.d. of your haul and what you can do with the botanicals you found.
Foraging, Cooking & Preserving Wild Edibles: (1) The New Wildcrafted Cuisine: Exploring the Exotic Gastronomy of Local Terroir by Pascal Baudar (2) Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast by Hank Shaw (3) Preserving Wild Foods: A Modern Forager's Recipes for Curing, Canning, Smoking, and Pickling by Raquel Pelzel (4) Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager by Langdon Cook (5) Edible Wild Fruits & Nuts of Canada by Nancy J. Turner (6) Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Cookbook by Dina Falconi (7) The Hedgerow Cookbook by Glennie Kindred
Many wild edibles foragers are also big foodies. Foodies like cookbooks and to learn new ways to use their favourite wild ingredients. Such books can be hard to find, but the above list is the cream of the crop to me. One I wasn't able to fit into the photos but highly recommend is Wild Drinks & Cocktails by Emily Han. Hank Shaw and Nancy J. Turner are two of my biggest wild food heroes and have written numerous books with excellent recipes along with experienced instructions for finding and harvesting edibles.
(1) Mushroom knife, folding saw, and folding pruning knife by Opinel (2) Sentei Pruning Shears by Tajika Haruo (3) Finnish Wilderness Mushroom Knife by Casstrom (4) Berry picker by Hooked On Nature (5) Adirondack Basket Backpacks by The Basket Lady (6) Gathering Sack by Gardener's Hollow Leg (7) Foraging apron by Ambatalia
Every forager needs some good tools to help them in their work and to be as efficient as possible. A mushroom hunter needs a good mushroom knife with a brush and baskets or other rigid containers to protect and carry their harvests. A berry and wild edible harvester might need a berry picker, fruit picker, a sharp knife, and waterproof or washable gathering container that can handle heavy weights. A herb or flower forager needs a good pair of shears, a pruning knife, baskets and bags, and maybe a handmade foraging apron (if they're the type who always comes home with pockets full of botanicals).
We are completely infatuated with Andirondack pack baskets with harnesses that you carry on your back. If you harvest goods that need to be protected in a rigid container, heavy items like chaga and roots, or you harvest large items like tree boughs --a basket you can carry on your back is a great investment. They are beautiful, practical, lightweight, and come in different sizes. We plan to get the small sizes for our kids to start our own mini minion army of foragers. Handwoven Andirondack pack baskets can be purchased from The Basket Lady in New York state and Hook & Weave Designs in Massachusetts.
If you need the practicality of a gathering bag that can be worn as a backpack there are also the more affordable options of the Gardener's Hollow Leg gathering sack and Lee Valley's harvest bag which are made with canvas.
Preservation & Processing
(1) Exalibur dehydrator (2) Hanging herb dryer from Lee Valley (3) Cast iron mortar and pestle by Fox Run (4) Granite mortar and pestle (5) Cuisinart electric spice and nut grinder (6) 1000g Chinese medicine herb grinder by Great Wall Instruments
Foragers go foraging and come home with a haul of mushrooms, herbs, roots, or berries... but now what? Edible mushrooms can be sliced and threaded with string and a needle and then the strings of mushrooms hung to dry somewhere warm until completely dry (1-2 weeks), or they can be sliced and put in a dehydrator for 5-8 hours on a low heat setting and then put into air tight containers. We love our Exalibur dehydrator, but recommend any brand that has temperature control (a timer is an extra bonus). They are great for preserving foodstuffs, but also for drying roots too. If you slice up your roots while they're fresh, they are so much easier to handle and dry in dehydrator. Pre-sliced dried roots are, of course, so much easier to process for medicine after!
Herbs can be tied in bundles and hung from the ceiling or rafters to dry, but they are often crumbly so hanging them in large paper bags is best. Even better than this is to purchase an inexpensive herb dryer which is made of nylon mesh and has a collapsible wire frame. They come in different sizes for whatever your height allowance is. They fold up very flat and usually come with storage cases that zip up to protect them from dust and contaminants when not in use. Herb dryers are very easy to find, just search ebay.
So now you have these dried herbs, but still have to process them further. Powdered botanicals are ideal for making tinctures and oils as they have a much larger surface area to contact the oil or alcohol with so the medicinal constituents can be absorbed. A mortar and pestle or inexpensive coffee grinder (or the spice and nut grinder shown above) will do for the hobbyist, but if you are a herbalist who needs to break down pounds of hard roots, barks, or things like chaga, you will need something with a lot more power. This is when you will want to invest in a Chinese medicine herb grinder or commercial electric grain mill. They grind so fast that the herbs and the motor don't have a chance to heat up, making them perfect for medicinal herbs and delicate medicinal mushrooms which can loose potency with heat.
Prices vary, but they get the job done and come in sizes that can grind anywhere from half a pound to two pounds of herbs at a time. As with any electric grinder, you should break down extra hard botanicals before grinding them - roots should be broken down into smaller pieces and chaga should be cut up into smaller chunks before drying and grinding it. We use a mortar and pestle as well as sharp garden shears to accomplish this task. Can't afford a professional electric grinder or don't want electric? Try a hand crank grain mill which will range from $50-$400 CAD/USD new, but maybe a better bargain if it's a used or vintage one. We have successfully used a vintage metal hand crank mill to process our wild harvested chaga into a course grind.
(1) Swedish FireSteel (2) Backcountry Access BC Link 2-Way Radio (3) Engineer's compass from Lee Valley (4) Hunter's orange ball cap (5) Hunter's orange vest by Yukon Gear (6) Garmin eTrex Handheld GPS (7) 1L Morel Mushroom Water Bottle by Surge Designs (8) 1.4L Wide-Mouth Water Bottle by Nalgene
The biggest worries when foraging in the wilds aren't always what you'd expect. It's not bears, mountain lions, and poison ivy I worry about; it's dehydration, getting lost, the car getting stuck on a remote back road, or getting accidentally shot by a hunter. To prepare for such possibilities it's good to have a compass or a handheld gps meant for hikers to keep track of your whereabouts, or a two-way radio if you are out with another forager and split up to cover more ground.
Some clothing in super bright (but rarely attractive) orange to prevent hunter's from mistaking you for deer is advisable --especially when foraging during hunting season. A vest and a hat will be the most inexpensive and visible. A lightweight but large volume water bottle is also your best friend. The more water you can bring with you in the summer, the better. We usually bring one each hiking with us and leave another bottle each in the car.
We hope this guide is a helpful resource to foragers, herbalists, and the hard workers in the non timber forest products industry. We wish you all a great harvest!