Foraging: Mother Nature’s best alternative to supermarkets emptied by Covid-19

By Alice Liana Galli

In the past days we have assisted to panic buying by shoppers who have emptied the shelves of supermarkets all over the country. Yesterday the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who have tested positive for Covid-19, have reassured the people to stay home and prefer delivery services instead. However, those services seem to have no spare slots and the waiting times are of few weeks. So what can people do in the meantime? Mother nature offers them the answer: go foraging.

But what is foraging?

According to Aimee Cornwell, foraging is “going out into nature and be resourceful. It is about looking for food, medicines and tolls; looking around you at what is available and of what can be of use for you in the most sustainable way”.

Foraging is going out into nature and be resourceful, is about looking for food, medicines and tolls – Aimee Cornwell, forager

This practice has ancients roots in fact, the 95% of their time on Earth, humans have sustained themselves by foraging, which includes hunting, and gathering wild food like mushrooms, plants, berries and edibles flowers.

But how can this practice help Brits in their daily life now that self-isolation measures are in place because of Coronavirus?

Aimee reassures that foraging doesn’t require a lot of time and it can be easily done on your way to the closest supermarket or during the time you are allowed to exercise outside.

In her experience, Aimee has found that foraging is a great practice whose results can be experienced both spiritually and physically. Spending time outdoors can help reconnecting with nature and what surrounds you, helping realising stress and getting more in touch with your inner self.

“Foraging gives you a real sense of awareness” -says Aimee- “We can take a small amount from our environment but we can also put back”.

Reconnecting with the planet is a way to embrace the concept of sustainability. In fact, a simple gesture like preferring a wooden basket to a plastic one to gather flowers and mushrooms, can help spreading spores.

Emily Houghton gathering mushrooms

The same thoughts are shared by Emily Houghton, forager of 23 year old from Canada, who underlines the importance of taking just what is needed. Especially in this delicate situation.

“Please don’t rampage out into the forest right now because you want to hoard food in case it becomes scarce in the future”- warns Emily -” Forage because you love nature, appreciate being re-energized by fresh air even if your foraging efforts are unsuccessful. Foraging should be a friendly, positive, slow-paced hobby”.

Please don’t rampage out into the forest right now because you want to hoard food in case it becomes scarce in the future. Foraging should be a friendly, positive, slow-paced hobby – Emily Houghton, forager

“Always harvest sustainably, take only what you need, and make sure you leave enough for the plant to survive the season and be able to come back year after year” – she adds- “Keep in mind that many wild animals and birds also rely on these wild foods to survive, so do not take their entire food source. A general rule is to only take around 10% of the total amount of that plant”.

Both Aimee and Emily agree that foraging is not an activity that can be done exclusively out in the woods or the countryside. Plants grows everywhere, even through the concrete and in gardens of towns and villages, where rare species can be found.

“So many people make use of their tiny gardens and seeds are spread around for hundreds and hundreds of year, so you tend to get quite rare and unique plants in cities. The only downside being”- says Aimee -” is if the plant is on a busy road then there are probably going to be a lot of toxic buildup”.

So which are the best spots to forage in safety in cities?

According to Aimee, lots of resources can be find right in our houses’ yards or back yards, in closed parks spaces and why not, even in churches graveyards.

The most commons plants that can be found during this time of the year are:

  • Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)
  • Cleaver (Galium aparine)
  • Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata)
  • Sweet violet (Viola odorata)
  • Primrose (primula vulgaris)
  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
  • Mugwort (artemisia vulgaris)
  • Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)

 Foraging can be a great way to feel connected with nature, eat more healthy and feel better but is not a practice without risks.

So what should everyone know before starting foraging?

Emily advices to always do your research: “Be 100% positive that the plant you are identifying is edible, and triple check before eating. There are only a few plants and fungi that will kill you, but an abundance that will make you extremely sick. As well, not everyone tolerates foods the same way. When eating something for the first time, try it in moderation and wait before eating more, to see if you have any adverse effects”.

Another important thing to keep in mind is to always forage only in those areas where you have express permission.

“Do not venture onto private property” – continues Emily -” and do not forage in protected areas. Even on public lands, often it is illegal to forage. Check the regulations specific to your area”.

Now the only thing left to do is find the right equipment.

“Very few tools are necessary for foraging, which is why it is such a great and accessible hobby”- concludes Emily – “You can go out with nothing other than your bare hands and still be equally as successful as seasoned pros. However, there are a few things that make it easier”. 

Emily and Aimee suggest to bring with you:

  • A good small knife or cutters
  • A bag or basket to collect your findings in – if you are harvesting mushrooms, a basket with an open weave or a mesh bag is recommended.
  • Wear comfy, warm and waterproof clothes and shoes. Prefer long pants, and long sleeves, even if the temperature is quite high to protect yourself from thorny berry bushes and poison ivy. 
I went outside in my garden and followed Aimee’s and Emily’s advices.

Foraging can be a great way to escape the thoughts and worries that Coronavirus isolation can create and be an alternative way to eat healthier and more sustainably if done with respect towards our Planet and our communities, by always remembering to follow the rules dictated for public safety and forage while leaving the house for your daily exercise or on your way to the shops.

READ MORE about All you need to know about foraging in Scotland and Coronavirus (COVID-19): what you need to do.

Click here to download Nature.scot’s guide to Foraging for Wild Plants

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