How to {Ethically} Forage for Edible Plants

For many of us trying to live a natural, sustainable way of life in touch with the seasons, foraging for wild edible plants often becomes an integral part of putting food on our table.

Forage for wild edible plants to source some of your food very locally. But be sure that you're using ethical harvesting techniques when you do!

This guest post from Kathie at Homespun Seasonal Living was originally published in May, 2015. 

Wild edible plants & harvesting them ethically

While it can be rewarding—after all it can provide us with tasty food, amazing natural medicines, and get us out into nature—we should practice good stewardship skills to keep it sustainable for generations to come.

Get permission

This should go without saying but sadly doesn’t. Don’t forage for edible plants on private property without getting prior permission. When asking for permission, make sure the property owner knows that you will 1) respect the land, 2) take only what you need, and 3) offer a little jam or jelly or tea or something in return for the permission.

For public lands, like National Parks, State and National Forests, etc. be sure to check the rules for each individual place as regulations vary wildly. Some places require permits, others don’t, some limit harvest totals, etc. In some parks, berries can be foraged but mushrooms cannot. Always double check and follow the rules for harvesting wild edible plants.

Forage for wild edible plants to source some of your food very locally. But be sure that you're using ethical harvesting techniques when you do!

Correctly identify wild edible plants

Be sure of identification before harvesting any wild plant. This is important for personal safety to avoid eating poisonous plants, but it is also important to not take plants that can’t be used. Never forage for something unless  you’re 100% certain of the identification.

If doing spore prints for mushrooms, harvest only one to use before returning to harvest more. It’s always better to leave something growing and untouched for sustainability reasons.

Related: Purslane: An Early Spring Green Right in Your Backyard

Never harvest the only plant


Follow a personal rule of abundance. If only one particular plant is seen a sizable area, leave it alone. Never take the only edible plant of a wild species as it may not regenerate in that area. Remember that the forest, animals, and planet need that single specimen in that area more than you do. Along the same lines, never take everything from one spot. Aim for removing less than 10% of any one specimen.

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Take only the amount needed

Forage only the amount needed to make that berry jam or jar of healing salve. Only harvest enough leaves to dry for the winter’s tea drinking. Leave the rest for the earth. There’s no need to hoard more than one home’s needs.

Related: Eating Flowers: Perk Up Your Salads

wild strawberries on a tree stump

Harvest edible plants wisely

Don’t take plants that look stressed from drought, flooding, fire, or any other situations. Take only portions of healthy plants that are in abundance as discussed above. When taking parts of the plant, harvest only the top 2/3 of the plant, leaving the rest to regenerate and spread as nature sees fit. When the root is needed, dig it up carefully and cut portions of it with a knife rather than ripping it from the earth. Responsible care at harvest ensures healthy plants later.

As you head out to forage for wild edible plants, enjoy the beauty of nature first and foremost. Allow the plants to present themselves. When useful and tasty plants are found, follow these simple steps to keep foraging adventures, fun and safe for your home and the earth.

Want to know more about foraging for food?

Five foragers from across the U.S. share how to go about foraging – and why – here!

wild strawberries and asparagus

Kathie N. Lapcevic is a freelance writer, teacher, and blogger living in northwest Montana with her soulmate Jeff. She lives a fiercely D.I.Y. lifestyle in harmony with the natural rhythms of nature. You can follow her blog at Homespun Seasonal Living.

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About the author: Kris Bordessa is an award-winning National Geographic author and a certified Master Food Preserver. Read more about Kris and how she got started with this site here. If you want to send Kris a quick message, you can get in touch here.

8 comments… add one
  • Cami Jul 18, 2020 @ 16:02

    Thanks for this post! I actually referenced it in my own post about foraging because it gives such good info–couldn’t have said it better myself : )

  • Nehal Apr 16, 2018 @ 22:02

    Nice information Kathie. In India, we have berries that look very similar to the purple berries shown in the picture but they are highly poisonous. So yes, it is very difficult to differentiate between what is edible and what is not.

  • Marco galvez Sep 1, 2016 @ 7:16

    Ok but this for places that have a variety of plants!does anybody knows how to do this in a desert?cause that’s where I live.

  • Tessa Mar 26, 2016 @ 6:12

    Wonderful information! That’s an amazing looking mushroom. Seasonal living is so calming – especially seasonal eating.

  • Brenda Albaugh Jul 23, 2015 @ 19:35

    What is the little berries in the picture? I have a big bush of these but don’t know if I can eat them or not?

    • Kathie Lapcevic Jul 24, 2015 @ 2:12

      The purple berries are elderberries. Purple elderberries are edible (the red ones are NOT). Purple elderberries should only be eaten when fully ripe, not green. Also elderberries should be cooked (or fermented as for wine) prior to eating. They can cause stomach upset in some people and cooking removes that potential. I actually don’ think they’re all that tasty but they are super medicinal. Be sure you’re properly identifying before eating, of course. There are other berries that may look similar.

      The red berries are thimbleberries and edible. They grow in the rocky mountain west and are a bit like a raspberry. Can be eaten raw.

  • Sonia (foodiesleuth) May 19, 2015 @ 19:21

    Wonderful post!

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