Have you ever picked strawberries in a field? Or collected fiddleheads off the side a dirt road? Maybe you’ve gone searching for some tasty wild onions. If so, you were foraging. Foraging with kids is a great way to get your youngsters off the couch and away from electronics.
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If you and your kids are new to foraging, start with these five easy wild edibles that are found in many parts of North America and Europe. However, before you begin, learn the basics of safely foraging for edible greens, medicinal herbs, and fragrant flowers.
What is Foraging?
Before diving into the details on foraging with kids, it’s helpful to understand what foraging means. The formal dictionary definition of foraging from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is "to wander in search of forage or food."
And the Cambridge English Dictionary defines foraging as "to go place to place search for things you can eat or use.
Sounds like a pretty fun adventure for parents and kids alike!
Why Foraging With Kids is a Great Family Activity
As a parent, it probably comes as no surprise to you that today's average child spends far more time indoors than you did as a child. And that for many kids, screentime, whether it's on a gaming system, tablet or smartphone app, might win out over spending time outside.
Some parents might find that with older kids, even if you entice them outside they quickly get bored. That's why it helps to have different activities planned - like foraging. You spend time together outdoors, get some fresh air, and learn about what's growing wild in your area.
Or, if you're a homeschooling and work-at-home parent like me, who sometimes gets preoccupied with indoor work on my laptop and smartphone, foraging with kids lets me give them my undivided attention.
Parenting experts like Amy McCready of Positive Parenting Solutions suggest that daily one-on-one time of even just ten minutes per day with each of your children is one of the best things parents can do for their kids. So why not get together to gather some dandelion greens for a lunchtime salad, or berries for dessert?
Forage With Kids as Part of Your Summer Homeschool Routine
Literature/Language Arts With Foraging
In addition to using basic forest schooling techniques, I also use foraging to teach my two youngest children, who are at about the fifth and second-third grade level. Now that they're both reading well, we often note characters and storylines that include foraging or gathering wild herbs.
For example, in Elizabeth George Speare's The Witch of Blackbird Pond (part of Sonlight Core D which we just completed), one of the main characters regularly heads through the wilderness gathering medicinal herbs.
Even younger children might enjoy gathering greens and berries after reading a favorite picture book. In Beatrix Potter's The Adventures of Peter Rabbit, his mother doses him with chamomile tea when he comes home soaking wet (and missing a shoe.) And in Robert McCloskey's Blueberries for Sal, Sal isn't the only one searching for blueberries...
Other subjects to cover during your foraging adventures include science/biology, local history, wildcrafting and art, and geography.
How to Get Started Foraging
And before heading out to try foraging with kids young or old, make sure you have a few basic supplies. Depending on the season and where you live, these could include
- insect repellent
- a local area foraging or plant guide
- water bottles
- a knapsack, cloth bag or non-breakable container
- bear bell or bear spray
It's also a good idea to review the rules of foraging safely in your location.
Depending on where you live, you'll want to take note of some of the safety considerations when foraging with kids. In the north, we aren't the only ones looking for good things to eat. Lynx, porcupines, pine matters, and bears also have their eyes on wild berries and leaves. So go over your family's safety rules.
If you have toddlers or babies, look for a carrying option that leaves your hands free. When my kids were young I used a backpack-style baby carrier. It was easier than trying to manoeuver a stroller around over uneven rocky ground and tree roots.
If you live in the city and urban foraging, pay close attention to the bylaws. Some parks and areas have protected flora and fauna. This means you shouldn't pick them.
If you live in an area with freeways or highways, avoid foraging with kids along the shoulders. Firstly, it can be dangerous due to the high-speed traffic whizzing by. And secondly, do you really want to forage greens that grew up alongside all those stinky vehicle emissions?
And no matter where you head out foraging with your children, remember the following:
- Avoid trespassing
- Don't overpick in one area or you won't find anything left to forage next season!
- Review your local area wildlife and nature literature to identify poisonous plants, leaves, or flowers as well as dangerous wildlife BEFORE heading out. Do an internet search for "poisonous plants and mushrooms" + your local region, state/province.
How Do I Find Edible Wild Plants in My Area?
Use these tips to gather information on what you should and shouldn't gather in your neck of the woods.
- If you are new to plant identification, look for information on your local area edible wild plants, leaves, greens, and fruit that includes photographs or sketches. That will make it easier to identify exactly what you and your kids are looking at when you're out gathering.
- Try to team up with a more experienced forager. Ask your friends, neighbors, or elderly family members in the area. When we were trying to identify some berries growing in the nearby woods, I used my smartphone to snap a picture. Then I sent it to my friend Eileen who lives in town (Yellowknife) and she sent it to her mother-in-law. Within minutes I had my answer: they were soapberries. And yes, we will try to make soap with them one of these days!
- Check your local college or university agricultural, local history, or plant sciences extension office. They might have a print or digital brochures on local greens plus information on how they were used by the indigenous peoples and pioneers in your area.
- Do an Internet search for "edible wild plants" + your local area or state/province. In the United States, try the Library of Congress' Science Tracer Bullets online for national resources. Or if you are in Canada, Outdoor Canada Magazine has a great post on 15 Wild Plants You Can Eat. And Matter of Trust.Org has a big list of 62 Edible Wild Plants commonly found across North America, regardless of which side of the border you inhabit.
A Word About Backyard Foraging
Now as a mother of children ranging in age (at the moment) from 30 down to 6, I know that getting out foraging with kids on an afternoon hike isn't always doable. Some seasons of parenting make it challenging. Yet foraging adventures can happen right in your backyard. Put the baby down for a nap, set up that monitor, and head out your back door.
Wild blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cranberries, mulberries - what did I miss? If you go berry picking as a family, you're foraging. And that just might be one of the memories your children most cherish where they grow up. And getting your kids to eat healthy becomes easy when it means they get to snack on the berries they picked themselves.
No matter where you live, it's likely you'll find at least one form of chamomile. In our area, we get the variety that's also known as pineappleweed. Whether it's growing in your front yard, between the cracks on your driveway or wild in a field, chamomile makes great tea (remember, Peter Rabbit drank it!)
If you haven't yet discovered the many medicinal properties of plantain, it's time to dig in. This commonly found weed is anything but common.
Other Easy Edible Wild Plants to Forage
There are many, many other easy wild plants to forage across much of North America, Europe and Asia. Red clover, wild garlic, violets, elderflowers, lemon balm..the list goes on and on. Always remind your children to not pick or eat anything without checking with you first!
What wild edibles grow in your area? We'd love to hear from you in the comments below.