Take a Taste of the Wild Side with These Foraged-Food Adventures
We’ve found seven tourism operators to help you dine off the eaten path, at home and abroad
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Foraging went mainstream during the pandemic with influencers like @blackforager and @outdoorcheflife showing people how to decipher the edible world around them. Now that many of us are free to roam, tour operators are eager to show off the trailside snacks in their neck of the woods.
“There’s been an uptick in people who are offering this type of tour,” says Allison Keeney, the global communications manager for Travel Oregon. “It’s an added way for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy local trails and connect with the local landscape, similar to bird-watching.”
Wild food tourism existed pre-COVID, but it can thank 2020 for trending. Oregon, for example, has touted its foraging tours, festivals and restaurants for years, and ‘foraging with a specialist’ is among the most popular food tour experiences requested worldwide, according to a 2015 survey of tour operators.
But “during the pandemic, when we were in familiar surroundings quite permanently… we were looking for ways to engage with familiar landscapes in different ways,” says Anna de Jong, a senior lecturer at the University of Glasgow who has researched the rise of foraging tourism in the UK. As we return to traveling, foraging “allows people who are unfamiliar with the landscape or place to really engage with that place in a meaningful way.”
“Foraging turns travel into a giant edible scavenger hunt,” says chef Alan Bergo, star of the James Beard award-winning travel foraging series Field, Forrest, Feast and author of the book The Forager Chef’s Book of Flora. “Every year when I go to Arizona, I bring back edible souvenirs” like “barrel cactus that look like pineapples.”
Why You Shouldn’t Forage Alone
Foraging guides and experiences are a great way to explore what flavors nature has to offer without breaking laws and risking your life. Experienced foragers are familiar with legal foraging areas and know when to stop picking so the land isn’t stripped of natural resources. Not only that, but guides will keep you from making mistakes such as wandering away from the trail, picking the wrong plants and eating too much along the way.
What You Need to Know Before Foraging: Packing the Right Gear, Identifying Species, and Harvesting Techniques
Essential Foraging Clothes and Tools
Travelers should dress for conditions they’ll be foraging in, whether that means galoshes, a sunhat, or both. Tools of the trade include scissors or a knife to cut the plants, a bag or basket to carry them, and field guides to spot-check species identification.
We recommend first and foremost durable gloves for safe foraging. Goatskin leather gloves are great for protecting against needles, brambles and thorns. Another gear essential to pack is a compact shovel for underground edibles like wild potatoes, leeks and burdock root. Make sure to also pack pruning shears and a pruning knife to make short work of cutting stalks and vines.
Identifying Poisonous Plants
Anyone looking to forage on the go should familiarize themselves with what plants are edible and in-season at their destination, as well as collection regulations and proper harvesting methods. Enthusiast Facebook groups, local mycological (mushroom) societies, field guides and Department of Natural Resource (DNR) websites are great places to gather information about the where and when of wild edibles, and how to identify dangerous plants.
Many wild plants look like food but are toxic. For example, a southeastern wild plant called Horsenettle looks almost identical to a green tomato but is extremely poisonous. Similarly, toxic pokeweed, often found nestled on the edge of forests, could easily be mistaken for blueberries. Study the poisonous wild plants most confused as edible plants and if ever in doubt, pass on foraging.
Harvesting Edible Plants Efficiently and Sustainably
Learn sustainable collection techniques, such as how to cut plants so they will grow back instead of pulling them out at the root. DNR websites can also provide information about the location’s foraging rules and regulations—many state parks, for example, prohibit plant collection.
Get a Guide
All this preparation is expedited if you hit the trail with a guide. “Learning from an expert in the field is hands down the fastest, easiest way to learn plants in your area,” says Bergo.
Here are seven operators that will do just that, both in the U.S. and overseas.
U.S. Foraging Experiences
Asheville, North Carolina
Run by one of the world’s leading foraging education companies, this 3-hour Foraging Tour ($77) includes a guided collection experience near central Asheville and the option to end with a meal at a partner restaurant that cooks your ‘catch’ into the appetizer. The exact location depends on the season and weather conditions. What you’re likely to bag in the Blue Ridge Mountain meadows and woods varies by season, with more than 500 edibles available throughout the year. Plants and mushrooms are the main focus of this tour; truffle tours are coming in 2023.
San Francisco, California
Learn how to rummage along the shore with a Mega Low Tide Foraging Expedition ($125). Led by Kirk Lombard, commercial fisherman and author of The Sea Forager’s Guide to the Northern California Coast, participants learn how to gather food from San Francisco’s mud flats—including clams, urchins and seaweeds—and to ‘poke-pole’ for local species like monkeyface eels and rockfish. The takeaway from this course is skills, not snacks, but participants with a valid California fishing license are welcome to apply the lessons in the field right after the course. These tide-dependent tours are usually held once or twice a month. Private tours for up to 15 people are $1,125.
Wander through the woods of northeast Georgia with Wildcraft’s 2-hour Plant & Fungi Foraging Walk guided by a plant identification expert (starting at $200). Seasonal finds include branch lettuce and wild garlic in the spring, or wild mountain mint and chanterelles in the summer. If plants can be collected during the tour depends on abundance. Those looking end to the tour with a meal can book the Foraging Walk & Wild Foods Tasting Picnic, which includes a three-course, chef-prepared meal in the backcountry at the end of the walking tour (starting at $300). Tour participants can choose between touring the Foxfire Museum and Heritage Center or the Terra Incognita Vineyard; wine tastings can be added to tours that start at the vineyard ($15). Private tours start at $200.
New York Tri-State Region
Take a taste of the concrete jungle with any of Brill’s urban park tours, part of his tri-state foraging tours which run on weekends and holidays from March to December (suggested adult donation $20). Brill, who has led foraging tours since 1982, is the author of Foraging New York and Identifying Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not so Wild) Places. What you’ll look for depends on the season—in summer his Central Park tour might include peaches, chicken mushrooms and wild spinach, while in the late fall he’ll scour the same park for roots like sassafras (used to make root beer) and enoki mushrooms. Private tours typically run from $450 to $550.
International Foraging Tours
Sample Scotland’s seaweeds, sap, succulents, herbs, mushrooms and more with Mark Williams, who leads walking tours (adult £85; child £45) and multi-day forage-and-camp kayak adventures (£575). “When people come on my walks, I like to send them away with a full belly to enhance what we learned, so they get a little picnic box full of foraged Galloway stuff,” such as fermented wild garlic, mushroom tart, pickled chanterelles and dehydrated crab apples, he says in a video interview about the business. Private tours are available for up to 12 people at £125 an hour, plus mileage, for a minimum of three hours.
Eastern Jutland, Denmark
Make your own gin when you collect juniper berries with Svend Hamann, an outdoorsman of more than 30 years who leads group foraging tours part-time outside the city of Aarhus. He can help you search for botanicals (think herbs or other berries) to flavor the drink, and sends you home with a wild tipple that will be ready in a few days time. Hamann’s tours (about $400, typically a 10 person minimum) vary seasonally—his other winter experience is oyster foraging—and it’s recommended you reach out at least two weeks in advance. Custom trips can be arranged.
Try Italian food with a Tasmanian twist with Mic Giuliani, forager and chef of Sirocco South. Small group tours ($330) start in the morning with coffee and end with a six-course meal overlooking Frederick Henry Bay. Giuliani and his team personally turn your foraged finds—such as asparagus, mushrooms and saltbush—into dishes like wild mushroom pate and stuffed lamb breast with a weed salsa verde before pairing them with wine from the local Bream Creek Vineyard.