Originally published by Gina
The first “wild food” I remember foraging was Puffball mushroom. I found it while adventuring in the big woods by my parents’ lake home. I brought it home because I was amazed to find a mushroom the size of a soccer ball. One of our neighbors told us how to bread it, deep fry it, and my siblings and I ate it until we were sick.
Nowadays, I take my eldest son with me into the woods and I point out the edibles/medicinals. He knows not to just try anything he finds, but will proudly bring me dandelions and say, “Mommy, lets make dandelion jelly!” He’s had nettle tea, lamb’s quarter, chickweed, and wild plums he’s helped me gather.
He helps me find and collect wild raspberries and mulberries and shares in my excitement of discovering new plants in the woods or field. I teach him the cultural importance of both the natives and the exotic newcomers. He actually appreciates a lawn full of dandelions and will point them out to me as we are driving somewhere.
As part of this training I read him books aimed at young people on the topics of wild foraging, identification, survivalism, outdoor adventures, herbalism and gardening. However, it seems to me that there is a huge gap in books or written material aimed at children below Little House on the Prairie reading stage (he won’t sit still for that series yet). My son is a just-turned-six and reading is still slow and awkward. We look at pictures in my guidebooks (while I read the descriptions) and I plan on getting him some age-appropriate guide books eventually (we have a few already, but not one on edible or medicinal plants).
For me, I did not receive this training as a child even though my father surely must have known the importance of the edible and medicinal plants growing around him in the mountains. He never mentioned it, but I cannot imagine his mother or grandmother’s lives without imagining them foraging for wild flora. With eight children wandering about, someone must have shown them the difference between wild carrot and water hemlock. Like I said, my late father never mentioned it.
I want my sons to remember our time spent in nature, to be able to take their children into the woods and tell them how I showed them the difference between burdock and mayapple. I have hope they will automatically plant roses for medicinal or culinary reasons. I want them to know there is an intimacy between the herbaceous world and the human one. So much of what I know about foraging or the culture of plant use has been self-taught, squatting next to an unknown species and squinting through my guidebooks to find its identification. I am always mindful I could poison my family (or self) by a misidentification that I am sure I have missed some great wild foods. It certainly would have been so helpful to have been exposed to this as a child!
For now, my eldest and I stick to identifying and the uses of only the “easy” species: dandelion, nettles, mulberries, cattails, violets. We plant different species around the homestead and I tell them their major or minor uses. My main goal is to get him interested in learning more. Teach him to teach himself. Currently, with anticipation of warmer days, I am showing him through books and we are learning together.
Here are a few we are reading this winter:
- This is a new ‘zine geared towards children. I was the lucky guinea pig of a trial issue and both my son and I loved it! We read through it (and it is written with a slant towards children) fairly quickly. The games and stories are centered round a specific herb and have us eagerly waiting for spring to begin wild flora hunting. The first official issue just became available (Marshmallow!). (It also happens to be written by one of our writers here!)
- Golden Field Guide Series
- Peterson First Field Guides
The important thing, to me, is that children are sponges when it comes to learning. Exposing them now to the great outdoors will instill a connection that will not be severed into adulthood. Start your little naturalist out young and he or she will surely learn to love the time spent among the plants. They may even see dandelions as jelly instead of a weed that needs to be removed.