Wild food is growing all around us, even in the city. During the past year we’ve done a lot of urban foraging and brought home bushels of free food! See what we found.
It’s truly incredible how much free food you can find if you just take the time to look around. I bet you even have some edibles growing in your backyard right now!
What Is Urban Foraging?
Urban foraging means seeking and harvesting edibles that grow in the wild. Hunting and gathering for food is an old-fashioned idea, but it is also a great way to get outside, and connect with nature, and learn about edible foods around us.
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Tips for Foraging in the City
Get Permission: Do not trespass on private property. Instead ask permission to forage and be respectful. Some public areas are forage-friendly, while others all out ban foraging. Learn the local rules on foraging in public areas and follow them.
Avoid areas that have been sprayed with insecticides, pesticides, or pollution. Power lines, public parks, roadsides are all places to stay away from.
Be Safe While Foraging: There are many toxic, and even deadly, plants in the world. Whenever you forage, do not eat anything, or even taste it, unless you are 100% sure it is absolutely safe. Know what grows in your area and when, take a foraging class, and bring a foraging id book with you.
Be Respectful: No matter weather you are foraging in a friend’s backyard, or in a forage-friendly city park, respect the area and other people around you. Don’t trample on plants, be obnoxiously loud, leave trash, or break branches. You should leave the land just as you found it.
Don’t Over Forage: The whole point of foraging is to live a more sustainable life. Only take a small amount of what you find and leave the rest behind to grow and set seeds for next season.
What We Found Foraging In The City!
We found the following foods on our property, in friends’ backyards, and in parks all over the city. Eating wild foods cut down on our grocery bill, and was a lot of fun too! Finding free food is almost like finding buried treasure.
Foraged Wild Greens
Wild greens are best when they are foraged young. The foliage is less bitter and more tender. Choose healthy looking plants, and snip only a few leaves from each plant. This will allow to plant to continue to grow. Greens make a great addition to a mixed green salad.
It’s no mystery that dandelions grow in abundance practically everywhere. Since we’ve never sprayed for weeds on our property, we have an unbelievable number of them that pop out of the soil every summer.
It blew my mind when I went to the grocery store and saw dandelion greens selling next to the lettuce for $4 a pound. I heard someone wonder out loud what they were. I wanted to say; “Those are those weeds growing for free in your yard, that you pay someone $50 a month to come spray with pesticides so they’ll go away. Yes, those very same plants. You could walk out your back door and pick them yourself, saving you gas, time, and money.”
The leaves of the dandelions are great in salads. In fact you’ll frequently find them included in fancy mixed green salads at restaurants. They’re high in vitamins and great fiber! The leaves are also great sautéed and turned into pesto.
Who knew you could eat these pesky little pests? They’re even more invasive in our yard than the dandelions!
These adorable little weeds are best eaten young. They can be sautéed with butter or tossed into a salad. They’re utterly delicious, it’s a wonder more people don’t know they’re edible!
Decades ago, someone planted an herb garden in our backyard. I found the remains of it when clearing weeds and leaves out. Bricks bordered the once loved herb patch and plant markers with the words “Pineapple Mint” and “Lemon Basil” were found buried in the leaves. Only the pineapple mint decided to stick around, as mint so often does.
We find it popping up all over the yard every season. It’s a delightful addition to lamb roasts, and morning tea. There’s so much it every season that we end up dehydrating big handfuls of it to use over the winter, and what’s left goes to the chickens for a healthy snack.
Chives are perennials and pop up in backyards and parkland all across the United States and Canada. My parents had wild chives growing in their backyard. As kids, we used to make it into onion soup and try to feed it to the dog. He was much too intelligent to fall for that nonsense, and we after tasted it, we understood why!
As an adult I’ve come to realize just how delicious and versatile this wild food can be. We toss bits of it into salads, chop it up to top potatoes, add it to homemade dressings, and pop it into soups and marinades.
Garlic Mustard is everywhere, to the point that it’s become an invasive species in many parts of the country. We found it growing in abundance around my parents’ house, and jumped at the opportunity to bring down the population a bit.
We chopped the fresh leaves up in the food processor and added lemon, olive oil, and spices to make a zesty pesto.
This glorious weed pops up all over our lawn. It grows heartier than the grass! Plantain is finding new recognition as a miracle plant. It’s chock full of vitamins and can be eaten raw or cooked. It can also be mashed up and used to treat wounds, stings, and bites.
Foraged Fruit, Berries, and Other Delights
Foraging for wild berries is a lot of fun. They’re easy to find and identify, very abundant, and of course tasty. Search and identify berries mid-summer and make a note to return late summer into fall to harvest.
Teeny, bright red wild strawberries pop up on the ground in June in parks all across the city. These are a treasure to find and are sweeter than sweet. The flavor is much bigger and bolder than that of those giant mutant grocery store strawberries. We look forward to them every summer and eat these fresh off the plant.
Our darling friend took us on a foraging expedition in the city where we found serviceberries bushes in a large park. Serviceberries are also known as saskatoon berry, Juneberry, and shadbush. We picked the berries for hours, more ended up in our mouths than ended up in our baskets. They tasted like a mix between a blueberry and a plum. We used them to bake muffins and tossed them into smoothies.
In the same city park, we found wild fox grapes climbing the fences and trees. We picked them by the bushel, harvesting over 10 pounds in only an hour. People looked at us like we were nuts. We turned them into grape juice and grape jelly
Who’s nuts now, strangers?! Probably still me, but whatever.
There’s a great big mulberry tree growing in the atrium of our local hospital. It’s only about a mile from our house. This tree gets so weighed down with fruit in the high season it dumps the juice-filled berries all over the walkway. We considered it a service to society to pick as many mulberries as we could fit into our buckets. We also managed to fit some into our bellies as well.
Raspberries grow like weeds in the backyards of many of our friends. There were several days over the summer spent sitting around a campfire, sipping on beers, and leisurely picking raspberries to stuff in our mouths. We also turned them into ice cream with our delightful ice cream churner attachment for the mixer!
Wild blueberry patches can be found almost anywhere in New England. The plants thrive in the acidic soil and spread from underground rhizomes. They tend to be found in dry, open ground, sunny meadows, down dirt roads, and along hiking trails.
We love eating them fresh, freezing them to enjoy in baked goods, and blueberry syrup.
I don’t know if you’d consider collecting maple sap to be foraging, but I sure do. Maple trees aren’t cultivated or cared for, they just reside in our yard and their sap is there for the taking in the spring. We make syrup from our two maple trees every spring, it’s the best syrup we’ve ever tasted!
Throughout all of autumn we harvested black walnuts falling from trees in our yard and pouring onto sidewalks all over the neighborhood. I bashed them between rocks in the backyard to remove the husks, much like my cave woman ancestors would have.
Our terrified neighbors stared at me through their windows, but what else is new? It’s just the crazy lady, bashing nuts in her bathrobe again.
I’m so excited that spring is finally here, and we can once again harvest the fruits of the land. Hopefully we’ll find some new plants this year!
DISCLAIMER: This post is not a guide to foraging and doesn’t include information on how to identify these edible weeds for a reason. There are many guides both online and in books to help you identify wild edibles, use them (cross reference at least three!) to be absolutely sure you have positively identified a plant before eating it. This post is meant for educational purposes to open your eyes to the world of food sitting right in your backyard. If you do choose to go foraging for weeds, it would be wise to take along someone who knows how to positively identify them, or several foraging guidebooks to help you make a proper identification.