I went out on this wonderfully cool Tuesday to do some maintenance on one of our letterboxing series, What Every Forager Needs in Scotland, Connecticut. I had a few reports of one of it's parts missing, and brought a replacement with me for #7: Shovel. I also checked on the logbook, and the series is doing great. Let's chat about this list of tools we use while foraging!
1. Gloves: We bring 2 sets of gloves with us when foraging, one is a heavy duty gardening glove set, the other is slightly rubberized. The heavy gloves are a bit bulky, but useful to push into berry thickets. The thinner, rubberized gloved provide excellent protection from nettle stings.
2. Containers: We save and re-use the plastic containers from the grocery store that you buy strawberries or mesclun mix in. They provide good protection for delicate berries, and keep you from mushing them up by piling them too deep.
3. Knife: Robert carries the knife. It is useful in cutting shoots from things like sumac, japanese knotweed, and cattails. He also uses it to cut open fruits for identification. I don't think it is anything fancy, but it is bigger than a pocketknife.
4. Water: We carry water for obvious reasons, like drinking, but also for washing roots and rinsing out our mouths if we taste something yucky. We use those stainless steel refillable bottles, and carry a few with us.
5. Magnifier: This tool comes in handy to positively identify certain edibles. Some wild foods have poisonous look-alikes, and the only way to distinguish the two is by looking for tiny hairs on stems, or holes in leaves. Milkweed shoots look exactly like dogbane shoots in spring, but one is very good to eat and the other will make you sick!
6. Bug spray: Mosquitoes and ticks can ruin anyone's hiking adventure. Deep, moist woods and marshes breed the mozzies, and open fields and grassy areas hide the ticks.
7. Shovel: We carry a small gardening shovel, one with a narrow, pointed tip. It is great to dig up roots, and we have used it to dig entire plants to bring home. Some people carry a folding camp shovel which has a much wider blade. Even Gillian carries a little toy shovel.
8. Books: We only carry a few books with us, but our library at home is growing. We have 35+ foraging books, some more herbal use and identification books, a bunch of cookbooks about wild edibles, and some preserving and jellying books for wild foods. Our favorite books that are worth the carrying weight are Samuel Thayer's two books "Nature's Garden" and "The Forager's Harvest". We also like Russ Cohen's lightweight book "Wild Plants I have Known. . . and Eaten". Another good guide with photos is "Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide" from Sterling Publishing. One of our favorites, even though it is an bit large and heavy is Steve Brill's "Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants".
9. Bag: This should be amended to "bags" since we will carry bags inside of bags. These usually cost very little in the way of weight, and we can always use more bags. We carry a few ziplocks, some plastic grocery bags, some paper bags, and some canvas or cloth bags. Ziplocks are good for dirty items like roots, so you can seal up the dirt before it gets everywhere. Plastic grocery bags are good for leafy items and bulky items. Paper bags are good for mushrooms, and things we will bring home to dry inside a paper bag anyway, like bay laurel leaves. Robert also sometimes uses a basket tied to his neck or waist to carry foods while picking, and will then dump the gathered food into a bag to bring home.
10. Mentor: We did not just one day decide we would go into the woods and eat leaves. Sometimes we would find something like blackberries and talk about how good they were, and one day we decided to try to find something Robert calls "bear onions", which I know as ramps. The species in Europe are different than what is found here, but the taste is the same. Then we got some books, and tried to find some classes, which led us to Wildman Steve Brill. We take walks with him when he is in western Connecticut, and have foraged in his classes in all seasons. Sometimes there is a chance to hear a forager speak at a library, or at a farmer's market. Next we need to try to find someone to show us some mushrooms! We like to walk with friends and casually identify plants with them, and most people we encounter show lots of enthusiasm and curiosity about edible plants, so perhaps one day we could be mentors for someone else.