Foraging: have fun like a child with muddy shoes

Living natures

After food pairing our guest editor, the food blogger Cristiana Grassi, is taking you to the wild. Today she talk about elements such as berries, herbs and fruits is probably the oldest subsistence activity in the world. Throughout several millions of years of evolution, plants have often been generous, accepting to be tamed. We learned how to cultivate our favorite ones and adapt them to our needs, but at the same time, we never stopped picking the wild ones. This was a pretty regular activity in western society until the first half of the 20th century, and it’s still common in other parts of the world.

Now we rediscover this old habit under a new name: foraging or, in other words, how wonderful is to leave home with a comfortable pair of shoes and a basket to stock up on food in the meadows and woods!

Foraging: have fun into the wild

Even though it may seem unbelievable to the most rabid citizens, here in Italy, in the 21st century, nature has still a lot to offer for free (with all that this definition entails). Obviously, it’s unwise to do it anywhere: I would avoid staying too close to the big cities, but we can already get great satisfaction from the first Alpine and Apennine slopes, lawns and secluded spots, abandoned spaces returned to a semi-wild state.

You feel an almost childish joy when you come back home with your arms full of herbs and fruits that can be instantly transformed in a good soup, a tasty side dish or a healthy and alternative dessert.

Never pick up what you don’t recognize

Warning: it’s equally clear that you can never, ever pick up what you don’t recognize with any certainty, starting with mushrooms. Besides that, many dangerous herbs look almost like some other ones that are good for cooking; several berries appear to be harmless fruits while they are full of toxins. So, if you don’t have an old, half-witch aunt to instruct you, it’s better to follow some experts’ advice or get manuals and guides before starting. Otherwise, just make a trip to pick chestnuts, blackberries and prickly pears: that’s a good example of “simple” foraging with the advantage that it’s impossible to confuse them with something else.

"FORAGING or, in other words, how wonderful is to leave home with a comfortable pair of shoes and a basket to stock up on food in the meadows and woods!"

Living Nature


Respect the natural environment

I learned how to harvest spontaneous herbs in recent years; when I lived in a metropolis I just looked for chestnuts and mushrooms during my ski vacations. Now in springtime, you can find me armed with a pocket knife to “do the shopping” in the meadows, after crossing drywalls and socializing with sheep and dogs. In the evening, this spoil is immediately turned into soups, pancakes, salads (do you know the delicious wild arugula?) and seasonings; the wild fruits become jams and sauces. If you are looking for inspiration, you can find many ideas by visiting the archive of my blog L’Orata Spensierata.

Foraging, respect the natural environment

Anyway, always keep in mind one thing: respect the natural environment. Even if you find a field of wild chards and you feel very hungry, don’t pick them all, but always leave at least half of the plants: there will surely be animals eating them and then they need to complete their life cycle to grow again in the following season.

Since foraging became a la mode in the last few years, many chefs are practicing it around the world and there are several publications, books, and articles on this activity. For a first rough idea, you can take a look at Valeria Mosca’s website Wood*ing or at the Canadian site Edible Wild Food, keeping in mind that you can only get theoretical lessons there because the edible European flora is different from the American one. If you want the concreteness of a book I recommend you Cooking with wild herbs by the Swiss chef Meret Bissinger: it’s a treasure trove of information, tips and excellent recipes with beautiful illustrations.

Cristiana Grassi aka Orata Spensierata