Pacific Feast

The recent resurgence of interest in wild-food foraging means that more people are identifying and picking edible plants to eat. While it's great that more people are interested in using these skills to live off the land or help survive in the wilderness, it's important to preserve nature's bounty. Just as Native Americans conserved the wild harvest for long-term sustainability, so too must modern hikers and foragers act as stewards to protect diversity and abundance in the wild wherever possible.

Remember, it's not only humans who eat this food. Birds and other wild animals, as well as the land itself, rely on the food found growing outdoors. Jennifer Hahn, in her book PACIFIC FEAST: A Cook's Guide to West Coast Foraging and Cuisine, has provided a handy mnemonic for proper foraging STEWARDSHIP.

Sustain native wild populations.
Tread lightly.
Educate yourself.
Waste nothing.
Assume the attitude of a caretaker.
Regulations and laws – follow them.
Don't harvest what you can't identify.
Share with wildlife.
Harvest from healthy populations and sites.
Indigenous people's traditional harvest sites deserve respect.
Pause and offer gratitude before you pick.

  • Sustain native wild populations. Wild plants face many challenges, including loss of habitat due to development and introduced species. If there are no official guidelines for sustainable harvesting where you live, use the "1-in-20 Rule". This means you should never harvest more than 5% of a particular plant or population of plants. Take a good look around the are you intend to harvest. If there are not at least 20 plants of the species you're after, don't take any whole plants. Use your best judgment in deciding to pick more or less.
  • Tread lightly. Be careful on land and intertidal shores to prevent negative impacts when you harvest. Don't trample other species or disturb animals. Spread out your harvesting over a large area by moving about carefully as you pick. A site where foraging has occurred should look natural – as if you've never been there.
  • Educate yourself. Learn how to identify edible plants, mushrooms, shellfish and seaweed, as well as poisonous look-alikes, in all phases of their life cycle. Study field guides and maybe take a field class in wild harvesting. Learn the difference between edible species that are native, introduced and invasive. Nonnative and invasive species can be harvested as much as you want, but native plants should be conserved.
  • Waste nothing. Take only what you need and can process (dry, can, freeze or otherwise use). If you don't need the whole plant, don't take the entire thing. There is an art to effective pruning. Learn how to remove plant parts without damaging roots, reproductive parts, or growth patterns. Good foraging skills should enable the plants to flourish so you can harvest for years to come.
  • Assume the attitude of a caretaker. Stewardship involves caring for and managing something entrusted to you. Assess the health of the harvest site before and after foraging -- and over time. Always make sure there are enough healthy plants left to create the next generation.
  • Regulations and laws -- follow them. Rules are created to prevent overharvesting. Get a license if needed. Submit required "catch" or "harvest" records so population size can be monitored for conservation. Different places have different rules, so make sure you are aware of the laws and regulations where you intend to harvest. Don't trespass on private property, but if you ask permission you may be able to forage as an invited guest.
  • Don't harvest what you can't ID. If in doubt, leave it to sprout! If you can't identify a specimen in the wild, take home a small cutting, photograph it, or make a sketch to help you ID it with other resources.
  • Harvest from healthy populations and sites. Harvest leaves, flowers, seeds and fruits from healthy, vibrant plants, and avoid diseased or insect-eaten ones. Also gather from healthy and unpolluted sites. Don't harvest too close to roads, industrial sites, power lines, railroads, fields and lawns unless you know their maintenance history.
  • Indigenous people's traditional harvest sites deserve respect. We depend on First Nations wisdom to help us understand what is edible and medicinal, and how to harvest sustainably and with respect. Please defer to First Nations peoples -- who use these traditional foods for both subsistence and ceremonial purposes -- when they are gathering in their time-honored locations. If need be, find a different place to forage.
  • Pause and offer your gratitude before you pick. There's a beautiful indigenous tradition that involves telling the plant or animal what you will use your harvest for and then leaving a gift. Foraging is a relationship of give and take. Consider your intentions and offer a few words of thanks for this wild food.

-- Adapted from PACIFIC FEAST: A Cook's Guide to West Coast Foraging and Cuisine by Jennifer Hahn, Skipstone, 2011

Download our free foraging recipes:

NORTHWEST FORAGING: The field mustard chapter includes, 3 delicious recipes, Raging River Mustard Seed Pod Soup, High-Energy Mustard Flower Salad Dressing, & Field Mustard Flower Buds and Cheese

PACIFIC FEAST: The dandelion chapter to learn how to roast dandelions. Recipes include Roasted Dandelion Root Ice Cream, Dandelion Syrup, and Grandma Lyda's Dandelion Wine

FAT OF THE LAND: Download the chapter "Pocketfull Of Kryptonite" with a bonus recipe for Cream Of Stinging Nettle Soup

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