Curious About Foraging? Start With These 5 Expert Tips

July 6, 2022

The next time you step into a forest—or simply your local park—pause for a moment and let your senses take over. What do you pick up on? The sing-song calls of birds? The earthy aroma of cut grass? The feeling of the breeze on your skin?

Nature is teeming with life, and you don’t have to venture too far off the beaten track to experience it—you just have to pay attention. That’s what the practice of gathering wild food known as foraging is all about: appreciating the many gifts of the natural world that surround you, wherever you are. 

On a misty morning in Los Angeles last month, we were lucky enough to get a lesson in foraging from Danielle Ryan Broida, a registered herbalist (RH-AHG) and Associate Brand Manager at Four Sigmatic. Below, she shares her five top tips for anyone curious about what’s growing in their backyard.

What is Foraging?

Foraging is the ancient practice of gathering food that is growing naturally in the wild. You can forage for all kinds of things, from fungi to flowers, fruits to vegetables, roots to herbs. 

While our hunter-gatherer ancestors survived in large part by foraging, the average modern human is unlikely to be able to obtain all the food they need this way. Aside from subsistence, foraging is a powerful way to get in touch with nature and absorb the wisdom it has to offer. “There’s a magic that happens when you step into a forest,” Broida reflects. “It invites us almost instantly to surrender to ourselves and our surroundings. It inspires creativity, demands groundedness, and invokes an age-old sense of connection to everything around us.” 

5 Foraging Tips for Beginners

Spending time in nature has well-documented benefits, and foraging is a great way to do it. If you’re ready to get started, start with these five tips. 

  1. Stay safe.

This tip might seem obvious, but it’s by far the most important: When foraging, do not eat anything you can’t identify. Discovering edible plants and fungi is surely part of the fun of foraging, but many species are toxic if ingested. (Particularly when you’re just getting started, it’s a good rule of thumb to look but don’t touch—or eat.) With time, experience, and a few essential tools, your ability to identify plants and fungi that are safe to eat will improve, which brings us to our next tip…

  1. Be prepared. 

If you’re serious about foraging, you’ll want to start assembling a toolkit. Broida’s includes:

  • A small magnifying glass for getting an up-close look at plants and fungi
  • An X-acto knife for precisely cutting and removing items you find (which is recommended over pulling them out)
  • A basket or bag with holes in it for anything you collect; this allows mushroom spores to distribute and eventually grow again
  • A small brush to remove dirt from your specimens 
  • Field guides to help you identify your finds. Broida’s favorite is “All That the Rain Promises and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms” by David Arora. She also recommends this organization for those in the Los Angeles area, and checking out the local mycological society wherever you live. (“You’d be surprised—most cities have one!” Broida says.)

Here are a few more tips for a successful forage:

  • Wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty
  • Dress in layers
  • Protect yourself from the sun with a hat, sunscreen, and protective clothing
  • Wear waterproof boots (Broida likes Xtratufs)
  • Bring water and a snack
  1. Get grounded. 

It’s important to start any foraging adventure in the right mindset. When we went foraging with Broida, she led our group in a brief meditation at the trailhead, intended to help us ground ourselves, quiet our thoughts, and commit to the experience with open minds. 

“Mushrooms are mysterious,” Broida says. “I’ve found that the more you try to find them, the more they hide themselves from you.” The key, she explains, is in opening yourself to any possibility; you may find lots of what you set out for, or none at all. “When you have fully surrendered to [mushrooms] being in equal control as you, [that’s] when they rear their heads (or fruiting bodies, more accurately).”

Broida advises taking a few moments to clear your mind and be present before beginning any forage or mushroom hunt. “I give gratitude for the privilege to be in a forest,” she adds.

  1. Know where (and when) to look.

Once you start looking, you might be surprised at how many edible plants and fungi are growing all around you. That said, Broida notes, early spring and late fall tend to be the best times for mushroom foraging, though it really depends on what you’re looking for and where you live. (In Los Angeles, where we went foraging with Broida, the best time to find functional mushrooms is during the rainy period of November and December.) 

Once you’re out in the woods, keep your eyes peeled. What might look like nothing more than tree bark at first glance could be a stand of fungi when you get closer. Pay special attention to decaying wood (which mushrooms like to hang out beneath) and in damp areas.  

On our foraging trip, we managed to find a few small turkey tail mushrooms (one of the varieties found in Four Sigmatic’s Golden Latte Mix) and a number of edible plants, including fennel and burdock. 

  1. Take only what you need.

This is a good rule of thumb whenever you’re enjoying nature: tread lightly. “When foraging for plants, I always recommend finding the biggest stand of that species and taking less than 10% of it,” Broida says. This ensures the species will continue to grow for years to come—and leaves some for other foragers, too.

Foraging is in many ways the ultimate expression of sourcing food sustainably and eating locally, and it’s a practice that can impart valuable lessons (even if you still get your groceries the modern way). For Broida, foraging is a ritual of releasing expectations and experiencing connectedness with nature. And while learning to identify plants and fungi is educational, it has a spiritual aspect too. “The feeling of being alone yet surrounded by so many other living beings…it’s mystical,” Broida says. “Don’t trust me; please go see for yourself!”

Experience Functional Mushrooms with Four Sigmatic

While there are no guarantees with foraging, Four Sigmatic products always contain genuine, high-quality functional mushrooms and adaptogenic plants. 

Four Sigmatic Mushroom Ground Coffee: Lion’s mane and chaga mushrooms in this organic, dark-roast coffee may help ease caffeine jitters.

Four Sigmatic Mushroom Blend Mix: With 10 immunity-supporting mushrooms, this potent powder can be easily added to smoothies, coffee, and other recipes.

Four Sigmatic Plant-Based Protein with Superfoods: Get your protein fix plus a boost of functional mushrooms and adaptogens with this all-in-one blend.

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before changing your diet or healthcare regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. Thrive Market does not represent or warrant that the nutrition, ingredient, allergen, and other product information on our website is accurate or complete, since this information comes from the product manufacturers. On occasion, manufacturers may improve or change their product formulas and update their labels. We recommend that you do not rely solely on the information presented on our website and that you review the product’s label or contact the manufacturer directly if you have specific product concerns or questions.

This article is related to:

Adaptogens, Coffee, Healthy Drinks, Herbs

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Kirby Stirland

Kirby Stirland is a writer, editor, and New York transplant living in Los Angeles.

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