How to eat food you find on the ground (in nature)
Want to impress your GMO free, paleo-vegan, but pescatarian-on-Tuesdays friend? Or do you want to freak them out by pulling plants out of the ground, snapping off tree-bits, and eating them? Perhaps you want to save money on the ridiculous cost of living in the Bay Area by abandoning grocery shopping altogether and living off the free food of the Earth. This is the guide is for you. We’ll show you what local plants to munch on as a snack and even some new recipes to take to your next yoga "green food" picnic retreat.
Since you’ve gotta go into nature to find these natural plants, it’s also the perfect excuse to go camping! And if you wanna cook with any of your foraged-finds, you can rent everything you need from stoves to cookware from your local Sports Basement. Don’t forget to check out our rental packages to get everything you need for cooking & eating at basecamp.
While foraging for edible plants is fun and tasty, you must be absolutely, positively, 100% sure that you’ve identified the right plant and that it’s edible. Check out Forage SF or Trackers Bay, for more information and to sign up for guided tours where experts can help you identify the good grub and keep you away from non-edible plants & imposters.
Remember to eat everything in moderation! While eating some of these foraged treats is perfectly healthy, some of them maybe make you feel sick if you eat too much of them (we’re talking huuuge amounts of ‘em). Be sure to ask an expert to know how much to eat.
Be aware of where you’re foraging your food from. Some places including parks and urban gardens will spray herbicide, pesticides, and other not good -cides and you definitely don’t want to eat plants that have those. If you’re not sure, it’s best to move on to greener pastures (ha!).
You can find these plants in many Bay Area parks & forests but they all have different rules and regulations regarding plant picking & collection. Make sure you know the rules before you pick!
Douglas Fir Tips
Where to find: Coniferous forests like those found on Mt. Tam, near Russian River, & Pt. Reyes.
How to identify: Look for very bright green plant growth on the tips of Douglas Fir trees. They’ll smell like citrus (and taste even better).
How to pick: Just pop off the tips like berries and chew ‘em. Be sure to only grab them from the sides of the trees not the tops of saplings as this can stunt their growth.
How to eat: These little herbs have a wonderful, citrusy, and floral taste to them. You can throw them into sauces, add them as a garnish, or as food blogger, Forager Chef does, make fir tip ice cream!
Where to find: Miner’s lettuce lives in a huge variety of places including forests and even urban areas. It generally prefers cool, damp conditions. Search for it at your favorite park, hiking trail, and even your backyard!
How to identify: The leaves are large and round, they look almost like lily pads. They have a stem in the middle with either pink or white flowers blooming at the top.
How to pick: Pluck them out of the ground by the lower stem (you wanna be sure to get the round leaves). You can eat them with the flowers on if the stems are short enough. It’ll also make you look even more botany savvy.
How to eat: All you have to do after you pick them is wash them and use them as a base for your next salad! How’s that for a gourmet salad at basecamp?
Fun fact: The original miners of the Gold Rush in 1949 ate these greens to prevent scurvy which is where they got their name!
Where to find: You’ll find this plant in (surprise) redwood forests! The tannins in the soil are what allows this tasty green to grow.
How to identify: Redwood Sorrel has heart shaped leaves that are folded and grow in groups of three, like clover. You may also see little purple or white flowers growing throughout the plant.
How to pick: Pick off the little clover formations but make sure you remove the stems since those are tough and bitter.
Season: Spring & Summer
How to eat: Redwood sorrel tea is delicious but if you’re looking to show them off a bit more, try making this tasty mango and redwood sorrel salad. You can’t buy that kind of fanciness at Whole Foods, just sayin’.
Fun (and important) fact: Make sure you don’t eat them in large quantities (don’t make them your daily lunch salad, for example) since they contain oxalic acid which can prevent your body from properly absorbing the calcium it needs.
Where to find: Everywhere! These little weeds are tough and live everywhere from sidewalk cracks to your favorite meadows. Just make sure that no herbicide or pesticides are sprayed where you pick them.
How to identify: These flowers are probably very familiar! They’ll have round, bright yellow flowers, and slightly pokey stems. The leaves will be lobed and low to the ground.
How to pick: You can pop them right out of the ground with or without the root.
How to eat: Dandelions are a plant that you can use from root to tip! Make some dandelion root coffee, add the leaves to your salad, and even make fried dandelion heads!
Fun Fact: Dandelions are an invasive species in California, so don’t feel the least bit bad throwing them into a frying pan.
Where to find: Fennel has done extremely well in most of California. It’s native Italian roots mean that it thrives in Mediterranean climates (which we just so happen to have) so you’ll really find it everywhere. We’ve seen it on many a dog-walk around Alameda.
How to identify: Look for light, feathery green stems and leaves as well as small yellow flowers. A sure-fire way to identify this herb is by sniffing it! Rub your fingers along the green stems and then sniff your hand. Do you smell a strong licorice scent? That’s most likely fennel!
How to pick: Once you find a stock snip off a branch or two of the fronds or pick one with a flowering head so you can collect the fennel seeds.
Season: Spring & Early Summer
How to eat: Add dried fennel or fennel seeds to any recipe that calls for it or get creative with the licorice-like stalks. How does fennel pesto sound?
Glasswort AKA Sea Beans AKA Pickleweed
Where to find: This native plant goes by many names and can be found in marshes along the coast of California including the Bay Area.
How to identify: Along the edges of marshes, look for little asparagus-looking plants sticking up. They should be a bright green and should look like a stack of little beans. They’re really quite adorable.
How to pick: Pick off only the higher ends of the stalks avoiding the red-looking ones (those are very salty). You want the newest, most tender parts of the plant.
Season: Winter to Spring
How to eat: These can be the star of their own sea bean salad or a great addition to your stir-fry, pasta, etc. Just make sure you blanch them since they’re a little tough to clean thoroughly and it’ll help preserve that beautiful green color when you’re eating them. Also, don’t add any salt since they already have a ton of it naturally!