Sustainable Foraging Practices in Western Mass
“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.” - Mahatma Gandhi
Foraging of edible vegetables, fruits, fungi, herbs, and nuts where they occur naturally inspires connection with the natural world. Every spring, we go to the woodlands of the region in search of what nature has in store. From the inner peace we receive being "alone" in the woodlands, to the plethora of wild creatures with which we cross paths, to the abundance of food surrounding us, we are ever learning how much our local forests can provide. This week, we asked our multi-discipline guide Zhem Behr about what responsible foraging looks like and how we can explore the abundance of nature without disturbing or interfering with the health and wellbeing of the local wildlife that we so love.
"I've lived most of the past 30 years in the Pioneer Valley. The woodlands here are very much like woods I grew up near in upstate NY. And the roadsides are similar too. I've become familiar, through various methods, with the abundance nature has to offer. It isn't hard to find wild edibles, both in the wooded hillsides and along the roads we travel. As time has passed, our climate and environments have undergone changes which are both noticeable markers, and an opportunity to delve into the action of cleaning up and helping nature fight back.
What I am talking about is invasive species.
Dandelions have always been an interest, and they invade every kind of lawn and landscape out there. Japanese knotweed chokes out the edges of our waterways. Sheep sorrel crowds out grasses in lawns that are depleted from overfertilizing or poor soil. Day lilies fill wet roadside ditches. Stinging nettle takes hold in shady waste places and becomes a nuisance. Mustard takes hold in damp fields and abandoned gardens. Lambs' quarters - or Pigweed - in the Amaranth family will invade and encase a useful pile of composted manure in a single season.
And yet, these are all edible, quite tasty, and good for us to eat - if we get them at just the right time! Spring is the prime season to become familiar with these and other species of wild edibles and is a great time to set out to add more greens and roughage to your diet, thin out the invasives, and help nature do a bit of spring cleaning.
In terms of sustainable foraging practices, one has to think about how much of any given edible plant is available. While it is fun to find difficult-to-locate tasty wild edibles, there are invasive species we can forage to our hearts content without doing any damage. Invasive species are problematic. They are at the forefront of climate change, and they are often choking out native species. So, while making it a mindfulness practice to only take a small amount of some of the not-so-abundant species of plants, we neglect nature's own call for our help to remove the invaders. Thus, my focus this spring is on invasive species, such that there is no taking too much."
- Zhem Behr
Stay tuned for Zhem's list of edible plants that you might encounter on your next expedition into the forest!