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8 Tips to Get You Foraging for Food (Mushrooms, Parsnips and More!)

By AVA CHIN

There are few activities I love better than foraging for my own food -- a practice that goes back to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Finding wild edible mushrooms or plants puts me in connection with the land, plus, I know exactly where my food comes from. Unlike vegetables found in modern agriculture, wild weeds like lambs quarters and purslane are often higher in phytonutrients than their domesticated relatives, so foraging can be good for you as well.

Here are some helpful tips for any forager to add to their toolkit:

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1. Always keep an open mind.
Foraging for choice wild mushrooms like morels or maitakes is always a toss-up, even under optimal conditions, so it's best to keep your expectations realistic. If you can find pleasure in even a dandelion, which has edible leaves and blossoms and a root that can be used for tea, you'll never be disappointed.

2. Bring along a great foraging guide or app.
I've carried along a worn field guide edition of Euell Gibbons' "Stalking the Wild Asparagus" in my knapsack for years. I'm also not ashamed to admit that I purchased an iPhone just so that I could get the iPlant app.

3. Carry a digger or a blade.
You'll want to bring along something to help dig up root vegetables like burdock, dandelions and parsnips. Diggers don't have to be proper garden trowels -- I use an old deer antler that a friend found in the woods. And in the city, a box cutter works just as well as a knife to liberate wild mushrooms from dirt.

4. Keep extra paper and plastic bags handy.
You'll need plenty of these for your wild finds. Remember this general rule of thumb: Vegetables go into plastic bags, while mushrooms, which need air circulation, are best housed in paper.

5. Wear comfortable shoes that are appropriate for the terrain.
While I've gone on impromptu foraging walks in sandals, it's best to wear appropriate footgear for the situation. Keep in mind that poison ivy and ticks are prevalent in many areas, so if the terrain calls for pant legs tucked into long socks and hiking boots, do it!

6. Bring a magnifying glass.
This will help you to see whether those mushrooms are gilled or have pores and to closer inspect your edible finds.

7. Bring a  camera.
You never know when you'll happen upon a choice edible like a delectable bolete or a patch of wild ramps, so always pack a good camera or your camera phone for an impromptu flora-fungi-forager selfie.

8. Bring water and a snack (or two).
Never go out foraging while hungry because it could leave you prone to make some unwitting mistakes. I set out only after having eaten a good meal (leaving a little room for some select nibbling along the way). Your water bottle is also handy for rinsing off some of your wild veggies.

--Ava

Ava Chin is the author of "Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love and the Perfect Meal." A native New Yorker who learned to forage and fish in the city, she was the Urban Forager blogger for the New York Times. A professor of creative nonfiction and journalism at the City University of New York, she and her family forage for wild edibles throughout the country and in the U.K. She blogs at AvaChin.com.

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