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The Benefits of Mindful Foraging
Have you ever stopped by a hedgerow or patch of scrubland in late summer or early autumn to enjoy some wild blackberries, or stooped to savour the taste of a sunripe wild strawberry? If you have, then you have enjoyed a spot of foraging!
Sometimes there is a tendancy to think of foragers as electic, rebellious folks who tramp around the countryside with baskets, trowels and pruning scissors to return with their baskets and pockets overflowing with leaves, nuts, seeds, fruits, roots, shoots and fungi…
But even little moments like nibbling a blackberry in passing straight from the bush, can be considered foraging. And if done with mindfulness, can give us as many, if not more benefits than tramping with dogged and single-minded ‘foraging’ intention.
So, I thought it would be nice to pause a moment and consider some of the many benefits of foraging.
Foraging is enjoyable, relaxing and meditative
For me, I think one of the best reasons to engage in mindful (and spontaneous) foraging, is the sheer joy of finding something deliciously wild and edible and having been given the gift of that opportunity to enjoy its wildness and flavour.
Mindful foraging with intention is also enjoyable in a different way – it is fun and thrilling. A bit like playing a treasure hunt, where you must pay attention and use all your senses to find what you are seeking.
Once you find your treasure, whether it be sought after or spontaneous, touching and reaching out for the gift offered to you is therapeutic, relaxing and meditative in itself; requiring rapt concentration and focus to nose out the healthiest leaves or the biggest, juciest berries.
Foraging connects you to nature
When you forage, you connect. You recognise the plant, touch it, smell it and taste it and in this way you get to know it. In fact, often this is the closest we get to interacting with and getting to know our wild trees and plants.
Over time, if you are mindful, you get to know the plants throughout their life cycle and in the different seasons of the year. You see how they grow, mature and develop… How they change from seedling to young plant, to flowering plant and to seed heads.
If you are very, very mindful, you will find you knowledge growing as start getting to know their particular quirks and habits, dislikes and preferences too! You will begin to notice which plants like the sun and which like the shade, or which enjoy really damp soil.
Not only is it nice to connect so deeply with trees and plants by getting to know them in this way, but it also makes your future foraging experiences easier – you either know exactly where a particular specimen in growing, or you know what habitats you should be looking for to find the species you are after.
A few considerations when foraging
While it can be tempting to rush out and start foraging, it can be helpful to keep a few things in mind:
When first starting out, only aim to forage one or two specimens which you know you can identify with complete confidence. And, if you have any doubt about a plant’s identity whatsoever, seek the advice of someone who has botanical or foraging knowledge – it is better to be safe than sorry.
Always make you sure you have permission to forage on the land you intend to forage upon – sometimes foraging on public land such as nature reserves is forbidden. And remember not trespass upon private property. Also, before you pick anything, make sure there is no restriction or prohibition about picking that particular plant. Sometimes it might look like there is a lot of it – but there might only be a lot of it in that one location and it is actually scarce elsewhere.
Take only as much as you need for your own use and where possible, only harvest the parts of the plant that you need to use. For example, do not pull up the whole plant just to use the flowers, seeds or leaves. Follow the foraging rule of only harvesting from one in ten plants (for common plants) or one in one hundred plants (for less common plants).
Lastly, be aware of your surroundings and try not to foraging in dirty or polluted areas. If you are near running water, think about what might be upstream of that water… And, always be mindful of your plant’s neighbours too – you do not want to end up scratched or stung by briars or nettles while intently engrossed upon your target.