What Foraging Taught Me

6 quick tips from the land


If wild gooseberries aren’t in bloom or have too many thorns to bother with, look instead for nettles strewn across the wet earth. Collect them, carefully, and boil their stems and leaves back home. You may enjoy them, in soup or tea, or you may not, but at least you have used what the land offered.



Autumn pine nuts, heavy with calories, smell and taste like fuel. The frequent forager pays attention to what they eat. They understand what stimulates body and mind, and know how hunger can drain or motivate. The pursuit of energy can be a compass.



Bursts of bright orange rose hips could be anywhere depending on the year. Think about the season’s weather. Think about the rain, the sun, and where shade falls. Ask yourself, where would I grow today? Go there.  



There is food waiting all around you, even pine pollen in late spring. Look for the smaller, softer male cones, free of the females’ rigid scales. Tap them against your palm to release a cloud of pale powder. Amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes wait to be licked off your skin. 



Who can resist the elderberries that make the warblers sing? Lower your bucket, your purple-stained fingers. Listen. What connection, what joy foraging can give. 



When you know how to look, there is more than enough.


Intrigued? Read more about Michelle’s unconventional childhood, foraging wisdom,
and escape from an apocalyptic family cult in
Forager, now out in paperback.


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Michelle Dowd is a journalism professor and contributor to The New York TimesThe Los Angeles TimesThe AlpinistCatapult, and other national publications. Her popular Modern Love column in The New York Times inspired her memoir, Forager: Field Notes on Surviving a Family Cult, which showcases her life growing up on an isolated mountain in California as part of an apocalyptic cult, and how she found her way out of poverty and illness by drawing on the gifts of the wilderness.