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  • Lisa Lombardo

How to Find Free Food by Urban Foraging

How to Start Urban Foraging

If you live in an urban area, you might feel kind of left out of the whole self-reliance movement. How much can you possibly do to increase your self-sufficiency in a city? Actually, there are quite a few things to try! I’ve grown little plots of veggies and herbs, joined a community garden, and picked up some awesome finds at farmers markets over the years. And before I even knew this was a thing, I started urban foraging. Who knew there were edible (and delicious!) weeds growing all over in the city? Me!

I taught myself to forage for wild edibles in the countryside where I grew up and I found plenty of the same plants growing in urban areas, too. As a kid, I would head out into the fields and woods with my Dad’s army survival guides to identify wild edible plants. The whole family joined in the autumn search for wild apples to make applesauce and cider. It was a fun way to grow up and I still enjoy foraging!

Learn How To Be An Urban Forager

Urban foraging is a great way to supplement the food you grow and buy. It gives you a good workout and you’ll get to know some of the wild plots of land in your neighborhood and surrounding areas. There are some important things to keep in mind before you head out to look for free food.

  • Take your cell phone and a buddy

  • Bring a plant identification guide and be sure to properly identify all plants before consuming

  • Do not trespass on private property

  • Learn to identify poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac as well as dangerous animals and insects

  • Always leave enough plants to repopulate their species

  • Do not harvest endangered plants or plants that provide food for endangered species of insects and animals

  • Don’t collect plants from manicured lawns that have been treated with synthetic chemicals

  • Steer clear of industrial sites, heavily trafficked roads, and areas around old buildings that may have lead paint

  • If you have any food allergies, be very careful about trying new foods… test a small amount first!

Always be safe and make sure someone knows where you will be. Take a trusty plant id guide, collection bags, sunscreen, natural insect repellent, and a fully charged cell phone.

Common Plants to Forage for in Urban Areas

This list may be different in your area because of your climate and USDA Plant Hardiness Zone. Check for foraging guilds and clubs nearby or purchase an edible wild plant guide that is specific to your area.

  • Dandelions

  • Lamb’s quarters

  • Burdock

  • Milkweed

  • Curly dock

  • Stinging nettles

  • Wild peppermint

  • Cattails

  • Plantain (not the banana relative)

  • Wild blackberries, raspberries, and thimbleberries

  • Wild apples, plums, pears, elderberries, and grapes

As you go for walks, keep your eyes open for edible wild plants in abandoned lots (make sure they are abandoned!), along bike paths, and in wild areas of parks. If you live near a rural area, you may have other opportunities for collecting wild edibles but be sure you aren’t trespassing or stealing someone else’s food source.


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