The Four Golden Rules
Many parents are very reluctant to start foraging with their kids due mostly to the concern that their little angel may eat something they shouldn't! This is a very legitimate fear, but with a few simple precautions you can manage and avoid this quite easily. These Four Golden Rules will help you manage and overcome this fear, along with understanding your other responsibilities when it comes to your child's safety whilst foraging, including being aware of your surroundings at all times, and knowing what to do in the event of an emergency.
“Never eat, or let your kids eat, something you cannot identify with one hundred percent certainty”
This is the biggest foraging rule, which should never, ever be broken. People are often very surprised to learn just how many toxic plants and fungi exist in the UK. From Bluebells and Daffodils, to Yew trees and the aptly named, Death Cap mushroom, there is a multitude of toxic species that at best, could give you a rash, or make you a little queasy, and at worst, make you seriously ill, or even kill you. That being said, death rates from plant toxicity in the UK are extremely low, with the most recent figures from the Office For National Statistics indicating that only 5-6 people die from ingesting toxic plants per year. Out of a population of 68 million, that's pretty good going!
Despite the rarity of death, it's still absolutely essential that we don't take a cavalier attitude to foraging and just eat anything that looks tasty (as many things do), as they could still make you and your loved ones ill! Always ensure you know what you're harvesting and if in doubt, absolutely DO NOT eat it.
Three of the four items pictured below are deadly poisonous - do you know which? Precisely! Never Munch on a Hunch!
“Be responsible for, and manage your child's safety at all times”
When I'm out foraging with Arthur, his safety has to be my top priority. It's sometimes really easy to forget that he is only three, and will do things that any three year old will do, like forget instructions, get distracted, quickly lose interest, be mischievous, wander off, and be tempted to put anything and everything in his mouth, especially if they look delicious, which many things often do (even those that are not meant for gobbling)!
I've found the best approach for managing this, and other risks when out and about foraging (such as roads and rivers), is exactly like you have done with other hazards in and around your home. At some point, you had to allow your little person to climb on the couch, or traverse the stairs, or avoid radiators, small toys, cleaning cupboards, upstairs windows, the washing machine, and the road at the end of your drive. You managed these risks using a combination of explaining, instructing, supervising and intervening where needed – letting them know the risks and setting some boundaries, allowing them some freedom to explore the dangers themselves within those boundaries, but always being present and aware that you may need to intervene. The risks associated with foraging should be treated in exactly the same way!
A handy way of remembering these is with the acronym "EISI-R", which is explained below.
Keeping Safe is EISI-R than you think
Let them know the risks by explaining them to your child. "Some plants and mushrooms are poisonous."
Set boundaries (rules) that your child must follow to be safe. "You must not put anything in your mouth, unless we say it's okay."
Allow your child some freedom to explore the danger themselves without breaking the boundaries that you've set, but be alert. "Come and sit down and have a look at this poisonous mushroom. Isn't it beautiful?"
Step-in and intervene if your child breaks the rules.
Start the process again by re-explaining the risks to your child.
You may need to repeat this a few times at first, but eventually, they should start to understand the danger and begin to follow the rules more consistently. You'll always need to maintain that supervision, though, as sometimes they may forget, make an innocent mistake, or deliberately misbehave, as children often do. Arthur has been foraging with us now for a couple of years and we always start a forage with a reminder about poisonous plants and the rules about eating anything wild, and reiterate it when needed, as we go along. We also test his knowledge by asking him about any plants and mushrooms we know to be poisonous and seeing what he says. Ultimately, you know your child better than anyone else, so you'll already be aware of how their personality and character will need to be managed.
“Be actively aware of your surroundings at all times”
We've all been there. We've taken our eyes off our little one for twenty seconds, and they've somehow managed to get the lids off the paint pots and redecorated the living room wall. It's so easy to do and extremely commonplace. In the relatively familiar confines of the home, it's not always a problem, but out in the countryside, there are loads of other dangers that we may not be fully aware of, such as waterways, roads, ravines, wildlife, cattle, and, most importantly, wild plants and mushrooms at every step. It's always vital therefore, that we keep an active awareness of our surroundings and a permanent eye on what our kids are doing.
Foraging is an extremely mindful activity, and it's so very easy to become so engrossed in what we're doing that we take our eye off the ball. It's so important to always be aware of where you are and what your little one's are doing at all times. Some helpful tips for achieving this awareness includes:
- Scoping out and becoming familiar with a forage location in advance using Google Maps, Trip Advisor or a Local Ordinance Survey Map. These should tell you about any waterways, roads or other terrestrial hazards that might exist in the area. Foraging in areas that are already familiar to you is also a good place to start.
- Including your child in everything that you do - if you've found an interesting mushroom, bring your child over to explore and ID it together, rather than letting them explore on their own while you are pre-occupied with your find.
- If your child becomes bored of looking at mushrooms (which does happen quite frequently), have some fun together instead - puddlejump, throw leaves, play pooh-sticks, tree climb, or settle down for a picnic or a story under a beautiful old tree - and, as much as it may pain you to do it, put the field guide away and come back to the forage later.
REMEMBER - a forage is nothing more than a light stroll through a beautiful place, and you probably already do this all the time. More importantly, you also manage perfectly well to keep your kids alive and in one piece by the end of your walk through your local woods, so it's very likely that none of the above is new to you. Nonetheless, it's still good to remind ourselves to keep an eye on our surroundings, particularly as foraging brings with it so many distractions.
“Know what to do in an emergency”
Emergencies can take many forms, from slips, trips and falls that lead to serious injury, other health emergencies, such as heart attacks and strokes, and of course, eating something unknown and potentially toxic. In any emergency, we need to know what to do and act fast. Most people will rely on their mobile phone in an emergency, but foraging may take us to places where mobile reception is limited or even non-existent, so it's really important that a little forward thinking goes into our emergency planning.
Generally, speaking emergency situations are very rare, but the following FAQs will help you plan a little more effectively for any serious emergency.
What should I do if one of us is injured during a forage?
This depends on the nature and severity of the injury. Carrying a mini First Aid Kit is strongly recommended so minor injuries can be adequately disinfected and treated on the go. More serious injuries, such as a broken arm or leg will require professional medical assistance. Call 999 as soon as you can.
What should I do if one of us has a health emergency?
Health Emergencies, such as heart attacks, strokes or seizures are medical emergencies that require urgent professional medical assistance. Call 999 as soon as you can. If you or your child have a managed condition, such as epilepsy, ensure you have your medication or other treatments with you before heading out.
What if one of us eats something unknown or potentially toxic?
It is very important not to panic. Remain calm and collect a sample or take photos of the suspected plant or mushroom if you can, and seek medical help as soon as possible - e.g. go to A&E. Many plants and mushrooms are completely harmless if ingested, but some may lead to gastric upsets, or other, more serious issues, so it's important to seek medical advice if the item that has been ingested is unknown to you.
What if my mobile battery dies or I have no signal to call for help?
Always ensure your battery is fully charged before a forage or invest in an emergency battery pack for your brand of phone to keep in your pocket.
It is always much safer to let a friend or loved one know exactly where you are going and what time you are expected to be back. Having a mutual call arrangement with that person is also very helpful. This way, if you don't call them as planned, they'll try to call you, and if you don't answer, they'll know to either come looking for you, or call the emergency services.