When you embrace foraging, you become something more than just a visiting Hunter-Gatherer to the forest. You become part of the forest itself, experiencing oneness with the other inhabitants and seeing how each organism there is dependant on the actions of others. You are exploring, appreciating and sharing nature's bounty with the rest of the forest's inhabitants - not as an outsider, but as a part of nature itself. As a new member of this amazing interwoven network, you now have a duty to ensure that your actions don't hurt this carefully balanced ecosystem. You now have to behave responsibly, sustainably, and in the best interests of your new home, because you've brought your children here, and in the years to come, this will be their home, too. This responsibility is known as the Forager's Code, and it's so very important.
“... Today, more than ever before, life must be characterized by a sense of Universal responsibility, not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to other forms of life ...”
The Forager's Code
1. Respect Nature
Respecting the natural world has to be at the forefront of a forager's mind. Just as you care about where your shop-bought food comes from, as a collector of nature's harvest, you must also respect and care for the place that your wild food comes from. This is vital if you or your children wish to return here in the years to come and find it unchanged, still beautiful, and remaining productive and fruitful. You must leave no trace of your visit, and never do anything that will endanger the forest or it's inhabitants, like start uncontrolled fires, drop litter or plastics, deliberately destroy habitats, or disturb nests, warrens or dens. You are now a custodian of this green space, and it's your job to train your little one's up to do the job after you're gone.
“... Nature is not a place to visit. It is home ...”
2. Collect From Plentiful Sources
As nature lovers, we really want plant and mushroom populations to thrive, which is why it's really important to only harvest from plentiful sources of wild edibles. If there is an abundance of a particular species, then go ahead and fill your basket, but if there are only one or two small specimens, it's best to leave them be and let them do their thing. This allows them to establish a better foothold in the area and increase the population, providing you with more diversity in the years the come. There's a tiny stand of Chanterelles under a beech tree near our house, and every year with a heavy heart, we leave them all. Sometimes leaving edibles can be really difficult, particularly if you've been looking for that particular goodie for a while, but in the end, it's the most responsible and sustainable action to take - an investment for the future.
3. Leave Plenty Behind
A whole host of creatures depend on plants and mushrooms, including the delicious edible varieties that are favourable to us. Birds, squirrels, mice, insects, caterpillars, butterflies, bees and moths, to name just a few, rely on the abundance that nature provides, so it's really important that we don't completely dessimate an area of wild food. It's also easy to forget that the parts that we like to eat serve an essential purpose to the plant, as well - from leaves providing energy from the sun, flowers attracting pollinators, and berries, seeds, and mushroom fruiting bodies creating new populations the following season - when we over-harvest, we interfere with important lifecycles. We therefore have to only take what we need and leave plenty behind for the wildlife (and other foragers!).
“... Take only what you need and leave the land as you found it ...”
4. Do Not Collect Rare Species
Some edible plant and mushrooms species are very uncommon, and only appear in certain locations, at certain times of the year. A prime example is the Lion's Mane Fungus, Hericium erinaceus (pictured). This species is extremely rare in the UK, and is listed on the Red Data List of Threatened British Fungi. As such, it should never be collected. Other types of plant and mushroom, although not on the endangered Red Data list, may still be rare, so it's vital that we always have a good field guide to aid our identifications. If you come across a mushroom or plant that you can't ID in the field, harvest only one specimen to take home for ID purposes, rather than gathering a whole basketful on the off chance that it may be edible. This reduces the likelihood of removing rare species unintentionally. If it turns out to be a common edible, you can always go back to collect more!
5. Minimise Damage
As already mentioned, we must not undertake any activities that may harm the beautiful natural environment and delicate ecosystems that exist in our green spaces. This includes littering, intentional or reckless damage of trees, plants or mushrooms, or disturbing nesting birds or other wildlife. A common issue with foraging is trampling - often in our eagerness to get to a harvesting location, we trample the ground around a plant or mushroom. This may damage the underground mycelium networks or root systems and prevent it from fruiting or flowering the following season. Sticking to paths is the best course of action, but if we do go "off-road", we should always take care where we are walking so as not to cause damage when we find something of interest. Being a green ninja is key - we should always leave no trace, follow the Countryside and Forager's codes, and always respect the green spaces we love.
To Pull, or Not to Pull?
Pulling plants when harvesting is a bad idea, as we run the risk of uprooting them from the ground, which kills them, and potentially breaches the law. When it comes to mushrooms however, some people are pull and twisters, whilst others are slicers; and both claim that their way is better for the mushroom. So which is actually better? Pullers argue that slicing with a knife opens a pathway for bacterial growth and disease in the underground mycelium network, whilst slicers say that pulling physically damages the network, preventing fruiting the following year. Research suggests, though that both methods are perfectly safe for the fungi and neither risk harming the underground mycelium network. Arthur and I are pull and twisters, as Arthur is still too young to handle a knife, but either is ok, so it really is a personal choice!
“... When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world ...”
Further information about responsible foraging can be found here:
The Scottish Mushroom Code
Red Data List of Threatened British Fungi