Foraging Ethics

Merriwether’s Foraging Texas put something into words a million times better than I can. When you’re raised from a toddler doing something that your family has done for generations, there’s unspoken rules that are just part and parcel of how things are done. They don’t need qualification or even spoken out loud. So let’s see if I can say this without ripping off Merriwether completely and still get my point across.

The four simple rules of foraging:

#1 Respect the law. We’re in Texas. If you go trespassing on somebody’s land without permission, you’re likely to get shot. Simple as that. State parks are nature preserves that do not allow foraging without special permission. And this is a very good idea that I am all for. Not only do our state parks preserve some of the most beautiful and ecologically delicate portions of our great state, but imagine if you reserved a class out at Meridian to come see the morels. Paid $25 or more per person to get to see what they look like growing in the wild. Now one person comes along and picks a few, then another person, then another…. and how angry would you be come time for the class and they’re all gone because everybody coming through just took a couple. Leave the plants in the parks so we can all learn about them.

#2 Respect the land. Leave no trace is a lifestyle. When we go out in the woods, leave it better than you found it. Pack out your own trash and whatever you see.

#3 Respect the plant. When I’m going anywhere, I’m always paying attention to what is growing. I’m always building a mental map of what plants are growing where and I’m really good at remembering where they were years afterwards so I always know where to come back and pick them again in the future. Don’t pick the land clean. Always leave at least half to come back, and if it is rare, leave at least 90%. We want these plants to flourish so we can keep harvesting them. If you’re picking up persimmons or dewberries or other vital wildlife fodder, remember that the animals depend on these stores to keep them through the winter. Leave some for them. If you’re harvesting leaves, make clean cuts that are easy to heal. Don’t pull up the whole plant when you just want a few tender leaves. Be good stewards of the land. Don’t be in a hurry. Take your time and harvest what you need lightly across a wide area.

#4 Respect yourself.  Never harvest a plant you’re less than 100% positive on. If you’re not sure, take pictures, research, ask professionals. There’s a whole lot of plants out there that can make you sick or even kill if improperly handled. Be safe. Be aware of your surroundings. Be aware of where you’re stepping and don’t step on snakes or fire ants. Don’t be really bright like me and grab a branch and bring a yellow jacket nest down on your head. Twice. Pay attention. And also, pay attention to what pesticides or contaminates may be in the soil. Don’t harvest on railroad tracks or under power lines. They spray things to kill vegetation that you don’t want to ingest. Don’t harvest within 20′ of roads. Contamination from cars and gasoline and exhaust fumes and god only knows what else. Don’t harvest right up next to old homes built before the 70s that may have lead based paint that flaked off and leached into the soil. Don’t harvest next to sidewalks and heavy traffic areas – especially within reach of dogs due to parasites. Use common sense and pay attention to the area where you are harvesting. Before you reach to pick the plant, look around it in the environment and ask yourself if they’re spraying weed killer or what contaminates might be in the soil first. What could the plant be removing from the soil that you don’t want to consume?