Jeremy Budd fell in love with foraging at age seven, when he first joined his father on a search for pine mushrooms near their Sunshine Coast home. Foraging for seasonal, wild foods was a way of life that continues to this day—the passing of knowledge that has come down through generations on the Italian side of his family.
That knowledge became West Coast Wild Foods when, in his 20s, he met kindred spirit and co-founder Austin Glenn, who had grown up foraging in the Chilcotin. We recently spoke with Jeremy about the pleasures and responsibilities of wild food foraging.
British Columbia’s forests, meadows and mountains offer an incredible bounty of wild foods. And foraging, says Jeremy, is a lost pursuit becoming more popular as people’s desire grows to connect more with the natural environment.
“Knowledge of foraging goes back thousands of years, in every culture in the world. First Nations people have a lot of existing knowledge, and in European countries, foraging is part of their seasonal, traditional diet. It’s on the rise, again, as more people in younger generations are now interested in harvesting wild foods.
“It’s a way of connecting with the natural environment in a way that’s hard to find today, in anything we do. Usually, when people interact with a forest—hiking or mountain biking—it’s at a faster pace. Foraging is a different speed, incredibly slow and contemplative, and very important for people to really experience the outdoors in an intimate way. You also come to understand how everything is so interconnected and how everything we do has a consequence.”
How to Begin Foraging
- Do your homework. Visit your library or go online to learn more. The Vancouver Mycological Society is a great resource for mushrooms. www.vanmyco.org
- Find a knowledgeable guide or join a tour. Seasonal walks and tours are available throughout BC.
- Buy a field guide to identify plants.
Pick in verified pesticide-free areas.
- Wear appropriate clothing and footwear, ready for weather changes, rough terrain and dense brush.
- Know how to use a compass to safely return to your campsite or vehicle.
- Tell someone where you are going and the time of your return.
Never underestimate the power of plants. Do not eat or use anything until you are 100% sure it’s safe, especially if your health is challenged or you are pregnant.
Wild food sustains and protects area wildlife and ecology.
- Leave the land in the same or better condition than when you arrived.
- Protect the site to encourage recovery:
Pick only what you can positively identify and use.
Do not dig up, rake or disturb the forest floor, break branches or remove or disturb moss.
- Be very careful with fires, butts, matches and lighters. Don’t leave your butts behind.
- Obey forest closures.
- Bring your garbage home, and if you see someone else’s garbage, take it out with you.
What to Gather
All the forests around us, of different ages and elevations, offer different wild plants, mushrooms or berries. Look for these finds to be discovered each season, depending on topography, rainfall and temperature.
Fiddleheads, young dandelion greens, chickweed, skunk cabbage shoots, purslane, young nettles, wild garlic, blackberry shoots
Salmonberries, elderberries, morel mushrooms, wild asparagus, wild fennel, plantain, miner’s lettuce, sheep sorrel, elderflower
Blackberries, huckleberries, salal berries, Oregon grape berries, wild blueberries
Nuts, rosehips, bearberry (kinnikinnick), and mushrooms including oyster, pine, cauliflower, bear’s tooth, lobster, matsutake, shaggy mane, chanterelle, hedgehog and chicken of the woods
Where to Gather
Foraging is legal on Crown land and, by invitation and with a permit, on First Nations’ territories. Always ask permission before wandering on reserves or private land. Check your maps to make sure you are not inside a park.
It’s illegal to forage here:
- National and Provincial parks
- Defense lands
- Ecological and special reserves
- Recreation areas
Foraging Gear Checklist
- First aid kit
- Charged cell phone with good GPS
- Food and water
- Bear bell and bear spray
- Breathable cloth bags for plants and mushrooms
- Sharp knife with sheath
- Spoon and brush to remove debris and stems
Treat the environment gently. Deforestation, developments, overharvesting and using tools like rakes damage the delicate environment in which mushrooms grow. If you don’t take great care, mushrooms may not come back. Pick just a few in each patch, then go back in a week to pick a few more. You shouldn’t be able to tell if anything was harvested. Only pick mushrooms at their edible prime. Leave the small ones to grow, spore and reproduce and the old to decompose and enrich the soil for more to grow. If you treat a mushroom patch properly, you can come back year after year to harvest.
Always cut above the ground. Do not pull them out of the ground. Leave the stem behind and intact. Gently replace any disturbed moss and twigs or debris.
Pull these out of the ground, then immediately gently brush the grey, mineral-rich soil from the stem and butt of the mushroom with your fingers. Place disturbed soil back in the hole as well as any moss.
More common in northern BC, these young, tightly wound fronds of the ostrich fern taste like a cross between green beans and asparagus. Their tender shoots break easily, so take care not to break, or step on the plants. Always leave multiple fiddleheads in the pod.
Prepare: Lightly steam in lightly salted water or sauté with a little garlic. Be careful not to overcook. Serve with a little butter, a shaving of Parmesan cheese or squeeze of lemon juice.
Named for the French ‘dents de lion’—lion’s teeth—dandelions are edible and medicinal. Harvest young leaves in early spring before they flower and become too bitter, and roots in the fall at the height of their nutrition.
Prepare: Use leaves and petals in salads, sandwiches and add to pestos. Steamed, add to egg dishes and stir-fries. Brew tea from the roasted root.
Jeremy continues, “Our work is one of the very few human activities, industry-wise, where we don’t alter or destroy the environment. We do everything on foot. We harvest by hand using no tools except for a knife. And we do it in a way that we can go back and do it again.”
About West Coast Wild
Since its inception in 2009, West Coast Wild Foods has grown into the premier wild mushroom company in North America. They are committed to keeping the forest wild and their harvests sustainable, and are known for the quality of their products and their all-natural, emission-free mushroom-drying system. Their focus is to bring an ever-changing and growing line of wild food products to the public.
Chemical-free without any added fertilizers or chemicals of any kind, West Coast Wild Foods are as healthy and delicious as you could possibly get. Each ingredient is fed by melt water and nourished by the forest itself.
This article was published in The Good Life.