With inflation what it is today, most of us are looking for ways to save a buck here and there on food. Since gardening can be a costly endeaver after buying land, topsoil, garden tools, seeds, and putting in hours of your time into it, foraging can be a great alternative. The only expense in foraging is your time.
The most important thing when getting started is you must be 100% certain you have identified a plant or mushroom correctly before consuming it. This can be done by learning the poisonous plants and mushrooms and taking your time studying each species and their characteristics using online resources as well as books. Also verify you have the correct identification by looking at two or more resources.
Here are a few tips for any forager, whether a beginner or an expert, to save money foraging:
1. Make a salad or smoothie every day with wild greens
For 1 person, this can save $10 a week. For a family of 4, $25 or more, depending on how many greens your family will eat.
2. Make plenty of acorn flour in the fall
This you can use to make pancakes throughout the year. Process and store in a cloth bag
3. Forage for hickory nuts
Almonds are now $8 a pound where I shop, pecans and $14 a pound, so this can save quite a lot of money, plus they are super high in nutrients, calories, protein, and healthy fats. Rather than buying imported avocados, you can get healthy fats from these. For weight management, they may not always be the best, but for saving money on healthy calories, they pack a lot of punch. And according to dieticians these days, even though a handful of nuts is a lot of calories, due to the fiber and digestion process, they actually count as less in your calorie budget than something without fiber, such as butter.
They are a bit time-consuming to process but if you think abaout how much money you’re saving plus it’s also more enjoying than most paid jobs, it’s totally worth the time in my book.
Farm-grown almonds also has some negative environmental impacts – a single almond requires three and half litres of water to produce and they are grown in drought-afflicted california. If we can harvest more wild nuts, we’ll be healthier and the planet will be too!
4. Gather and freeze as many berries as you can
Where we live in central Virginia, the main berreis we can harvest are mulberries, autumn olives, blackberries, black raspberries, mulberries, blueberries, and wild grapes. Blackberries range widely in price and are cheaper in season. Frozen blackberries and blueberries are $5 a pound. Rasperries are way more expensive. Fresh berries will be way more expensive.
So if you’re a big berry lover like I am or are just trying to improve your health, harvest as many berries as you can! Just make sure you freeze them the day you bring them home, even if you plan to make jam with them in a few days. Nothing is worse than a spoiled harvest and wild berries spoil even faster than cultivated ones.
5. Bring as many wild edible plants into your yard as you can.
The more wild edible plants you have in your yard, the better. It’s way easier to harvest from your own yard than needing to drive somewhere on what could be a failed mission. One thing to keep in mind is to avoid anything invasive or that’s a nuisance, such as autumn olives, blacksberries, and kudzu. I really don’t like having wild blackberries in my yard since they take over quickly and have very sharp, thick thorns. Kudzu and autumn olive are both highly invasive.
A great one to plant in your yard that’s great for you and wildlife is elderberry since the berry season is VERY short and it’s easy to miss it when trying to forage, but the elderberry syrup from the store is super expensive and it’s proven to boost your immune system and shorten the length of a cold. If you and your kids take the syrup during cold season, this can save you $100 or more.
6. If you drink herbal tea, forage the ingredients instead.
Store bought teas are anywhere from $2.50 and $5 or more per box. If you enjoy tea or drink them for their medicinal value, learn about wild teas and medicinal plants. It’s easy and fun to harvest wild plants, dry them, and store them in jars to be used throughout the year.
Wild teas can help replace things such as vitamins, immune system boosters, and cold medicine.
7. Make jams and jellies and preserve them in cans to use for the whole year.
This doesn’t have to be hard and it also can take up surprisingly little room. When I was in college, I stayed on campus over the summer to take a few classes and spent every afternoon and weekend foraging and making jam. By the end, I had made 100 jars of jam and stored in them my small rental.
8. Make and freeze pestos for parties or to eat at home.
There are many wild pestos you can make, but chickweed pesto is my favorite.
9. Learn and harvest wild edible mushrooms.
Chicking of the Woods, Hen of the Woods, Morels, and others can save you hundreds of dollars a year if you are a regular mushroom consumer. One Chicken of the Woods or Hen of the Woods can last weeks when added to one or two meals a day. Just be sure to use a dehydrator to dry your harvest and save them when you have extra.
10. If you’re a wine or beer drinker, make your own wine or beer using wild grapes and berries.
This probably sounds difficult, but trust me, it’s not. It’s actually super fun and easy and you can enjoy the process of choosing your flavors and watching the wine ferment and then, finally, tasting it. You can easily saved hundreds of dollars or more a year from this if you’re a regular wine or beer drinker.
11. Make your own extracts, such as mint extract, to add to recipes.
Making your own extracts is also a fun thing to do. Plus, it makes a great present for the holidays or birthdays. If you love to bake, this is definitely the option for you. Growing your own herbs can help as well, so you can make lavender extract, mint extract, and rosemary extract, for instance. You can use extracts in food (like vanilla extract), medicinally, or to make skin care products.
12. Learn how to make herbal infused honeys, oils, vinegars, and tinctures to save even more.
Most of us depend so heavily on store-bought products that we largely have forgotten how to live off the land around us and be truly thrifty. There are a lot of easy to make medicinal honeys, oils, vinegars, salves, tinctures, and more that can save you money and connect you more fully to the earth and yourself.
Trying to reduce grocery expenses can be so frustrating especially with unprecendented inflation. I’ve read many blogs about cutting coupons and buying store-brand products in order to save a few dollars here and there. It often ends up leaving me more vexed and angry than anything sometimes.
But foraging is a way to turn the focus frugal living away from deprivation to abundance. Imagine all the medicinal and edible plants waiting for you right in your own backyard or neighborhood!