by Jennifer Yarbrough
I love cooking and am always trying new recipes and ingredients. That, along with my love of exploring the woods of Northeast Florida, brought me to foraging.
What better way to combine a passion for food and nature than using “wild edibles,” in your meals, right? I set out on my quest by speaking with Mr. AyoLane Halusky, St. Johns County Recreation and Parks Naturalist for Trout Creek and Alpine Groves Parks. In addition to his usual offerings through SJC Recreation and Parks of kayaking trips and nature walks, he occasionally offers Wild Edibles Walks. Going in to the meeting with him, I thought I might be bringing back some items to serve my family for dinner, but what I brought back with me was more profound.
We started off discussing the “Don’ts” of gathering, which are very important to your health and to nature. We covered how much to gather, where to gather, and how to gather. As we were discussing these things he mentioned “the green wall,” how one really has to hone in their skills of truly “seeing” nature. That is what stopped me in my tracks. I began to realize that this foraging thing is much bigger than dinner, it’s about looking at the natural world with keen eyes. It will take far more than one walk to determine what leaves are edible or poisonous, what berries might be used for medicinal purposes or are considered “hot medicine.”
If you would like to see past the green wall and begin a foraging adventure, here are some tips from Mr. Halusky:
Allergies- Talk with a Doctor about possible allergies before you begin. Don’t think that you can wait until survival situations to forage, learn now.
Start taking walks in nature and identifying what you see.
Keep a journal- draw pictures or take rubbings. Write down details in your journal.
Verify- Verify what you saw with two field guides and a naturalist before you decide to forage. Write down the name of the item, similar items, noting ones that might look similar, but be poisonous. Include details helpful in identifying in the future.
Some Field Guides to consider: Botany in a Day by Thomas J. Elpel, Native Florida Plants by Haehle and Brookwell, Peterson’s Field Guide, Newcombs Wildflower Guide.
Take your time- Plan on taking walks and identifying what you see for about a year before you begin foraging. Be wary of mushrooms, they are hard to identify.
Start with what you enjoy- Which do you enjoy more—flowers, berries, bushes, trees? Begin to hone your skills observing what you enjoy first and then branching out.
Stay connected - If you would like to be added to SJC Recreation and Parks email list to learn of future opportunities, please email Mr. Halusky at email@example.com
It’s a beautiful day today, I’m grabbing my sketchbook, my field guide and I am headed out! Hope to see you on the trails!
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