Words by Rebecca Deurlein
TikTok may have caused foraging to trend, but our ancestors from as far back as two million years ago knew what was up.
Experts agree that foraging, or the act of hunting and gathering wild food, is good for you—physically, emotionally, and even psychologically.
When I embarked on my first day of hunting and gathering, all I knew was that I loved the pungent smell and taste of truffles, and I wanted to find my own. The Academy of Culinary Nutrition warns, “Many wild foods can be poisonous, and safe foods and unsafe foods may look alike. We highly, highly recommend drawing on the expertise of an experienced forager.” So, I relied on Dr. Charles Lefevre, a mycologist out of Eugene, Oregon, who has a trained truffle dog and his own secret spots for foraging. Lefevre is owner and president of New World Truffieres, which produces inoculated seedlings that allow you to draw truffles right to your backyard.
We entered a dense forest of maple, oak, and ash trees. Lefevre sent his dog, Dante, on the hunt. Pigs are normally used to dig truffles, but dogs have much more sensitive noses and are much more efficient truffle diggers. And yes, you can train your own dog to hunt truffles. Dante ran around excitedly, paused with perked ears, and dug as if his life depended on it. And voila! We felt around in the hole and pulled out a round, black truffle. Even through the soil, we could smell its musky, nutty aroma.
Foraging brought out the kid in me. I tromped through the woods, hyper-focused on spotting fertile areas and waiting for Dante to prove me right. I walked for miles, climbed hills, helped Dante dig, and breathed in fresh air. Birds whistled, branches cracked under my hiking boots, bees whizzed by, squirrels scurried.
My experience bears out the research. Foraging leads to mindfulness. It is a natural form of meditation, with all the ensuing benefits. It forces us to slow down, take notice, and see the bigger world outside of ourselves.
Later, tired and a little sore in all the best ways, I realized how much I had learned. My guide had taught me how nature operates, how everything in the natural world happens for a reason. There’s something about that lesson that is educational, sure, but also reassuring and grounding.
That night, the gracious chefs at Marché, a restaurant that focuses on naturally grown and gathered food, took my bounty of beautiful black truffles and showed me the many ways I could use them. How many of us have gotten in a cooking rut, using the same ingredients and cycling through tired menus? Foraging pushes you out of ruts. It forces you to get creative, to find new ways to use fresh ingredients.
And talk about fresh! Wild foods are naturally organic. They grow without pesticides, herbicides, or chemicals. They pop through the earth and ripen when they are naturally ready to be eaten—no preservatives, no shelf life, no artificial dyes. You pick them, clean them, cook them up in creative ways, and with every bite, you realize just how flavorful they are compared to the store-bought versions.
They are also packed with nutrients. Since wild plants must fight to stay alive, they are loaded with antioxidants, Vitamin C, cancer-fighting minerals, and phytochemicals that protect us from disease. And each wild food carries its own specific benefits: edible flowers stimulate digestion, fight bacteria, and calm nerves; seaweed contains iodine which is good for thyroid and hormonal health; dandelions support liver health.
Our ancient ancestors may have foraged out of necessity, but it sure did prove to be good for them. In a study of 14 skeletons unearthed from the 3,000-1,500 BC period in Bolivia, it was discovered that these foragers led a lifestyle far healthier than their later counterparts. Disease was rare, they showed no evidence of nutritional deficiency, and their diverse diet and regular exercise made them the picture of health.
In my own quest for a healthy life, I moved on to foraging for morels in Bloomington, Indiana. Yes, right there in the woods next to Indiana University, I found these succulent ‘shrooms. That’s the beauty of foraging; it can be done anywhere, even in urban landscapes. As I strolled through the town, I even spotted a morel sprouting along the groove of a heavily trafficked sidewalk.
Later that day, I dined on morel dishes prepared by Nick Detrich, partner at the farm-to-table restaurant Small Favors. Nick insisted I taste an aioli and sriracha flavored with ramps, a wild onion that looks like your typical green weed and is probably growing in your yard. “The creativity sparked by finding ways to use and not waste food is what I love about foraging,” he said. “And there’s so many ways to naturally preserve wild food beyond the season—pickling, blending into butters and spreads—the ideas are endless.”
The health benefits are endless as well. Foraging feeds your body, your intellect, and your soul. It teaches you that everything you need has been there all along—right there in nature.----
Interested in foraging, but not quite sure if you’re ready to do it on your own? There are guided foraging experiences all across the South that can help you hone your foraging skills.
No Taste Like Home - Asheville, NC - https://notastelikehome.org/
Mushroom Mountain - Easley, SC - https://mushroommountain.com/
Feral Foraging - Huntsville, AL - https://feralforaging.com/
Foraging Texas - Across Texas - https://www.foragingtexas.com/