Foraging Provides a Link to Our Ancient Ancestors

Foraging for wild plants, an activity that's rooted deep in my bones, takes a special place in my heart on the farm.

by Rachael Dupree
PHOTO: Rachael Duree

Something comes alive in me when I forage. It’s something that doesn’t quite spark when I’m waiting for seeds to germinate or weeding around tomato plants or putting up garden fences. It’s something primal—an energy that bubbles up from deep within.

Before agriculture, there were hunter-gatherers, and lately, I’ve sensed a connection with those in my ancestry who scoured the land for their food. When I spot St. John’s wort blooming during the summer solstice or when my family and I search in the evenings for the sweetest black raspberries, I’m overcome with an excitement that I can’t quite explain in any other way than the pursuit of wild plants is in my bones. It’s where my roots lie. As I walk the land, I wonder what the people way back in my lineage gathered this time of the year, and I dream about passing this practice onto future generations.

St. John's wort
Rachael Dupree

Finding Foraging

The past couple of years, I’ve been content to just observe the ever-shifting landscape and better get to know the plants around us. However, this year I want to do more. I want to take this land up on its offer to support us. Earlier this month, I studied with internationally renowned forager Samuel Thayer, whose stance is that we belong in nature. We’re not here just to look at the landscape—in fact, he argues, the landscape is begging us to come be in relationship with it. We are supposed to interact with it.

And so out we go, foraging.

The start of summer ends up being a great big game of seek and find around here—a forager’s paradise. Every day, there’s something new to discover. While last week we picked elderflowers and yarrow, this week the blackberries are starting to ripen and the monarda is beginning to bloom. The wild lettuce patch outside our doorstep that I’ve been harvesting from has almost had its fill and is beginning to bolt, but that’s OK because I just spotted our passion flower vines emerging from the ground around the corner. Daisies turn over to milkweed and black-eyed Susans, which will soon turn over to goldenrod and teasel.

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Careful Picking

I must admit that as a beginner to foraging, I’m still cautious about what I pick. I don’t want to overharvest, though Thayer puts my mind at ease when he says that when you harvest with a posture of gratitude, it’s nearly impossible to take too much because nature will always provide a surplus. (Now there’s an idea to unpack.) I also don’t want to eat something I shouldn’t, so for now, I stick with those things I can still easily identify.

Other than the berries and a few greens, I’d consider most of the plants I harvest to be herbal healers, and so I plan to preserve them for my budding apothecary. Some things, such as yarrow and red clover, I’m drying for use in teas or as powdered herbs. Other things, such as mullein, dandelion and daisy flowers, I’ll infuse into oils for various uses. And most everything else—elderflower, wild lettuce, St. John’s wort, wild rose, monarda and more—I’ll preserve as small-batch tinctures, also known as alcohol infusions.

wild black raspberries
Rachael Dupree

Agriculture will always have its place on our farm. This summer, we’re growing tomatoes, squash, peppers and basil. We hope that over time, we’ll expand that repertoire to encompass a more diverse garden that feeds us throughout the seasons. However, the wild things on this farm that grow beyond the garden-fence border will always hold a special place in my heart, and I look forward to deepening my relationship to them as we continue to grow into our life here on the farm.

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