Morel mushrooms, the state mushroom of Minnesota, are a prized commodity for top restaurant chefs and home cooks alike. Rarely found in a supermarket, these mushrooms often run over $150 per pound when purchased online. A more frugal solution is simply foraging for the mushrooms—the cost of morels is now only your time.
Foraging is the oldest form of food procurement, the “gatherer” portion of the hunter-gatherer society. It requires a connection to the land, a knowledge of what is edible, where certain plants can be found, and when in the year they will be ready for consumption. Once necessary for human survival, foraging is now made superfluous by grocery stores and food manufacturing. Today foraging is a choice, and its popularity is growing each year.
For gardeners, foraging is an extension of the practice in the garden. Often what is foraged cannot be cultivated in a home garden—particularly for wild mushrooms, but also for wild onions or other plants. Learning the forageable plants near home, as well as their life cycles, opens up all sorts of possibilities for new plants to eat.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What can I forage in Minnesota?
A: Everything from mushrooms and wild fruit to nuts, evergreens, leafy greens, and even cattails.
Q: Is foraging just for food?
A: No. You can also forage for natural specimens or even art supplies, as many plants and mushrooms such as lobster mushrooms and sumac are sources of dye.
Q: Is it legal to forage in Minnesota?
A: Sometimes! Double check your laws before taking anything from publicly owned land, and know if you are on national, state, or regional land. It is LEGAL to forage small quantities in MN State Parks as long as it is for home use, not to be sold for a profit. It is ILLEGAL to forage in any Dakota County Regional Park. As for national land like national parks and national forests? The laws are different for each one. Look up rules specific to the national forest or park you want to forage in.
Q: Once I have determined that I may legally forage, what’s the best practice for sustainability?
A: Take less than 20% of what you find in the wild for most foraged items, and take less than 10% of what you find if it is particularly slow growing, like mosses or lichens.
Q: Where can I learn more about foraging?
A: A few excellent resources include Euall Gibbons’ 1962 book Stalking the Wild Asparagus, MN chef Alan Bergo’s website ForagerChef.com, and Bergo’s newest book The Forager Chef’s Book of Flora (2021). For more on foraging laws, see Baylen J. Linnekin’s article “Food Law Gone Wild: The Law of Foraging” (2018). https://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2740&context=ulj
Photo credit: Kevin Miyazaki/Meredith (Creative Commons)(1)