How to Find Free Food by Urban Foraging

foraging for food
Foraging for greens and horseradish leaves for salads.

How to Start Urban Foraging

If you live in an urban area, you might feel kind of left out of the whole self-reliance movement. How much can you possibly do to increase your self-sufficiency in a city? Actually, there are quite a few things to try! I’ve grown little plots of veggies and herbs, joined a community garden, and picked up some awesome finds at farmers markets over the years. And before I even knew this was a thing, I started urban foraging. Who knew there were edible (and delicious!) weeds growing all over in the city? Me!

I taught myself to forage for wild edibles in the countryside where I grew up and I found plenty of the same plants growing in urban areas, too. As a kid, I would head out into the fields and woods with my Dad’s army survival guides to identify wild edible plants. The whole family joined in the autumn search for wild apples to make applesauce and cider. It was a fun way to grow up and I still enjoy foraging!

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foraging for wild grapes
Wild grapes are edible… so are the leaves!

Learn How To Be An Urban Forager

Urban foraging is a great way to supplement the food you grow and buy. It gives you a good workout and you’ll get to know some of the wild plots of land in your neighborhood and surrounding areas. There are some important things to keep in mind before you head out to look for free food.

  • Take your cell phone and a buddy
  • Bring a plant identification guide and be sure to properly identify all plants before consuming
  • Do not trespass on private property
  • Learn to identify poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac as well as dangerous animals and insects
  • Always leave enough plants to repopulate their species
  • Do not harvest endangered plants or plants that provide food for endangered species of insects and animals
  • Don’t collect plants from manicured lawns that have been treated with synthetic chemicals
  • Steer clear of industrial sites, heavily trafficked roads, and areas around old buildings that may have lead paint
  • If you have any food allergies, be very careful about trying new foods… test a small amount first!

Always be safe and make sure someone knows where you will be. Take a trusty plant id guide, collection bags, sunscreen, natural insect repellent, and a fully charged cell phone.

Remember that there are other creatures that need wild plants as a food source so leave some for them!

Making Applesauce from Wild Apples - The Self Sufficient HomeAcre
Gather wild apples to make applesauce… yum!

Common Plants to Forage for in Urban Areas

This list may be different in your area because of your climate and USDA Plant Hardiness Zone. Check for foraging guilds and clubs nearby or purchase an edible wild plant guide that is specific to your area.

  • Dandelions
  • Lamb’s quarters
  • Burdock
  • Milkweed
  • Curly dock
  • Stinging nettles
  • Wild peppermint
  • Cattails
  • Plantain (not the banana relative)
  • Wild blackberries, raspberries, and thimbleberries
  • Wild apples, plums, pears, elderberries, and grapes

As you go for walks, keep your eyes open for edible wild plants in abandoned lots (make sure they are abandoned!), along bike paths, and in wild areas of parks. If you live near a rural area, you may have other opportunities for collecting wild edibles but be sure you aren’t trespassing or stealing someone else’s food source.

Visit My Foraging and Wildcrafting posts

Foraging for Free Food

Foraging for Tiger Lilies

Foraging: Collecting & Cooking Milkweed and Saving Milkweed for the Monarchs

How to Harvest & Use Curly Dock

How to Harvest & Use Stinging Nettle

Growing Lamb’s Quarters in My Garden and Freezing Lamb’s Quarters

Musk Thistle: Friend or Foe?

Recipes from Wild Edibles

Foraging for Burdock and Making Carduni

Creamy Burdock Soup Foraging Recipe

Sautéed Garlic Mustard Greens

Burdock with Black Beans and Pasta – Foraged Recipe

Carduni Made with Burdock Leaves

How to Forage for and Use Wild Apples and How to Make Applesauce from Wild Apples

Free Eats – Cooking Up Foraged Greens from My Backyard and Eat Your Weedies

Spring Salad

Mixture of wild and garden greens for our dinner salad.

Start Foraging for Free Food, Even if You Live in the City!

Many of the wild edible plants that I forage for are partial to growing in empty lots, disturbed soil, and along the edges of woodlands. Start paying attention to the weeds growing in your area and learn to identify them. You might be surprised to find that there are a wide variety of edible weeds to forage for and make into delicious meals!

Check out my friend Shawna’s posts on foraging for wild food and medicine!

Want to find places to forage for food in your area? Check out this map!

I have a fun new activity coming soon… find out more on my Self-Reliance Challenge!

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