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Foraging with Kids: Best Practices for Harvesting Wild Edible Plants & Mushrooms

Updated: Jan 11

"Playing together in nature is as much about us as it is about the child. Children get to celebrate and be themselves, while we are reminded of our inner child – the essence of who we are. " – Nicolette Sowder
Foraging Shrimp russula in the conifer forest.

As the weather starts to cool up on the mountain, we see the yellowing of the cottonwood trees scattered amongst the forest’s conifers. The kids and I finish breakfast, pack our bags, and gather our baskets and knives. We set out from our mountain home to a much higher elevation. The drive is filled with children’s folk songs and stunning views as we ascend to the top of Mount Piños.

My almost six-year-old is in the back singing along with Harry Belafonte’s Day-O, and my fourteen-year-old is next to me asking what we will be collecting today. “We’ll gather some wax currants if they’re still good and hopefully find some shrimp-russula. We also need to gather samples of the different conifers for my notebook.”

Foraging with my children is very different from when I go out alone. My teenager is very used to my methods and can confidently identify over a dozen edible native and invasive plants. My six-year-old, on the other hand, loves to forage berries and mushrooms. He especially enjoys hunting for mushrooms in the ground. When it comes to mushrooms, I am diligent about making an identification before letting my son harvest them. If you consider taking your kids out foraging, I encourage you to follow the safety and best practice tips below.

Safety: Harvesting Edible Plants & Mushrooms

  1. Do not harvest or touch any plants or mushrooms you can’t positively identify.

  2. Once you can positively identify an edible plant or mushroom, try a little and wait a while before eating more. (This is more for parents and adults; kids should not eat any plants or mushrooms unless an adult has positively identified the plant or mushroom)

  3. Do not eat raw edible mushrooms; mushrooms should be cooked thoroughly before ingesting.

  4. Be aware that you may or may not come across plants and mushrooms that have related species, some of which are edible and some of which are not.

  5. Some plants you encounter may have some edible and some toxic parts.

  6. Creating a foraging journal for your family can be very beneficial as it records your identified plants and their uses.

  7. If you and your family want to create an herbal cabinet with plants you identify, educate yourself on preparations and dosage.

Harvesting Hollyleaf Cherries in Autumn

Best Practices: Harvesting Edible Plants & Mushrooms

  1. Gather only what you need. (Don’t harvest the first one you see; leave some for the other creatures)

  2. You can harvest from federal lands (National Forests, National Parks, and BLM land). Check first with state, county, and city regulations before foraging in these locations.

  3. Do not forage near high-traffic areas contaminated with sprays or other chemicals.

  4. Pick selectively, for example, a few leaves from each plant or plants from each area. Leave plants to regenerate.

  5. Think of your impact, prune plants for their health as you gather, and spread around some of the plant’s seeds. If plants are scarce, don’t harvest them.

Mushroom Foraging Mount Piños

Don’t Forget to Have Fun

Before heading out to forage with your kids, have a plan for your harvest. Are you harvesting to make medicine, food, or crafts? Kids love to be involved with their parent’s projects; some wonderful foraging projects include making elderberry syrup, basket weaving with willow, creating teas, and even mushroom dishes. What are some of your favorite native edible plants? Feel free to send us some of your foraging stories; we would happily share them with our community.

Harvesting Juniper


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