Foraging for wild food is a thrill for grown-ups but for kids it can be intensely fascinating.
“It’s such a great and exciting way to get kids outside. Kids are incredibly good at foraging,” says
Ashley Rodriguez, Seattle-based award winning food writer and photographer. “They are much closer to the ground. It is like this treasure hunt for them.”
Both Rodriguez and Langdon Cook, a Seattle-based author, lecturer and expert on hunting for wild edibles, are huge proponents of getting kids outside to hunt. Rodriguez and Cook have foraged with their kids since they were young toddlers.
“Start kids early in the outdoors. We were hiking with our kids in baby backpacks from the get-go,” says Cook. “By the time they could walk on a trail themselves they knew how to recognize huckleberries, fiddleheads, golden chanterelles, razor clams, and all sorts of other wonderful wild foods.”
Fall is mushroom season — and more
Rodriguez says fall “is like a free-for-all of all the Pacific Northwest mushrooms. To me that is mushroom season. If we get some late summer rains, you can start finding chanterelles in August.”
The Puget Sound Mycological Society is great resource for families interested in foraging. And, starting in late September, they offer the Hildegard Hendrickson ID Clinic (and other classes) to help hunters identify wild mushrooms. The clinic runs Mondays from 4 to 7 p.m.
Just to be clear: mushrooms aren’t the only things in season in fall. In Washington, hunters forage for dandelion greens, huckleberries, lingonberries, rosehips, some nettles and other plants between September and November. Many fall edibles live in your local neighborhood ravine although it is, technically, illegal to forage in Seattle parks. Consider using a local park to practice identifying plants.
“I think there’s so much to learn from just going out and finding them and just appreciating,” Rodriguez says. And, she and Cook point out, that foraging is year-round fun.
“The seasons can be looked at like this: spring is the time for wild greens; summer is the fruit and berry harvest; and fall is when we see the highest diversity of edible fungi,” says Cook. “As for winter, that’s a good time to harvest shellfish like clams and oysters.”
Teaching foraging safety
Rodriguez suggests creating a hunting map for kids – to help them identify foods in season while also educating them on how to forage safely. That means having appropriate caution around wild foods while growing an appreciation for them, she stresses.
“I know for me growing up it was like, ‘don’t touch that mushroom. Don’t touch that,’” says Rodriguez. Better to teach kids healthy fear while sparking curiosity and awareness. Rodriguez’s own appreciation for the mycelium began in childhood. And in October, 2024 that passion will play out in her soulful, whimsical field guide to mushrooms, published by Sasquatch Books.
Suggestions for young foragers
All wild edible hunting should start with The Golden Rule of Foraging:
“TNever eat anything from the wild without 100 percent certainty of its identification,” says Cook, who teaches foraging classes for adults and kids, including one at Port Angeles Mushroom Festival. His book, “The Mushroom Hunters” is now out in paperback. While it’s not a guide on how to forage for mushrooms, it definitely inspires a love of mushrooms.
Rule two: Prepare before foraging, just as you would when going out for a hike or on a camping adventure.
“Bring the hiker’s ‘ten essentials’ when venturing into the outdoors, including food, water, rain gear, first aid, and so on,” says Cook. “And if going off-trail, learn how to use a map and compass. Staying found in the woods is an important skill!”
The benefits of foraging with kids are many.
“Kids learn that food doesn’t just come from a grocery store — it’s all around us! Like planting and tending a vegetable garden at home, foraging teaches kids that healthy and delicious food grows in nature,” says Cook.
Foraging is also a great way to get in sync with nature. Kids learn important lessons about the value of clean air, water and open space.
“Foraging requires direct engagement with the landscape. Foragers need to pay attention to their surroundings, learning much about the ecology of their habitat along the way,” says Cook. “And like a treasure hunt, it’s an exciting activity that can lead to a nourishing meal.”