Are your grocery bills getting too high, and coupons getting a bit too scarce?
Look around you! There’s plenty of food right under your feet, and it’s all free.
I’m talking about foraging: Gathering wild food that grows nearby, maybe even in your backyard.
You can save hundreds of dollars each month just by taking a walk in the woods. Foraging is gaining popularity, and you don’t have to be a sandal-wearing tree hugger to get into the game.
How I Started Foraging
I’ve been foraging for most of my life — I just didn’t know it.
When I was a little kid, my grandfather would take my brothers and me into the woods and teach us all about the wild things we could eat.
My brothers and I thought foraging was simply something you did when you got hungry playing in the woods all day. I never thought about it as a way to supplement my daily groceries.
But one day my wife and I were out for a stroll through our neighborhood. One of our neighbors was busily raking up nuts from the tree in his front yard and throwing them into a trash can.
When we asked what kind of nuts they were, he explained the English walnuts were edible, but he had so many that he was sick of them and just wanted them gone! We gathered up as many as we could.
After the English walnut revelation, my wife and I began to notice other discarded or unwanted fruits and edibles all around our neighborhood. We found an apple tree, whose owner was sick of apples. We found raspberries along a walking trail, and much more!
Some foods were literally right next door!
My wife and I enjoyed homemade applesauce, fresh fruit, walnut breads and delicious salad greens, all compliments of our neighbors.
How Foraging Helps Us Save Money
We managed to save a couple hundred dollars off our grocery bill that summer — while barely trying.
This got my wife and me excited about the possibility of finding our groceries, instead of buying them.
During peak months, foraging helps me cut my grocery bills by about a third. I usually spend $400 on food every two weeks, but at the height of the summer, I’ll only spend $250 or so. That means I save about $300 a month.
Foraging is a seasonal activity, especially in a northern climate like ours, in Ohio — so you have to eat seasonally. (In some warmer climates, you can find wild things to eat year-round.)
Plus, it’s also a cool way to eat foods I wouldn’t be able to find in a grocery store, like pawpaw, or that wouldn’t fit in my normal food budget.
For example, a pound of black walnuts costs around $14 — a bit pricy for my grocery budget. But there’s a black walnut tree in a park near where I work, and no one but me seems to know they’re edible.
It’s not uncommon for me to be able to gather a bushel (about 40 pounds) or more of apples off one tree. Apples usually go for around $2 a pound, so I can save $80 right off the bat.
If I make some of those apples into applesauce, I’ll increase my savings, and if I can the fruit or applesauce in jars, I can enjoy it year-round.
A pint of blackberries can go for as much as $6. You can easily get a pint a week from a wild blackberry bush.
Some of the other options I find around my home are ramps, persimmons, elderberries, wild mushrooms, black cherries, acorns, cat tail, hickory nuts, pawpaw, grapes, pears, apricots and maple trees.
I find these both wild and in the yards of people who don’t want to bother with the fruit anymore.
From these, I make salads, breads, pies, jellies and jams, dried fruit strips, puddings — or just eat them raw. The possibilities are limited only by your creativity!
I’ve found two great benefits about eating foraged foods: I save a lot of money, and I lose a lot of weight during the summertime.
How to Know What’s Edible
How much money you can save really depends on how familiar you are with your surroundings — and obviously, you don’t want to eat anything you aren’t sure is safe and edible.
The more foods you can positively identify, the more options you have available.
I try to become familiar with one new edible plant species every few months. It’s like expanding my own personal grocery store, one item at a time.
Don’t worry if you don’t know much about foraging — there’s lots of help out there to get you started.
One of my favorite resources is fallingfruit.org.
The site compiles data from volunteers all over the globe and loads it into a detailed, interactive map, so you can easily find your nearest apple tree or vines of wild grapes.
I was surprised to find two apple trees on the map within a quarter-mile of my house. There were even reviews of the apples from people who had already picked some!
This site is also helped me discover I’m a big fan of mulberries.
Peterson’s “Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants”
This book is a good starting resource for foragers.
It has plant descriptions, pictures, advice on where to find them and simple ways to enjoy them. The author also includes warnings for plants you want to avoid.
If you don’t want to go it alone, there’s an entire community out there dedicated to the art of finding your dinner.
People from all walks of life get together and share their love and knowledge of foraging.
For example, The Wild Foodies of Philly like to get together and discover wild edibles around the Philadelphia area.
It usually costs nothing but your time to meet up with one of these groups. A quick internet search of most cities will reveal the foraging foodies in your area.
If one-on-one help is more your style, take advantage of a regional class. For $50, Pascal Baudar will take you out into the California wilderness and teach you what’s edible, what you need to avoid and what can be used as medicine.
You can probably find people willing to explain foraging one-on-one through a local foraging group.
Will You Try Foraging?
My advice is to start simple, looking for fruits and vegetables you easily recognize from your supermarket.
Then, if you want to branch out, get someone to help expand your knowledge of your natural edible surroundings.
And always remember: If you’re unsure, don’t eat it.
Finally, when you learn about the wild edibles nature provides, pass your knowledge on to others.
I’ve started taking my four-year-old son with me when I go foraging, using the time to teach him about the wild, much like my grandfather did with me.
My son loves our walks in the woods, and he enjoys the best classroom setting nature can provide. When my other two children get a little older, I’ll definitely take them out with me, too.
At the very worst, we enjoy a walk in the woods. At best, we come home with dinner!
So now that you know there’s food out there for the taking, there’s no reason you should pay for fruits and vegetables you can find near your home… for free!
Your Turn: Have you ever tried foraging to save money on groceries?
Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links. Adding these links helps us keep the lights on in The Penny Hoarder HQ, which makes it a lot easier to play shuffleboard after a long day of deal-seeking!
Michael Beck is a penny-pinching novice forager from Cleveland, Ohio. He is a father of three picky children who will eat nothing he puts on their plate, no matter where it came from.