Foraging — Do It Safely
Ah! The merry, merry season of summer. The best time of the year for foragers. Why write about foraging? It combines my hobbies of hiking and cooking, and my love of the outdoors. And it seems that foraging presents an opportunity and a significant threat.
It appears that foraging is taking off in many places in Canada. Kate MacQuarrie, biologist and naturalist in PEI, thinks that this is part of the “eat local” movement. Julee Boan, boreal program manager for Ontario Nature, attributes the rise to research identifying that spending time in nature is good for our mental health. One couple in Northern Ontario documented their year of eating only what they could forage.
It seems, however, that the risks associated with foraging — mushroom hunting in particular — are on the increase. In 1970, there were “at least 150 cases of mushroom poisoning in Canada,” the majority not requiring hospitalization. In 2019, in BC alone there more than 200 cases of wild mushroom poisoning. And in September 2020 there were 72 cases of mushroom poisoning in Ontario.
With the advent of the Internet, more people are turning to advice from complete strangers with unproven qualifications. Here’s part of an exchange between strangers on a foraging website:
“I’ve never seen them grow uncultivated before, so I am just trying to play it safe. If others say it’s a positive ID then I will feel confident.”
Many similar posts arise in this group, often with contradictory responses and generally ending up with the original questioner signaling their intent to eat the item on the basis of at least one positive response, even with contradictory advice.
Foraging is like an adult treasure hunt. It’s a lot of fun and provides the opportunity to explore new places and try new things. Online foraging groups are great to create enthusiasm, to identify what is currently in season, and get some tips on where to find an elusive morsel. However, for someone intent on trying this out as a hobby, please find a reliable source of information, such as a published field guide from a reputable source. Stick to those items that are very easy to identify. Happy hunting!