I was sixteen when I began foraging for wild edibles in the deserts of Southern Arizona. It was many years before online social media groups, and I didn’t know a single person with the same interest. My only mentors were the books I’d check out over and over again from the library. I studied their hand-drawn sketches and simple descriptions, which were so different from the beautiful, full-colored books with unique recipes you can find today.
While hiking with friends, I’d sneak a bite of what I found, which was usually wild grapes or desert hackberries. Eventually, I became brave enough to eat wild plants in front of my friends. Of course, this brought looks of disgust, and they’d warn me not to kill myself. I’d laugh at them, and though I was confident enough to eat it still, I secretly hoped I wouldn’t die. There were a few years that I refused to eat wild onions because I couldn’t say one hundred percent that I wasn’t picking death camas, which can kill you. Being my own teacher on wild edibles has come with its challenges.
However, that was a long time ago, and things have changed. I own many incredible books, have eaten dozens of wild edibles, and thanks to social media, I have met a number of incredible foragers. Most of my foraging friends are men, and while I highly value them, I miss knowing more women who forage. I honestly don’t know if that’s because geographically, there are fewer women foragers in my area, or if fewer women forage than men.
This is to say, that as a woman who forages, I need other women who forage. I believe you need me, too. So many look at us like we are an anomaly. After all, we prefer our tea wild. Newly emerging spring greens give us butterflies. What most would call weeds are welcomed guests in our yard. We need other women who understand the wild side of our femininity, who thrive on independence and being self-reliant. There aren’t as many of us as people would think, and that’s why we have to search for each other. Foraging used to be essential to a woman’s daily life.
Yet, with the creation of grocery stores packed full of boxed and imported foods, restaurants on every corner, and pharmacies pushing patented drugs, many women have forgotten what our grandmothers knew. But, as women who forage, we know the joys of gathering wild foods. Biscuits made with nettles and dandelion petals grace the tables of our loved ones, wild berries made into delicious jams are put on wild-caught sourdough bread, and teas and poultices from wild herbs soothe physical complaints. These are not just foodstuffs or medicines; these are acts of compassionate service.
Women instinctively know how to care for one another. By bringing together neighbors, or helping those in need, we see others go from surviving to thriving. Now that doesn’t mean that all women are good at being compassionate. There’s always the exception to the rule, and unfortunately, some women are just nasty and mean. However, in my life, I’ve seen that those whose hearts are nurtured by the wild are, in turn, gifted at nurturing those around them.
Luckily, nurturing is never one-sided and instead comes with great rewards. There’s an old saying that giving is the mother of receiving. As we care for each other with our innate skills and gifts from the earth, we learn we aren’t alone. Our confidence and knowledge grow as we work alongside each other. We become more sensitive to plants and their offerings, something the witch doctor in all of us wants to improve.
Though many years ago people thought I was strange for eating wild foods, they now ask me to teach about them. They call when their child is sick and ask if I have any elderberry elixir to spare, and of course, I always do. Being able to teach and help others brings a deep-seated joy. Because I didn’t have mentors around me while growing up, I took the long way to learn how to identify and use wild edibles. This has taught me that learning from others directly is the best and quickest way to get somewhere. Like I said before, I’m grateful for men in my life, yet still long to know more women who forage.
They bring to the table something a bit different and comforting. Both figuratively and literally. Women are essential to survival. By finding other women who enjoy being self-reliant, leaning on them for support, and in turn, teaching them what we know, we all benefit.