Looking for fun, outdoor, family activities? Foraging is an amazing pastime both for adults and children and an especially good family outdoor activity during lockdown and Covid-19. However there are some precautions especially when teaching children. Here are some of my tips to help navigate the safety when teaching children about foraging.
1. Be 100% confident with your plant ID
Only forage for plants that you as an adult are absolutely confident in identifying.
This sounds obvious but its good to keep in mind. I heard an adult tell another adult that they could eat a poisonous berry because they mistook it for another tree. He confused Hawthorn and Holly! As an adult you must be without a doubt that what you are showing your children is in fact an edible plant.
2. Know your child
In some cultures children grow up foraging from a young age and even before they forage themselves they would have watched the adults and even started to learn as infants. As most children growing up in the UK are not surrounded by a culture that forages every day, you need to be confident your child is able to understand the safety precautions you explain to them. I start teaching children basic foraging from 7+ but I think the best person to judge if they are ready to safely forage with you and understand the safety elements, is you, the parent!
3. Forage with an adult
Explain that they must only eat things in the forest when you are with them and they must show you first. A friend of mine forages a lot and is a very confident forager. She started teaching her child when she was only 14 months old! She taught her what plants you can only touch, which ones you can only smell, which ones you can eat and which ones you can only look at. Now at 2 and a half years old, she always checks with her mum before she eats anything and now knows 20 plants!
4. You can’t eat everything in the forest
Make sure your children know that it's not safe to eat any plant in the forest. Be honest with them that some plants can make them very ill and that some are even deadly. I would recommend discussing this with them leading up to foraging and checking their understanding by asking them questions. As mentioned above teach them what plants you they can only touch, which ones they can only smell, which ones they can eat and which ones they can only look at.
5. Look at the plants in different stages of their growth
Teach children how plants look different at the various stages of their growth as they change throughout the seasons. Below is what Jack by the hedge looks like when it's young and as a mature plant.
6. Safe for children
When you are confident in identifying a plant, research it to see if it's safe for children to also consume. One example is yarrow which is unsafe for children. Then only consume a small amount of foraged ingredients to check their sensitivity.
7. Choose plants to introduce to your child that are not easily confused with lookalikes
Know what plants could look similar so you can compare the two plants with your children. Ask them to point out the similarities and differences. You can then check your child's understanding by looking for the plant in different places together. There are certain families of plants I would recommend to the stay away from, for example definitely stay away from anything in the umbellifer family. Hemlock is in this family and I would recommend that only experienced adults should forage for plants in this family.
8. Start with plants that you can use topically
Ribwort plantain is a good one to teach first as it can be used topically for nettle stings. Then when you're out and about they can build up their confidence identifying plants and start treating their own nettle stings!
9. Teach children to use all of their senses and observations when foraging
Observe where the plants like to grow (ie./ sun, shade), describe what the leaves look like, does it have a smell etc.
10. Check their understanding
Continue to check your child's understanding of safe foraging as you go on foraging forays together!
11. Please also see our other post for general safety while foraging https://www.londonbushcraft.com/post/tips-for-foraging-safely
If you're interested in a family course, bushcraft parties, school bookings or adult bookings, please see our home page:
Other blog posts you might be interested in:
Britain's native coffee
Ribwort plantain: My favourite uses for this amazing weed
14 plants to forage for this lockdown
5 ways Londoners can reconnect with nature