Ethical Foraging

Written by: Matthew Iles


Foraging has been going through somewhat of a renaissance in recent years. With more time on our hands during the recent pandemic, folks found themselves on the trails and in nature a lot more, inspired by Instagram and TikTok ‘influencers’ proclaiming the benefits of connecting to nature. Spring, in particular, presents us with many delicious plants to forage, including the ever-popular ’Ramps’ (Wild Leeks) and Fiddleheads. But with a new wave of foragers utilizing nature’s bounty, comes additional pressure on already vulnerable plants and ecosystems.


This rekindled interest in foraging is welcome in many ways:

  • It gives us time outdoors, connecting with nature.
  • It can provide us with nourishing wild foods and medicine.
  • It gives us opportunities to learn about new plants and fungi.
  • It provides opportunities to make gifts, trinkets and tools from natural materials.

image of a fire-friction bow kit, crafted by hand from foraged materials of buckthorn, hickory. cedar. and birch

Author/ @wild_m.iles (Instagram) – Friction-fire kit (Bow-drill) from southern Ontario regrowth forest, White Cedar, European Buckthorn, Shagbark Hickory, Paper Birch.


Benfits of Foraging

Foraging does not need to be limited to food. Other uses of plants that we can gather from include:

  • Fire and tinder supplies
  • Natural Cordage
  • Adding colour to fabric using natural dyes
  • Homemade medicines
  • Basketry
  • Other crafts

Of course, none of these uses of native (and non-native) plants are new, and we should acknowledge and show gratitude for Indigenous folks here on Turtle Island/North America, and worldwide, for maintaining and teaching this knowledge and ancient ways of connecting with the natural world. Additionally, we should also be wary of imitating designs or traditions that are not part of our own cultures, particularly if monetizing our crafts, for example dream catchers, drums, etc.


image shows cordage made from foraged white cedar inner bark

Author/ @wild_m.iles (Instagram) – Cordage from White Cedar inner bark


Ethical and Sustainable Foraging

There are a number of other things folks need to be aware of before embarking upon foraging of any kind, in order to ensure their own personal safety, and to respect and preserve our natural plants and fungi resources. Though not exhaustive, these could be considered the basic ‘rules’ of foraging, particularly for food and medicine:

  1. Be cautious: make sure you can identify a plant 100% certainty. Use multiple identification resources. Only harvest a new plant (to you) with confirmation from an experienced forager/naturalist. (Do not rely 100% on plant ID apps.).
  2. Understand your land: Study up on your local natural landscape, local ecology and biology, including poisonous or endangered plants. Be aware of contaminated land, high dog-traffic areas, plants close to roads, etc.
  3. Harvest responsibly: be aware of harvesting limits or restrictions, take only what you need, and leave enough for wildlife and re-growth (take no more than 5% of one species in a given location.)
  4. Tread lightly: be cautious when venturing off-trail to not trample plants or to contribute towards erosion… if the ground is crumbling or seems unstable, turn back!

  5. Know the poisons:  Be particularly cautious around plants that are highly toxic, or those that look like edible or medicinal plants, for example Water Hemlock is extremely poisonous, but can be confused for wild parsnip, carrot, etc... Study, Study, Study! And keep on learning. 

  6. Start with easy and common species: Dandelion, Nettle, Chickweed, Wild Leek, Violets, Plantain, Garlic Mustard… Non-native and even invasive plants can be delicious!

    ramp season is upon us! cut only one leaf per plant

               Art by @ournuminousnature (Instagram)


In an ideal world, there would be an abundance of natural areas for everyone to be able to forage without impacts. Unfortunately, natural areas (especially those near densely populated or urban areas like in southern Ontario) can often feel the pressures of foraging. Even if every forager only takes 5% of a population, it does not take long for that population to be heavily depleted. For this reason, it is highly encouraged that you only forage in natural areas where you have explicit permission to do so. This might involve approaching a nearby farm or property with a woodlot that would not object to you foraging on the land.


Many areas, like protected parks and conservation areas, do not have the resources to allow permits for foraging or keep track of potential impacts. These areas should be left as they are for preservation and the benefit of wildlife who live there. You should also not forage from a wild population that has evidence of being collected from previously, find a new patch!


image of hand-dyed fabric made using natural dyes from foraged materials

Guelph Outdoor School – Naturally dyed fabric


Where to learn more about foraging? 

  • Local naturalist clubs.
  • Outdoor/Forest Schools in your area.
  • Other homesteading/ancient skills workshop providers.
  • Websites, Instagram accounts, etc, such as those mentioned in the resources below.

Resources & Additional Learning

1. Northern Forest Foraging Guide (Ontario) 

2. Grow Forage Cook Ferment Blog 

3. Wild Edible Blog

4. Black Forager (Instagram) @blackforager


Plant Some News in Your Inbox

Join our email list to receive occasional updates about Network of Nature and ensure you get the news that matters most, right in your inbox.