Foraging for Wild Food

Here’s how to start foraging for delicious, nutritious (and free) wild edibles on your next Ohio trail adventure.

You may shop at the farmers’ market, support local restaurants, or make purchases based on the sustainability of the food you eat. Well, there’s nothing more sustainable (and cost-effective) than harvesting the food that’s growing right beneath your feet. Plus, it’s just plain fun. Next time you’re out hiking or camping, consider adding wild edibles to your meal. 

“My interest in foraging was borne out of a flavor quest,” says Kate Hodges, co-owner of Foraged & Sown, which sells farmed and foraged goods at several Columbus, Ohio, farmers’ markets. “Foraged foods offer flavors that are new or unique that can’t be mimicked in purchased foods from the grocery store.”

Getting Started

If you don’t know the difference between a chicken-of-the-woods mushroom and death-cap mushroom, collecting wild food can be intimidating. But Hodges points out that human senses are primed for plant identification. “We can ID people in a crowd very easily,” she says. “That same mechanism is at play when we talk about plants and fungi in the wild.” 

Don’t know how to identify even common plants? Turn toward Facebook groups, classes, knowledgeable friends and books to learn. Hodges recommends Foraged Flavor, by Wong and Leroux, which includes foraging tips plus recipes. Follow Columbus’s own Black Forager, Alexis Nikole, who is wildly popular on TikTok.

Hodges then recommends starting close to home—literally. If you have a yard, look in the grass for common greens like clover, chickweed, henbit and dead nettle. Ditto in a nearby park. These greens come out in early spring, when there aren’t many other plants competing visually. Then use the chickweed in a salad, add dead nettle to a ravioli filling, or make a tea out of henbit.

Where To Collect

You can harvest wild food from your own property, of course. If that’s an apartment or a postage stamp-sized lot, head to on private property to forage with permission from the owner, usually a friend. You can also harvest small amounts of wild edibles for personal use from Ohio state forests and the Wayne National Forest, no permit needed. As for state parks, reach out before visiting, as rules vary. Never collect on nature preserves or city/metro parks. Also, picking something off of a plant like a fruit—e.g., blackberries, pawpaws—is fine, but do not dig up anything, like ramps (wild leeks) or ginseng. Finally, make sure that you are harvesting from a place that has not been sprayed with herbicides and is not frequented by dogs.  

Getting more specific, edge areas are good places to find edible plants—conveniently, this means trailside in addition to where forests, fields and water meet. 

What To Collect and When


You may know stinging nettle from getting a rash after hiking through a patch of it. Next time, carefully harvest it with gloves, then heat it in a saucepan (ridding it of the stinging quality) with butter and garlic for a tasty and densely nutritious food. Redbud flowers are a tasty and attractive addition to a salad. Ramps grow in damp lowlands and are considered a choice wild edible (collect the leaves only, not the bulbs). Speaking of choice, morels are considered by many to be the best wild mushroom out there; they grow throughout Ohio in early spring.


This is berry season. Blackberry and black raspberry bushes are common along fence lines and in meadowy areas. If you’ve ever eaten a wild edible, it was probably a blackberry. Mulberry trees are common in central Ohio, including in urban areas. Serviceberry trees are also relatively common, since they are used as a landscaping plant. No preparation necessary; just pick and eat. 


Pawpaw trees, which produce the largest edible fruit native to North America, grow throughout Ohio. It’s worth a dedicated hike in September to seek out these large, sweet fruits with a custard-like pulp. Spicebush berries can be collected in the fall and eaten fresh. Take some home and dry them for use later as an alternative to allspice. The autumn olive shrub is also a common, albeit invasive, plant. You can eat the fruits raw, but they are tart, so many people prefer to make a jam or a pie out of them. 


Tree nuts can be harvested late fall through winter, including acorns, black walnuts and hickory nuts. Foraged & Sown sells cookies made with acorn flour. Late winter brings one of the best forest treats of all: maple syrup. If you or a friend have sugar maples on your property, you can tap them for the sap. Drink it fresh or boil it down into maple syrup. And keep your eyes peeled for what’s below the snow and leaf litter—next spring’s wild edibles are already pushing their way up. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.