Finding healthy food, peaceful escape by searching for food

Under the early morning summer sun, Amy Demers patiently waited for the other amateur researchers to arrive at Bluff Point Park in Groton.

This was the eleventh time they’ve hosted a free foraging walk since the CT Foraging Club was founded in early 2021. Although Demers also hosts foraging classes, the free picnics are for people with some foraging experience. .

Demers don’t usually stray too far from their home in Wallingford, but every now and then, she likes to forage in different parts of the state to meet new people and find new wild plants.

“It’s like a scavenger hunt,” she said. “If you get outside and you’re on a picnic or a walk in the woods and you can really get to know things and then take some home and cook them, that definitely makes your hikes and walks more exciting.”

Slowly, the foragers came out of the parking lot. These were people from all walks of life – there were solo researchers, a family of foraging, scientists drawn by friends, novice and expert foragers.

Within five minutes of starting the march, the group had already stopped twice to pick some olives in the fall. Although Demers was technically the pioneer, some of the participants took charge, sharing their knowledge with everyone and referring to edible plants.

One of the first plants the group tried was the black birch that grows on the edges of the path. There were audible gasps as everyone was nibbling off the root of the plant, tasting the root beer even though the plant smelled like mint.

“Unless you’re dieting, you won’t be able to experience those unique flavors,” Demers said.

What is fodder?

According to the Khan Academy, humanity has been searching for 95% of the existence of our species. It is based on the tradition of hunting and gathering, but the emergence of agriculture, supermarkets and restaurants has practically eliminated the need all over the world.

However, the pandemic has played a role in transforming foraging from a unique pastime with few practitioners, to a popular pastime as more and more people turn to nature for peace and an accessible source of healthy food.

The Mycology Society of North America has seen 60% growth in membership during the pandemic and the number of its foraging clubs nearly doubled, according to NAMA COO Bruch Reed.

Mycology is the branch of biology concerned with fungi. Founded in 1959, NAMA has about 2,200 members in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

“Increasingly we are discovering that mushrooms are the organisms that connect the world together in terms of the chain of life,” Reed said. “Like an apple is the fruit of a tree, the fruit of a mushroom is a mushroom.”

He explained that many types of mushrooms aid in the decomposition of other animals and plants to help create nutrient-rich soil and feed the wild plants around them.

Although most people go to hiking trails and forest reserves to find food, “Wildman” Steve Brill says that some of the best finds can be right outside your door in a local yard or park.

Brill has been foraging in New York City’s Central Park for over 30 years and knows the best locations to find edible wild herbs that are full of nutrients.

“The planet’s biggest enemy in urban parks are lawnmowers,” Brill said. “But they are very afraid of going too close to lampposts, sidewalks, rocks…so those areas have a lot of edible and renewable herbs.”

Some other places for urban forage are fields, lawns, hedges and on the fringes of organic farms, lawns and wetlands. In these vast and open spaces, you can find many alfalfa, forest mushrooms or berries if you look hard enough.

However, he recommends avoiding areas with heavy vehicular traffic, such as highways, and areas likely to be covered with pesticides.


Researchers should also be familiar with the park’s rules and regulations.

For example, on March 29, 1986, Brill was arrested by secret police and park rangers for eating dandelion. He was charged with criminal mischief and removing vegetation.

“Check me, I don’t know if [the police] “They were looking for weeds or weeds, but they took me to the police station in handcuffs. Then they made a terrible mistake – they shot me,” Brill said.

Brill took his capture in stride, and immediately after his release, he called all the news stations he could think of to share his story. At his trial, he brought ready-made wild food to the journalists waiting outside the courtroom.

The city has since updated its foraging regulations in Central Park, and Brill says people can be seen foraging there almost every week.

In Connecticut, picking plants from state parks or forests is prohibited unless authorized by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Permits are mainly granted to search for educational and scientific food.

However, mushrooms in state parks are allowed and have no restrictions.

“Foraging has become very popular lately and I think some of our laws are outdated,” Demers said. “I think it would be good for our state if we made invasive plant picking legal in state parks because humans would be the predator we don’t have for those invasive plants.”

When Demers hosts a picnic at a state park, such as Bluff Point, she advises the group not to take anything home and use the expedition to help identify edible plants for future foraging.

Generally, Demers don’t stress much about picking out invasive plants in state gardens because it helps create space for native plants to take root.

“If there’s a piece of basil water and I pick it up, I feel like I’m helping her,” she said. “I won’t hurt anything.”

Rules for foraging in municipal parks vary by city and town. In New Haven, for example, it is illegal to collect mushrooms in city parks while in Wallingford there are no regulations, Demers says.

Health benefits

Reed said that wild foods and mushrooms have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries in Eastern culture, especially in Asian countries.

“The study of mushrooms for medicine in Western culture is still in its infancy,” he said. Mushrooms have been cultivated for centuries, but mushroom cultivation is relatively new in the West but it is not there.

A recent study published in Advances in Nutrition Journal found that eating 18 grams of mushrooms daily may reduce the risk of cancer by 45% because mushrooms are full of amino acids and antioxidants that prevent or slow down cancer cells.

Mushrooms can also help lower cholesterol, reduce salt intake, stimulate a healthier gut and support your immune system, says UCLA Health.

There have also been some studies on the therapeutic relief that psilocybin mushrooms, commonly known as magic mushrooms, can provide.

Known as psilocybin therapy, the psychedelic effects of magic mushrooms can help longtime smokers quit and ease the anxiety of patients with fatal cancer, according to the Center for Psychiatric Drug Research and Psilocybin Therapy at Johns Hopkins Medicine. Researchers have also found that magic mushrooms can relieve major depression and are used as a treatment for alcoholism.

Reed said he’s seen the positive effects magic mushrooms can have on someone with a terminal illness.

He had given a woman diagnosed with the cancerous narcotic fungus he had previously researched. I used mushrooms during guided meditation. After her death, Reed received a letter from her thanking him for helping to relieve “the horror, the grief, the depression, and the confusion.”

“She’s come out on the other side and is able to enjoy the rest of her life and find that perspective,” Reid said. “This is not something that should be underestimated in terms of its value to humanity.”

In 2021, John Hopkins Medicine received the first federal grant for drug therapy in more than 50 years. The three-year study is funded by the National Institutes of Health and will focus on the effect of psilocybin on tobacco addiction.

On a basic level, however, foraging gets people outside, helps cultivate an intimate relationship with nature and provides nutrient-rich foods without pesticides, says John Wheeler, president of the Berkshire Mycologist and Mushroom Scientist for 34 years. Foraging can also stimulate the brain by helping to develop a person’s knowledge of local ecosystems and improving observational skills.

“You might learn more about biomedical mushrooms and start medicine,” he said. “You might learn more about the culinary arts; you might go into forestry because mushrooms live and feed trees and help fight pathogens.” “It is a multifaceted education.”

Feed provides free food

From a financial perspective, foraging helps reduce a person’s spending on food at the grocery store.

“Obviously, food prices have gone up a lot, so you can look for berries and get loads of berries for free, or the same amount of berries from the grocery store could cost close to $100,” Demers said.

In a small area of ​​the woods near Demers’ house, I found 70 different chickens of forest mushrooms, the equivalent of about hundreds of pounds. She drained most of her discoveries because she collected so much.

“I definitely saved a lot of money by being able to eat almost full meals sometimes,” she said.

She hopes to one day start hosting foraging classes in low-income communities to teach residents how to get nutritious food and supplement whatever they get from groceries.

Soon after founding the CT Foraging Club, Demers reached out to two chefs, Jason Eilers and Dylan Sydenburg, to create the foraging experience at the table.

She hosts an excursion and learns to recognize different plants by touch and smell. Next, Ditto Cooks, as they call themselves on Instagram, churn out a platter featuring all the foods the group was feasting on.

Demers feast before the event to supply Ehlers and Siedenburg with key ingredients and make up the rest with produce from local farmers markets.

“It’s hard to find a lot of people in the United States really aware that what they’re eating is killing or helping them,” Sedenburg said. “Educating people that you can have a complete, healthy and satisfying diet based on anything grown in your area, I think is very important not only to agriculture, local business and the community but also just to the health of the individual.”

Additionally, Ditto Chefs stressed that eating wild foods from your local ecosystem can help boost immunity, especially for allergies.

“When you think of nature as an ecosystem, everything is in balance,” Eilers said. “If you live in a certain area of ​​Connecticut and eat honey from that part, it will help treat your allergies.

They also said that canned food tastes better.

“The idea of ​​using what’s around you and taking advantage of what you have versus taking it from somewhere else puts aside the flavor,” Eilers explained. “It’s an aspect of the labor of love that you put into it using that energy around you.”

It is essential to double check, especially with mushrooms, if wild food is poisonous before eating anything.

On the Mycological Society of North America website, there is a Toxicology page that details what types of mushrooms to avoid, how to treat poisoning, and provides access to other resources.

You shouldn’t judge people’s interactions with mushrooms [toxicity] said Reed, chief operating officer of NAMA.[You’ll be] Miss some of the finest and most delicious luxury foods that North America has to offer and that grow in abundance, including most likely on your patio or nearby.”

It’s still fun even if you don’t find much

The outcome from the recent Bluff Point foraging drive was not as productive as expected.

Before returning home, only a few of the twenty forages had picked handfuls of sassafras and autumn olives.

Regardless, everyone enjoyed the serenity that Bluff Point Park gave them.

“It’s soothing to be able to walk in the woods on your own and pay attention to the different plants and mushrooms around you,” Demers said. “It certainly makes you appreciate the earth and the world.”

Health justice reporter Chris Villalonga Vivone is a panellist with Report for America, a national service program that puts journalists in local newsrooms. To learn more about RFA, go to Villalonga-Vivoni can be reached at

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