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Natural Awakenings Fairfield County/Housatonic Valley, CT

Foraging Your Own Path

Feb 28, 2020 09:26AM ● By Patricia Staino

by Patricia Staino

Beyond offering a one-year certification in sustainable nutrition, The Institute Of Sustainable Nutrition in West Granby often runs sustainable foraging walks to educate the public on the nutritional and medicinal value of Connecticut’s wild, indigenous plants, how to identify them, and how to responsibly gather and utilize them. Natural Awakenings recently talked to the Institute’s founder, Joan Palmer, about the growing interest in local foraging.

What excites you about sustainable nutrition?

It’s important to understand what wants to grow in our area and how we can grow and prepare it without impacting the rest of the world. How do we grow our food and medicine so we’re not shipping in amendments and fertilizers—even organic products—from around the world, where we don’t know how the workers and the land were treated? Why aren’t we using fermentations and local minerals that work on the health and biology of the soil? What’s good for the soil is good for the plants, is good for the animals, the environment and us.

Why is foraging an important part of nutrition education?

We try throughout the year to get students out foraging to learn about some of the really plentiful herbs/weeds, trees, shrubs and more in our region, even some of the “invasives.” There’s a vendetta to get rid of the invasives and weeds in our area, but many of them, from an herbalist’s and nutritionist’s perspective, are useful. A lot of them have powerful medicine in them. Japanese knotweed is a perfect example; it’s a vilified invasive, and it is one that wants to take over everything, but it also is a very important plant for emerging bacterial infections like Lyme disease. A lot of these invasives are also edible, so rather than just putting them in big plastic bags and sending them off to a landfill, we could be harvesting, preparing and consuming them. Many of the wild plants are more nutritious and mineral-rich than much of the produce found in our grocery stores.  

So, pulling these invasives solves two problems?

Using invasives helps the native plants not be “out-competed” and gives us access to important plant medicine, much of which is also edible and nourishing. As foraging becomes more popular, we worry about the impact of overharvesting noninvasive plants in our wild spaces, so we emphasize sustainable foraging. If you find a stand of a certain plant, what are the criteria to know if that is something you should be harvesting? What are the numbers of plants in that local stand, regionally, nationally?  Is it in a clean location? How much can you take without impacting the survivability of the group? How much do you really need? We teach students that there’s an ethical concern we have to address when we start foraging.

For more information on programs through The Institute of Sustainable Nutrition, or to sign up for its next foraging walk, visit See ad, page 18.

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