top of page

Kansas Foraging Basics

Updated: May 28, 2023

Foraging is a great way to connect with the environment around us and learn more about it, but it can be a bit overwhelming when getting started. Foraging is defined as the process of searching for and harvesting edible or medicinal plants and fungi in the wilderness. There are a few keys to take into your foraging journey to stay safe and have fun.

First, it is important to prioritize your own safety and there are a few telltale signs that a plant may be poisonous. One test you can do is break off a stem or leaf and examine the sap. Plants containing latex sap, also known as milky sap for its white color, have been known to cause allergic reactions or irritation. You also should avoid consuming plants with fine hairs or umbrella shaped flower clusters or waxy leaves unless you can identify them with 100% certainty as edible. When it comes to mushrooms it is best not to eat them unless you can be absolutely sure of their species.

So you have found a plant that doesn’t appear to be harmful but you can’t identify it, there are further ways you can test its safety. Start by rubbing a bit of it on your skin and waiting fifteen minutes to see if there is any reaction. Next try putting a tiny bit in your mouth and spitting it out. If there is bitterness, soapiness, or you feel any numbness the plant is not edible. If not you can try swallowing a bit of the plant and monitoring your digestion for the next 8 hours or so. Following these guidelines will keep you safe even in cases in which you think you can properly identify a plant by sight, after all, there are many lookalikes in nature.

Congratulations! You identified an edible plant! There are still a few factors to consider when it comes to safety. Think about the soil and water quality of the area you are foraging in. If you are near a factory, golf course, road, or the natural area has been disrupted in another significant way you may want to think twice about eating the plants that grow there to avoid consuming excessive pesticides or other harmful chemicals.

It is also important to have good etiquette as a forager. This means a couple things, as always leave no trace. Just like any other time you are spending in nature, we should leave the area as we found it (no, apple cores are not okay to throw out on the trail.) The second part of foraging etiquette is not over-foraging any area. Let’s say this August you find a gold mine of Kansas-native pawpaw fruit. It may be tempting to take as much as possible and save it for use throughout the year, but as long as the earth shares with us we need to share with each other. Foraging is about connecting with nature and one of the best parts about it is that we all have the opportunity to connect in that way, whether you are an urban forager or you go out to a remote area to forage.

Now that we’ve gotten safety and etiquette out of the way let’s talk about some edible plants you can find in Kansas! Everywhere I go now I see tons of dandelions and onion grass. The entire dandelion plant is edible from root to flower. Mulberries are abundant here during the heat of summer and I look forward to munching on them every year. Another fun one is the Arkansas yucca. I used to think yucca plants only grew in the desert but this variety grows in the rocky, dry areas of Kansas. I hope this inspires you to look at some plants outside more critically and see all the ways the earth can provide for you!


bottom of page