A wild food map is a simple way to identify and keep track of all the places where edible weeds, feral fruit, medicinal mushrooms and other yum things grow in your local area – so that, come late summer and autumn, many a happy weekend can be spent finding, picking and eating the bounty.
Free, local food. So good…
Foraging for weeds, wild food and feral fruit is a simple art and a pleasure that’s available to absolutely anyone. You don’t need a backyard, or a garden, or a farm – you can live in a high-rise apartment and still become a competent forager.
All you need is a willingness to learn, good information and the eyes to see.
Foraging also connects our palates with our local terroir like few other foods we have access to. It allows us to source local, seasonal food with zero food miles and removes many of the unknowns about how that food was produced.
We know what we’re eating and what it took to get these apples or those mulberries from where they grew, into our kitchen. And that is a very good thing.
So – let’s take a look at a few different ways to create your own seasonal wild food map, either on paper or online, to help you catalogue all the delicious, edible resources growing near you.
Spring is the best (and easiest) time to start your wild food map
First up, a piece of advice: early spring is a great time to get started, because early spring is blossom time – and eye-catching flowers can be the perfect way to figure out where all your local feral fruit trees are.
Self-seeded fruit trees in culverts, old orchards on abandoned sites, food trees hanging over the fence into the back laneway – it’s all what is known as ‘feral fruit’. And it’s one of the best, if unheralded, community resources an area has – whether you be in an inner-city suburb or out in the middle of nowhere.
Take a walk or a drive around your area and this will become mightily apparent. And with these beacons of blossom, you can map out the feral fruit of your area. All you need is a map, pen and paper, and your eyes.
The point of this system is this: we all see fruit trees flowering in spring. We seldom remember where they were by late summer, when everything is green and lush and the fruit is hard to see. So, hunt down this wonderful community resource when the time is right.
Later in the piece you’ll probably want to do a round-up of what trees have ended up fruiting, say in mid-summer. Lots of flowers do not mean lots of fruit necessarily, so checking is a good idea.
Also, everything ripens at its own time, so from mid-summer on you may want to do a round of your map every two weeks or so.
The more feral fruit trees you find and put on your map, the better your chances are of getting a harvest. Self-seeded trees, old, un-renovated trees and even lovingly cared-for trees don’t always bear much fruit, or yummy fruit, necessarily. It depends on the year and, to a degree, luck.
Once you’re confident with fruit and nut trees? It’s time to get started with mapping edible weeds, wild medicinal fungi, verge-side herb hedges and anything else you spot in your neighbourhood that would be tasty to forage.
How to make your own wild food map – the paper version
A wild food map sketched onto paper can be a thing of beauty – a talking point in your household, a physical reminder to get outside and check all those feral fruit trees, and a knowledge-base that grows stronger over time.
Here’s how to create one for your ‘hood:
- Get hold of a map of your area. Google Maps should do the trick in most cases – print out a large copy and draw straight onto it. Or, for a cleaner version, stick your printed map up on a window with plain white paper on top, and trace out the streets and other key features of your map.
- Add details to your maps using colours, notes and symbols. You might even like to add a legend with different colours for different harvest seasons (eg – summer, autumn, winter, spring), allowing you to see what’s ripe at a glance.
- Next, go out into your community – as you find and identify wild food, add it to your map. Spring is the best time to start – mark off where all the blossoming trees are that you think might be food trees – even if you’re not sure what sort of fruit or otherwise edible substance the tree will yield. You can always cross that tree off the map later, if it ends up that you’ve mistaken a tree peony for a pear tree or something.
- Keep adding details over time. You might like to mark things with numbers on your map, and then at the base or on the back, write down the numbers with any useful info next to them. For example – the colour of the flowers, the taste of the fruit, and anything that could be relevant to future harvesting potential (might need a ladder, mad dog being very barky inside fence… etc).
Online maps and collaborative digital projects to help you map wild edibles
If a digital map is more your style, you might like to investigate one of these many, deeply excellent initiatives (or start your own local online map!):
- Falling Fruit – a massive, global collaborative map of the urban harvest.
- Fruit Map – another giant, global and collaborative foraging map.
- Forager’s Buddy – GPS foraging via a phone app.
- @wildfoodmap on Instagram – an older account that’s no longer actively used, but is still full of lots of great info about foraging in Australia.
- New Zealand Fruit and Food Share Map – an interactive map for folks in NZ.
- Brisbane Feral Fruit Map – mapping fruit, herbs, edible weeds, mushrooms and more in the city of Brisbane, Queensland.
- Canberra Urban Foraging map – for those of you who live in Australia’s capital city.
- Feral Fruit Trees Melbourne – a website and map pinpointing fruit trees in the city of Melbourne, Victoria.
- Hackney Harvest – a fruit tree map focusing on London’s Hackney borough.
- Denver Fruit Map – an urban foraging fruit map for Denver, Colorado.
- Vild Mad (‘wild food’ in Danish) – an app and mapping tool for foraging and cooking with wild edibles in Denmark.
And I need to mention Fallen Fruit also – LA based fruit mappers/artists: “Using fruit as our lens, Fallen Fruit investigates urban space, ideas of neighborhood and new forms of located citizenship and community. From protests to proposals for new urban green spaces, we aim to reconfigure the relation between those who have resources and those who do not, to examine the nature of and in the city, and to investigate new, shared forms of land use and property.” So good! Here they are on Facebook too.
But surely that’s not it? Anyone got any other leads? Or maps? Or community initiatives?
Perhaps, as my own mother pointed out (who is a feral fruitier from way back) some folks keep the location of their secret peach trees to themselves… but I say that resource shared is a resource expanded so – any other leads on like-minded projects? Let me know in the comments below, plz.
Ways to share your foraging map with your community
A resource shared is a resource made real. So get others in on the act.
This could be over a cup of tea, with you sticking your wild food map in their face and imploring them to add to it, or perhaps putting your map online somewhere and inviting people to add to it (or to send you details of trees to add to it yourself).
There are a gazillion and one ways of sharing this information, but a couple of quick examples:
- Find your area online at Google Maps, then add it to ‘My Maps’ at a usable scale. You can then put placemarks, with notes, wherever you have found a tree onto that map. You can also share that map URL with others. Here’s a good example from Fitzroy, a suburb of Melbourne.
- Post a map as a photo to a photo sharing site such as Flickr, and make the photo public. Allow people to add ‘notes’ to your picture, and each point selected on the photo becomes a reference to a tree.
- Collect emails and send around a Google Docs file, allowing people to update points.
If you’re shy about contacting people directly to contribute, stick up a sign or two wherever is relevant (pole, community board) or just chalk the URL onto the pavement at various street corners. You could even print out some copies of the URL plus a brief description, then letterbox-drop your area, inviting people to add to it.
And if no one else responds – hey, more feral fruit for you! Just don’t get a tummy ache from eating too much autumn goodness when the time comes…
The benefits of foraging – connection to place + access to seasonal, local food
But – why bother doing all this in the first place? Well, foraging connects us with the world, and with each other, in many different ways.
Pattern recognition takes up a large part of the human brain. Traditionally, learning and knowing the patterns of which leaves and berries to eat and which ones to leave alone was central to life (quite literally).
Once you know what you’re doing, thanks to our capacity for recognising and remembering patterns, spotting a plum tree at a distance becomes as obvious as looking at a tomato. And this is permaculture in action, folks – a way to practice the principle ‘Design From Patterns to Details’ in your everyday life.
Foraging around where you live, or in a place that you visit often, also embeds you in a place like few other activities can. A map grows in your head (and hopefully on paper too) of your local park, gully, headland or railway easement, with points of reference that are different from how you would usually see the local environment.
And at the end of it all, you get delicious, local, seasonal food to eat, enjoy and share – zero food miles or single-use plastics involved. Hurrah.
A reminder on foraging ethics – only take what you need
Resources held in common good on common ground are best treated as just that – a common resource, not just for you.
So – if the plum tree you’ve found down the gully is full of ripe plums, it doesn’t mean you need to harvest 12 buckets-full if you will, in fact, only use three. Harvest three buckets instead and tell your friends where the tree is.
Leaving plums on the tree is not wasting them. It’s allowing for other possibilities, outside your small reckoning. Use what you harvest and use every bit. Consider also that you may not be the only forager of this tree.
This is gratitude, and ethical foraging.
Extra foraging resources
- Our free Milkwood foraging guide – downloadable, so you can take it foraging with you.
- Our book – Milkwood: Real Skills for Down-to-Earth Living – also has a full chapter on Wild Food.
- The Right to Roam: tips for first-time foragers
- Learn 5 Wild & Useful Plants Near You
- Forage Farming
- On Voluntary Simplicity and Frugality
- The Weedy Connection database, curated by master forager, Diego Bonetto.
- The deeply excellent Black Forager videos, by Alexis Nikole.
- And here’s all our articles on Foraging Food.