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General Guidelines for Picking Wild Food

What everyone who picks wild food needs to know

There are a few golden rules for safely enjoying wild foods.
 
(1) Only pick something that you can positively identify as safe.
This might seem really obvious, but you'd be amazed how often people poison themselves by picking something that they think can't possibly be poisonous.
 
You can ONLY be sure that something is safe to eat by knowing what it is. There are no 'rules of thumb' that will keep you safe other than that one.
 
ALWAYS check the identification of the specimen in at least one or two good guidebooks, and ideally check the identification with someone else who is experienced in identifying wild foods of that type.
 
(2) Do no Harm. Respect the Environment.
Again, it might sound like un-neccesary advice, but while gathering your wild food you should ensure that you don't ruin the place you're picking from. You're only one of the users of the habitat, you're sharing it with many other people and animals, and you have a responsibility to do no harm.
 
If it's rare, don't pick it. If it's locally uncommon, don't pick it. If you have to cause damage to get to it, then don't pick it. It might seem a little thing to trample through wildflowers to get to the raspberry canes, but if you do that then you might cause incalculable harm.
 
(3) Only pick what you can use
Pretty early in your hobby of picking wild foods, you'll be presented with an opportunity to pick way more of something than you can comfortably use. You might be tempted to go home with three giant puffballs under your arm, a basket full of oyster mushrooms and enough damsons in your rucksack to sink a battleship but can you actually use them all? Not only will you be driven to distraction as you hunt down recipes to use as much of your haul as possible, but after a couple of days you'll be bored of eating the same thing.
 
Pick responsibly. Leave enough fruit and mushrooms at each site to ensure that the other people and animals get their share. It's yours to pick, but don't let it be yours to waste.
 
(4) Be Cautious with New Foods.
Just because something is generally edible, that doesn't mean that you can eat it. It might not agree with you, you might be allergic, or it might just ruin your dinner.
 
A wild food picker can be eating a vast range of different foodstuffs that are pretty much unrelated to anything in the diets of most people. Don't run out and mix dozens of different species in your first recipes, and don't eat enormous quantities of new foods. Until you know it's going to agree with you, be a little careful.
 
(5) Enjoy Yourself!
This isn't a competetive sport. If at the end of your foray you have an  empty basket then that doesn't matter. The point is to enjoy the experience of foraging. To enjoy the walk. To take time out to watch the birds, mammals and bugs that you'll come across, and to spend the time marvelling at the beauty of the plants and fungi that are on your route. Don't let the quest to pick something delicious ruin your day, and don't pick something edible (but unpleasant) just 'because'.

More Information

The British Mycological Society has a mushroom pickers code of conduct that I would reccomend everyone who picks wild mushrooms reads.