Edible Wild Plants for Sale
By Steve Gillman
Will people buy edible wild plants? You bet they will. One
simple example is the vendors of wild blueberries along Highway
2 in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. But even the more obscure wild
foods can be sold.
Outside Magazine published an article by Richard Conniff on
this subject in late 2011. Conniff profiled wild foods forager
Evan Strusinkski, who collects his edible wild plants in Maine
and adjoining states. He harvests sea rocket along the coast
(I used to eat this on the beaches of northern Michigan). He
digs toothwort roots in the inland forests, and picks mushrooms
of several varieties. The list goes on.
Who buys the wild produce he collects? Chefs from high-priced
restaurants in New York city are his best clients. He sends daily
Fedex shipments in Styrofoam containers (to keep the plants fresh).
Apart from the usual desire Chefs (and customers) have to try
new things, there is a movement towards more "traceable"
food, meaning foods that are as directly connected to a known
source as is possible.
How Much Can You Make?
This is a relatively new industry, and there are no good records
of what foragers of edible wild plants make. In the article mentioned
above it was noted that while chefs paid $10 per pound for ramps
(wild leeks-I have gathered a pound in ten minutes), and $12
per pound for sweet flag, these same chefs often chided Strusinkski
for not charging enough. Given the labor intensive nature of
the work, and the lower productivity of most wild plants versus
domestic ones, high prices are probably necessary.
Ways to Make More | Related Opportunities
Living near a large city can help if you want to deliver the
foods yourself. Restaurants in smaller cities rarely experiment
as much, so there may not be a market (yet) in these places.
Overnight shipping can make foraging farther from cities more
viable, but you need to at least be working close to a good Fedex
or U.S. Postal Service office.
Qualifications / Requirements
Obviously you need to learn which plants are edible. You will
also need to learn which are rare and protected by law. Cooking
a few dishes using your finds is a good idea as well. You may
have to educate chefs to some extent to sell your wild foods.
Get an identification guide or two for wild edible plants.
Go foraging and see how long it takes to collect various plants,
so you can set a fair price. Experiment at home with recipes
using what you collect. Then start contacting restaurants that
have open-minded chefs.
Edible Wild Plants - You'll find a collection
of pages on edible and useful plants here.
Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods From Dirt To Plate, by
John Kallas (Gibbs Smith 2010) - A highly rated guide to
foraging for dinner (or for profit).