For someone who often plays the crunchy card, I’m pretty intimidated by foraging. Pros like Alexis Nikole Nelson make it look so easy, tossing gorgeous wild mushrooms and leeks into baskets to use in all sorts of tasty, earthy dishes. But I’m not very familiar with the wild plants in my region. I figure there’s a 50/50 chance that I’ll poison myself during an effort to connect with my local flora. Fortunately, there’s an app for that—actually, several apps.
Apps can be helpful if, like me, you’re excited by the idea of foraging but don’t know where to start. With indexes, photos, and comments from other foragers, foraging apps are a great way to dip your toe into your local horticulture scene. Plus, scrolling a foraging app is a way more fulfilling pastime than, say, scrolling Instagram. Staring at a milky-white mushroom instead of staring at a milky-white influencer? I’m there.
- iNaturalist: iNaturalist is a lot like NextDoor, but less horrible. Originally developed by the National Geographic Society and the California Academy of Sciences, iNaturalist is perfect for new foragers interested in consulting with more experienced community members. In this free app, you can log your observations during foraging excursions—interesting mushrooms, for example—and connect with other foragers if you have questions or concerns.
- PictureThis: Billed as “a botanist in your pocket,” this app allows you to snap photos of any plant and match it to one of the 10,000 in the PictureThis archives. It’s highly accurate, according to a group of researchers who assessed the app for a study published in the Journal of Medical Toxicology. It’s free, but you can take advantage of in-app purchases like unlimited plant ID privileges. I will say, this one isn’t exclusively targeted toward foraging, but it’s mighty handy nonetheless.
- Wild Edibles: Contrary to this app’s name, Wild Edibles has nothing to do with THC-infused chocolate. Instead, it sorts plants by a number of different criteria (season or habitat, for example) so you can identify them in the field. It’s more focused on foraging than PictureThis, which is helpful for a new forager who could be overwhelmed by a ton of information. It’s also great because it includes both poisonous and non-poisonous look-alikes. The free “lite” version is no longer available, but I think dropping $5.99 on the current version is well worth it.
Ready to hit the foraging trail? Just remember: leave no trace, don’t overpick a patch, and be sure to forage respectfully. If you’re not sure what that looks like, there are some great tips from FoodPrint here.