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The Essence of Urban Foraging

An Interview with Becky Lerner

Over the last few months, I’ve been interviewing amazing writers about simple living, location independence, financial freedom, and more. Today the feature interview is with Becky Lerner. We talked about her blog First Ways, the benefits of urban foraging, and more!

Enjoy the interview peeps!


Tammy: Can you tell us about your blog, First Ways?

Becky: First Ways is my urban foraging blog, where I write about adventures like eating, healing, smoking, brewing and otherwise having fun with the wild plants of the city. Sometimes I share my own stories or those of my friends, and other times I like to highlight really interesting videos floating around or profile fascinating people who are into foraging. Above all my goal is to inspire, empower and entertain.

Tammy: What is urban foraging? And what are some advantages of foraging?

Becky: Rarely do we think about the weeds growing in sidewalk cracks, but in fact they are very valuable — and everyone can have them — and they’re free. Every plant on Earth has a use for human beings, because we co-evolved together over hundreds of thousands of years. Everything we need to live is growing out of the ground.

Urban foraging is about recognizing that, getting back in touch with those plants for fun or for food and folk medicine — if you’re lucky enough to find an abundance, it can add free, healthy food to your diet.

Tammy: How did you get into foraging?

Becky: I first heard about foraging when I was learning wilderness survival from some rural homesteaders in Ithaca, NY, three years ago. It transformed my world to find out that plants have direct relevance to my life, that they aren’t just random abstract living things that happen to be here too, so I took that knowledge with me when I moved to the city of Portland, Oregon, later on.

Foraging is a great way to experience yourself as part of the landscape. It’s also a way to build self-sufficiency skills, something that’s very appealing in times of uncertainty. Plants are everywhere, so you can do it in the city or the country.

Tammy: How is foraging related to simple living?

Becky: What can be simpler than picking your own food or making your own medicine? Foraging is as simple as living gets. It’s even easier than gardening.

Tammy: Do you have a favorite edible that you routinely forage for?

Becky: My favorite edible all-around is the dandelion. I love roasting the roots and making a caffeine-free coffee, stir-frying the leaves in curry, and making wine out of the blossoms.

But I get excited about so many wild plants. I love purple dead nettle because it’s full of antioxidants. I love sorel because the leaves are heart-shaped. And then there’s chestnut flour, which has an unbeatable sweet, nutty flavor. Oh, and fruits and berries are great too — I love picking blackberries in late summer and the fruits of the strawberry tree (Madrone) in fall. There’s so much out there!

Tammy: Your blog is very thoughtful and I think everyone should head over and take a look at your content. Which of your posts should my readers check out first?

Becky: First Ways has something for everyone: If you’re a foodie, check out the posts up right now about chantrelles, Madrone fruit, or my review of the new wild food cookbook by Steve Brill. If you’re intrigued by hallucinogenic wild plants, check out this piece on the dark Datura. Or for something a bit tamer, here’s one on smoking lemon balm, a kind of mint, to relax. And if you’re into survival, don’t miss my posts about living off urban weeds for two weeks.

Tammy: Do you have any upcoming projects you want to share with us?

Becky: I’m excited about a top-secret writing project I’m working on. It’s in the developmental stages.

Tammy: Everyone has unique skills; skills that I call superpowers. What is your superpower?

Becky: Foragers get x-ray vision, the power to see free food, smoke blends and medicine where others just see weeds if they notice anything at all.


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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Lisa Fine December 22, 2010, 7:07 am

    I love the concepts in this post, especially as a forager myself, and to have found a blog to learn more about foraging and identification.

    But I was saddened that there was no mention of foraging just small amounts of foods and things to leave some behind for other humans and critters. While I love picking fresh berries where I live, I want the birds and other creatures (humans included) to have their share.

    • Gabe December 23, 2010, 8:49 am

      hi lisa,

      i agree, it is always important to emphasize, when spreading the word about foraging, to only take your fair share and to do your part to protect and nurture favorite foraging spots for future generations of your community, both human and non. i can assure you, however, being a personal friend of becky’s and having done a good deal of foraging with her, that she agrees as well and that harvesting for the health of the plant is always in the front of her mind. beyond that, i know she also makes a point of advocating this ethic when giving plant walks or writing about foraging. for example, here’s one place she talks about ethical harvesting on her blog: http://firstways.com/resources/

      thanks for your comment and for bringing this vital thread into the conversation! happy foraging!

      • Becky January 11, 2011, 2:53 am

        Dear Lisa,

        You’re absolutely right and I do agree with you. Scarcity is a real problem and it’s important to look out for our wild forager friends.

        And Gabe – thank you so much for posting the link with more info on that topic! The dialogue here has inspired me to write more about ethnical harvesting on my blog soon!



  • Vanessa December 22, 2010, 8:06 am

    LOVED this post! I’m really excited to learn what I can about the plants in my surrounding area now. I learned a lot about edible wild plants, berries and flowers when I was out in New Mexico but the foliage here in North Carolina is much different. Go urban foraging! Off to check out First Ways 🙂

  • Logan December 22, 2010, 9:23 am

    Becky’s class is pretty awesome as well. Two hours of walking around your neighborhood eating and learning more about the plants you see daily. Knowledge has the power to completely alter your paradigm and allow you to see below the surface of your everyday life. 🙂

    • Darci December 22, 2010, 11:39 am

      Thanks for the class review, Logan! I was wondering if Becky did something like that. I’ll look her up!

  • Matt December 22, 2010, 12:02 pm

    Thanks for turning us on to this cool blog Tammy.

  • Jessilicious December 22, 2010, 12:32 pm

    Okay, smoking lemon balm? I must check this out… lol.

    Great interview here Tammy and Becky! I’m excited to learn more about foraging – this is definitely right up my alley! 😉

  • Bethany December 22, 2010, 3:18 pm

    Cool! Headed over to her blog now!

  • Lisa December 23, 2010, 11:53 am

    Thanks for this post. Now I have another new blog to add to my favorites! BTW, I haven’t smoked lemon balm but have tried catnip and found it quite pleasant.

  • Jan Santos December 23, 2010, 7:19 pm

    Becky’s class is pretty awesome as well. Two hours of walking around your neighborhood eating and learning more about the plants you see daily. Knowledge has the power to completely alter your paradigm and allow you to see below the surface of your everyday life. 🙂

  • Jen December 23, 2010, 10:41 pm

    What a very neat interview. I was realizing while reading that this is basically what the Native Americans did to survive. I have always heard that Dandelion is very good for you and has so many health benefits. My pet chicken used to love them, as a kid I would go all over the yard looking for them for her. It never occured to me that we could share :). Definitly heading over to this Gals website.