Wednesday 12 June 2019

What Age Should Children Forage For Food?

When you see the school's number flash up on the phone your heart always sinks. 

"What's happened? Are they all okay?"
 "Erm... It's one of your children, they've eaten something..."

I wasn't panicked though, as they said they thought it was vetch, "That's fine, I think" I replied.

I made my guess as to which child it was and they replied that she wasn't alone and had a friend with her, I then guessed the friend and said I'd pop up to go through the process that they needed to do.

When I got to school, after seeing my daughter and her friend were fine, we grabbed a sample of the plant and looked it up in a book I had brought with me and on the internet. The book I had didn't show it as it was only British natives, although lots of close relatives, but we soon found it and it's Latin name on google, I then popped over to Plants For A Future website to learn some more about this Vetch.

I like this website as it is well researched and use it quite often when learning about plants and what we can plant here.

Although it could have been Vicia Benghalensis I thought this unlikely as that is an annual and this playing field is only a 18 months old and no one has sown any seeds for a while. Instead I think it's Vicia Villosa which is a perennial and could have been in the original mix. The pictures certainly matched up with what we had with purple flowers.

It said in there that the leaves are edible, which I thought they would be being so closely related to peas and beans that we eat on a regular basis, the only danger came from the seeds which I'd assume would be toxic like eating raw runner bean seeds, they said that the cases of the seeds being toxic were unconfirmed. Only just being in flower though it was a long way from being in seed.

We still had to go through the whole NHS process of phone calls and hundreds of questions. When I did speak to someone who could talk a bit more freely they agreed that it was probably harmless and just to keep and eye on them.

It has got me wondering though. We forage for food quite a bit. Both daughters have a keen eye for it, just the other day the culprit spotted some wild strawberries in the hedgerow and pointed it out saying we should remember these for when they fruit.

We have strict rules when foraging, they show me everything before they eat it and if we come across a plant we don't know what it is then we look it up together, something we do frequently. Helps us all to learn.

But she is only five and is very head strong. I'm sure she won't do it again. I'm also fairly sure she lead her friend to do it, his mum said to me "He won't eat a frigging lettuce leaf but will happily graze from the hedgerow!"

Maybe I should have waited before teaching them the plants around them, but then part of me wonders if she thought it looked like pea leaves (which we eat) and thought they were safe.

What ever the case we've had a chat and she knows she's been silly, we got away lightly this time but it could have been a lot worse. I think she knows she's broken my trust for a little while and seems pretty cut up about it even though I've not mentioned it to her since.

My kids have free reign of this place and tend to do what they want, I can't watch them all the time.

So what do you think? Is this lesson enough for her and the others? Should I not spend so long learning plants with them and foraging and leave it until they're older?

I'm hopeful this is just a blip!


  1. I think, as both a parent and a Forest School Leader, that maybe she (they) are a bit too young just now, and you need a rule where only you pick anything, and not them. Just because of what happened. That way, they can show you what they've found, you can OK it and YOU pick it.

    It's difficult, though, but if she can't stick to your rules then then she can't be trusted at the moment.

  2. i wouldn't worry about it. i bet she learned a lesson. i would keep teaching them as you do. i think the way you are raising them is amazing!

  3. I am allowing my 2year grandson to pick and eat fruit in my garden, telling him to show me everything before he eats it, your post is a good call. Glad your daughter is OK.

  4. I watched the program planet children and was amazed at how much freedom and responsibilities children in some countries have. A little boy of about 7 in an African country had to go a long way with his little sisters to get wood. Hopefully your daughter has learned to keep your rules but as you said she probably thought she knew what she was doing. She has an amazing life.

  5. I would think in pre-grocery store times children her age would have 100x more responsibility for food gathering than they do now. But they would have grown up with these foraged foods as the only food source.
    We are kind of wrestling with this issue ourselves as the oldest wants to eat anything he finds (outside only of course, not at dinner) we do have a "show me rule" but that only works so well.
    I guess my worry is that were teaching them just enough to get themselves into trouble :(

    How funny it was vetch. I mentioned Veitch a post or two back because the leaf structure resembled those of the peanut plants we are growing.

  6. never too young if you ask me. Otherwise who knows what they would nibble on.

  7. This is a bit like "learn to know poisonous mushrooms - pick only mushroom you know" ;-)
    My kids have been foraging since they have been able to pick anything, about 1,5yrs old? In autunm when we pick mushrooms. We never eat mushrooms at forest, so it was easy to teach them to only pick mushrooms and not to eat them before cooking.

    Berries are a bit more problematic, because we have few deadly berries (like Lily of the valley), but it has never stopped me to teach them. And my children have been very smart while foraging, they have always shown me plants first. But we are always just our family at forest, so no need to "impress" anyone.
    But we have a still living culture of foraging around here in north - it is very common to go pick berries/mushrooms/go fishing/even hunting (we don't hunt) with children. It is daily thing during the growing season, no big fuss about it (even pre-schoolers sometimes go foraging with their teachers).
    But every time we teach them "this is poisonous, this could kill you" when we see poisonous plant (well, giant hogweed is "this will burn you"), and we have tried to remove the most poisonous plants (like digitalis and aconite) from our garden. This is luckily not Australia, we have only one deadly snake and no poisonous mammals ;-)

  8. I think they'll be fine Kev, no harm in foraging as long as they bring it to you for confirmation before they tuck in. They learn so much at this age, it would be a shame to stifle them.

  9. I think you give your family a wonderful life, your girl has probably learned her lesson and her little friend has probably been taught something useful too. Keep doing what you do.

  10. I was going to say what Louise said above and would add that it may not even be connected with you foraging. I work on the school site and am occasionally brought bits of plant to identify because a child has been found with something in their mouth. The last time it was three children pretending ivy leaves were biscuits. They hadn't eaten any, or even bitten them I don't think but given that most of the staff can't identify a dandelion unless it's in flower I'm quite glad I'm there.
    There is a brilliant emergency poison help facebook group for mushrooms and plants that it might be worth joining? I joined mostly because people assume I know more about foraging than I do so when a neighbour turns up with a child and a bit of plant I know where to get help. They cover the whole world, will respond in minutes and the admins knowledge is amazing.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...