My passion is to explore the flavors that nature is offering us. As such, I spend a lot of time researching (ethnobotany, culinary history, herbalism, etc...) and experimenting, often using traditional and modern food preservation techniques such as fermentation, brining, pickling and so on. For example; how to make cheese using plant rennets, making sodas using wild yeast and herbs, gourmet vinegars from homemade wines and brews, infused salts, primitive brews, creating spice blends and more.
I find the whole process extremely exciting and creative. Through a network of friends I have access to over 500 acres of land representing various types of environments to do my research. When I was working on my book "The New Wildcrafted Cuisine", I also had the opportunity to work with some of the best chefs in the country for a few years and expand my knowledge in the process.
Now that the book is done, I'm back to research, learning and teaching. These days my interest is in exploring uses of wild yeast and bacteria for fermentation (lacto-fermentation, etc...), primitive and traditional brewing, old methods of food preservation and traveling to expand my knowledge of plants. I just came back from Vermont which was quite a informative experience.
I don't see myself as a "forager" but more as a culinary explorer and wildcrafter.
The difference is subtle but important - Wildcrafting is not about taking from nature but working with it and even helping the environment. It's not a new concept, there is an excellent book on the subject called "Tending the wild" by M. Kat Anderson which explains how humans used to interact with the wilderness. In my recent travels, I've seen some great examples of harmonious relationship between man and nature where both benefited.
Wikipedia has an excellent definition for wildcrafting:
Wildcrafting is the practice of harvesting plants from their natural, or "wild" habitat, for food or medicinal purposes. It applies to uncultivated plants wherever they may be found, and is not necessarily limited to wilderness areas. Ethical considerations are often involved, such as protecting endangered species.
When wildcrafting is done sustainably with proper respect, generally only the fruit, flowers or branches from plants are taken and the living plant is left, or if it is necessary to take the whole plant, seeds of the plant are placed in the empty hole from which the plant was taken. Care is taken to only remove a few plants, flowers, or branches, so plenty remains to continue the supply.
Factually in California and many other states, the vast majority of what people will find as wild edibles are non natives and invasive plants such as lamb's quarter, nettles, curly dock, many types of mustard, figs, chervil, fennel, horehound, mallow, sweet white clover, olives, wild radish, filaree, perennial pepperweed, nasturtium, wood sorrel, London rocket, grasses and countless others. In fact many of these plants have effectively destroyed some parts of our environment. Locally, in Topanga Canyon we have forests overtaken by nasturtium and where I live, wild mustard is covering our local hills.
I believe conscientious wildcrafting can help the environment by removing non-native plants and help restoring it by sowing native plants to replace them or creating your own garden. As such I also work with local nurseries and continue educating myself on the proper care of plants.
I think the current popularity of exploring the culinary uses of wild edibles is a good thing if done properly. Some of the top restaurants in the world (Noma, D.O.M, Faviken, etc...) have pioneered the idea of truly using a local terroir and flavors with success. Maybe one day, hopefully soon, some farm fields will again be full of the same local plants, trees and berries they removed originally to grow non-native ingredients. I think it's an idea worth exploring.