Edible excursions: Hank Shaw's quick and dirty guide to foraging in the Bay Area

Wild edibles are abundant in and around the Bay Area. And if you know where to find them and what to do with them, you might be able to feast for free for the rest of your life.

That's the case for modern day hunter-gatherer Hank Shaw. He hasn’t gone to the grocery store for anything other than dairy products in over 10 years. An award winning author and forager, Shaw has been hunting for wild edibles since he was five years old and is now one of the most knowledgeable sources on what to pick and how to eat it. As such, he’s become a treasured resource for cooks and chefs around the region.

Shaw recently gave us a tour of Bodega Bay and Point Reyes for a crash course in foraging. In just half a day we learned of dozens of ingredients that are at our disposal to pick, cook and eat. Many of the ingredients we picked and tasted, like sea beans and fennel fronds, have been showing up more frequently on trendy San Francisco restaurant menus, as they’re sending cooks to forage, or buying ingredients off guys like Shaw.

Of course, there are limitations to foraging — including numerous legal issues that I won’t get into — and courtesies that one should know. For one, Shaw says, foraged food should serve as a compliment to a main meal or dish, not a staple. That’s because there might not actually be that much to go around. It’s also important in order to keep colonies of plants in tact so that you and others can come back for more.

Shaw’s most important piece of advice for those seeking wild edibles: There’s a very small line with foraged foods that could make something go from being a food, to a spice, to a medicine, to a poison — then you’re dead, or really really sick. So be careful when eating what you forage, please.

You can check Shaw’s website here for more tips and recipes on foraging for wild foods. It’s an encyclopedia of knowledge on this stuff. To get you started, click the photos above for a little rundown of things you can find around the Bay Area.

Now, go forth and forage! Or contact Hank Shaw at Honest Foods for a super awesome educational tour of your own.