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Want to make money selling stinging nettles?
You can you know. Because people all over the world are making serious cash foraging wild delicacies.
Sometimes, even as much as $300 an hour, if they’re harvesting an especially prized plant in an area rife with them.
Stinging nettles is one example of a plant that’s plentiful in the woods. But because they’re a pain in the butt to pick, people will pay you good money to do it for them.
Diners eager to feast on wild foods has opened up a market for thousands of side hustlers. Some of these people are unemployed and want to rustle up a few bucks until they get their next job. Others want to cut down on their food costs.
There’s been an obsession with food culture in America for quite some time.
And now, foraging has become a part of that.
Ingredients that could make for a world-class meal may even be growing right in your backyard.
Food harvested from the wild is healthy and sustainable. Yet, most Americans look upon it with disgust.
Foraging isn’t only a way to make money and a killer meal. It’s also good for the ecosystem because it adds value to our society. And when something has value, you fight your butt off to protect it.
But it isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme.
You’ll have to spend months, maybe even years, honing your skills. But if you’re happiest being out in nature despite the difficulties, foraging might be the thing for you.
Many people think of foraging only used as a survival tactic by people lost in the woods.
But to this day, indigenous everywhere harvest wild plants for food and medicine. And in pioneer America, our forebears went out looking for berries, nuts, and seeds for their meals.
The late Euell Gibbons brought foraging into the public consciousness in the 60s. Back then, people were getting in on the act left and right. Over the years, it once more fell into disfavor. But now, gourmands are starting to recognize how delicious foraged food can be.
The rest of the world already knows. For example, in Russia, training your kids to identify wild mushrooms is just something you do.
World Class Restaurants
Nowadays, skilled foragers keep classy restaurants well stocked with their finds. These in-demand purveyors of plants growing in field and stream can make upwards of $,1000 per haul.
Diners are growing tired of the old buzzwords.
Descriptors such as “farm-to-table,” “locavore,” and “grass-fed” are losing their cachet. The new buzzword is “field-to-table,” a version of farm-to-table.
Pine needles, candy cap mushrooms, and other exotic fare are finding their way on to menus.
Noma in Copenhagen, known as the world’s best restaurant, crafts its menu around foraged food. This helps to give their customers a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Diners are recognizing that food harvested from the wild is superior to food grown on a farm.
There’s no comparison of the taste of a mushroom grown on a farm, and one picked from a log at the edge of a towering pine forest.
Essential Tools For The Journey
Buy a notebook to record your finds, so you can add dates, where you found the plant and other helpful notes. You’re also going to need a pocket knife to cut plants and bags to carry them home. Get paper bags for mushrooms and plastic bags for other kinds.
And, a day pack to carry everything.
Wear long pants, boots, and socks, and apply ample amounts of bug spray to keep ticks and mosquitoes away. A solar-powered fridge will keep your plants fresh in your car until you get home.
Learning The Art
The number of wild plants you can use for culinary purposes is almost endless. There’s so much variety. That’s what makes foraging so rewarding.
But, it’s not all sweetness and light. There are dangers lurking around every moss-encrusted stump. From poison oak and ivy to the serious liver damage that can ensue from eating the wrong mushroom.
Or even death, if you eat an especially deadly one.
Poison hemlock looks like wild carrot tops. But eating them will damage your nervous system and can put you in a coma.
And not every outing will be a resounding success.
As you might have guessed, it’s not quite as easy as picking ears of corn from a stalk on a backyard farm. There’s a considerable level of expertise that’s required to make it profitable. You don’t have to be a mycologist (a mushroom expert) to learn how to tell edible mushrooms from poisonous ones.
But you do have to be 100% sure. If you’re not, don’t eat it. And of course, don’t sell it.
That certainty only comes from training by an expert who knows his stuff. So, go online and find one of these guys. Mind meld with them and learn everything so you can. And then you’ll be able to tell the pits and ridges of the true morels from the wavy lobes of the false ones.
Steve Brill has a mobile app that teaches users how to identify over 250 species of wild plants. He has schools and day camps where he teaches people how to identify the edible from the poisonous.
There’s also Deane Jordan.
For 12 years, he’s been teaching people how to forage for their dinner. Without any formal training, he’s become one of the foremost experts in the country.
He’s got a popular website and YouTube videos, with over 60,000 subscribers. Besides dispensing his foraging wisdom online, he travels the state leading experiential workshops.
He spent his childhood in Maine learning wildcrafting from his mother and grandmother. He watched as they gathered juniper berries and dandelion greens. They would make tea with the berries. And when he was seven years old, he had an epiphany.
“Why buy raspberries from the store when they could be plucked for free growing wild outdoors?”
In 2006, he lost his job. That event financially ruined him. But it also freed him to pursue his childhood passion and be truer to his values. Shortly after the layoff, he began to give foraging tours full time.
Now, he’s got a popular website and YouTube videos, with over 60,000 subscribers.
For edible mushrooms in good condition, chefs are paying as much per pound as New York Strip steak. Or even filet mignon. That is, about $12 to $25 per pound. A single five pound “chicken of the woods” mushroom could earn you $100.
To be successful, you have to perfect the skill of finding prime mushroom habitats. For example, porcini adores humid areas with lots of low shrubs.
Different species like different trees.
When you pick mushrooms, you’re actually harvesting the fruit of the mycelium. This is the part of the mushroom that’s underground. It’s an incredible network of fine white filaments that spans the globe.
If you’re a fan of Star Trek: Discovery, you know that an interstellar version of this powers the starship.
When you pick them, spores are dispersed in every direction. This makes the crop more prolific and in the process, increases biodiversity.
A commercial picker needs to harvest 100 pounds of mushrooms a week to make it profitable. Although some deride this practice of “permaculture pillaging,” it’s reducing on dependency on traditional ways to farm food. This is good for the planet.
There is also the reishi, which some Asian cultures say has medicinal properties. This mushroom goes for about $16 a pound.
And, there is the amanita muscaria. This mushroom grows on the same trees as porcini. But you have to be careful because it has psychedelic properties.
It’s also toxic if you eat it without proper preparation.
There are many mushroom species you can use for savory dishes, but very few that flavor desserts. The candy cap is one of them.
You can make delicious cookies with candy caps. This mushroom adds a hint of maple syrup to your dishes. The fragrance is faint when they’re growing in the field but becomes more robust when you dry them in a room.
Candy caps are native to the Pacific Northwest.
Hunting candy caps can be a painful process because they often grow near blackberry bushes, whose thorns can inflict unsuspecting foragers with puncture wounds.
It takes a lot of work to collect candy caps, so the price they go for is high. On OliveNation, 10 pounds of them go for $4,952.99. Those not as expensive as the candy cap, the matsutake can go for up to $600 a pound in Japan.
They used to thrive there, but not anymore. That’s why Japanese hungry for them turn to places like Oregon. When the price for this delicacy goes up, some towns in Oregon empty out as they search for the mushroom.
A Few Picking Tips
Once you’ve made sure the mushrooms aren’t poisonous, cut out any damaged areas. Then, wipe the soil away with paper towels and soak them for a few hours in salt water. This will get rid of any insects that are hiding out in the gills.
Either freeze or dry your haul if you plan on storing them for the long term. You can dry the mushrooms in a dehydrator at 100-150 degrees F.
Then, store them in an airtight container.
The King Of The Mushroom World
The undisputed champion of the mushroom world is the morel. This highly-sought delicacy has a meat-like texture and taste and goes for about $40 a pound.
It’s not easy money though, because this species looks suspiciously like a couple of other species. One of these deadly doppelgangers is known as a false morel. It contains a toxin called monomethylhydrazine, which causes dizziness and vomiting.
And even death in some cases.
You need a qualified expert to show you which is which.
True morels have caps dotted with pits and ridges. They look a bit like a pine cone on top of a hollow stem, or a pock-marked sponge. The cap has a more uniform shape than the false morel. It’s the only mushroom that has indentations and has a base that’s completely hollow. Also, the cap is attached to the stem.
With false morels, the cap isn’t attached to the stem.
The cap of a false morel looks like a gnarled-up fist and is wavy and lobed. It also has an irregular shape that gives it a “squashed” look. Its stem is somewhat hollow, but also contains chunks of fiber that look like gray, icky goo.
The appearance of the true morel in the spring heralds the arrival of the mushroom harvest. This is an activity that comprises 40 species and can span three seasons.
Morels have a pretty narrow harvesting window from March to May. They only appear when there are plenty of warm days and the ground is moist.
To make them easier to spot, imprint what they look like on your brain. To do this, print out a picture of one and stick it up on your fridge where you can see it throughout the day. There’s so much visual stimuli out there in the woods and you need to zero in on what you’re looking for.
The chances of spotting morels increase when the temperature is right. Daytime temps must in the 60s, and the nighttime temps must be in the 50s. When these conditions are met, a light spring rain can trigger their appearance.
Generally, it’s best to start hunting in early April.
You usually can find them around dead elms. Most elm trees in the city died off years ago due to Dutch Elm disease, but you can still find them out in the country. Your best bet is to find trees that are dying or that died in the past year.
These elms still have their bark, but few if any leaves.
Morels form a symbiotic relationship with certain types of trees, including elms. That’s why they’re found near dead or dying trees. The morel’s mycelium network gives potassium, phosphorus, nitrogen, and minerals to the tree.
In return, the tree provides the mycelium with sugar and water. When a tree dies, the morel mycelia die. So, to ensure the future of the species, the morel mycelia send up fruit in the form of a mushroom.
These mushrooms produce spores in its pits that are then carried by the wind, and soon, there’re new members of the species replacing those that perished.
To find morels, look at areas with heavy ground cover. These places might be harder to spot but may have the rich, moist soil that morels thrive in. Areas that sunlight reach is key because sunlight raises soil temperature, and morels adore warm ground.
Look for them at the edges of woods around stumps where more light reaches the ground. Morels may be hiding under fallen leaves or pieces of bark or obscured by vegetation.
Use a hiking stick to flip over raised leaves or large pieces of bark.
To increase your chances, bring children along. Children are closer to the ground than adults and have an advantage once they know what they’re looking for.
When you find them, cut them off at ground level and put them in a basket or mesh bag. Store them in a paper bag apart from other mushrooms. Don’t use plastic bags, as plastic causes morels to spoil.
Selling Wild Salad Mix To Restaurants
You can harvest wild greens to put together a wild salad mix and sell it to restaurants. Not every city allows this. But, the practice is becoming more common.
I even know of some people who sell this mixture for $16 a pound!
If you’re going to do this, harvest from areas you know haven’t been treated with chemicals. Here are a few plants you can use in your mix:
DANDELIONS: Dandelion greens tastes like arugula, only spicier. Gather them in the spring before they flower. And in the fall, after the flowers turn into seed parachutes and blown away.
WATERCRESS: Watercress is an ingredient in the salads served at many first-rate restaurants. It’s easy to identify, and you can find it in slow-moving creeks or ponds. Pick watercress above the waterline. This makes it easier to clean, and it looks more eye-catching on the plate.
To harvest watercress, clip off the tops with scissors, and place them in a plastic bag with a little water. That will keep them crisp and fresh.
RAMPS: Ramps, or wild leeks, were an integral part of the diet of early pioneers. Their unique garlicky-onion taste blends well with many dishes. And they’re quite healthy, as they’re loaded with Vitamin C.
Find them at higher elevations in North America from Georgia to Canada. You can recognize them by their one or two broad leaves measuring 1 to 2 ½ inches wide and four to twelve inches long.
To harvest a ramp, cut the shoot off and leave the root in the ground. By doing this, you’ll ensure that there are plants to harvest next year.
Bring them home in a plastic bag.
WATERLEAF: This is a leafy herb that thrives in moist and shaded soil. What’s great about waterleaf is all parts of the plant are edible. The stems are the part that’s best for salads.
There’re few crops that have better profit potential than American ginseng. You can harvest it from the wild, or, as many are doing now, grow it at home so you don’t have to subject yourself to the hassles of being out in the woods.
This plant is native to the eastern half of the United States and Canada.
It’s hard to spot in the wild, blending in well with other foliage. In the fall, the leaves turn yellow and the bright red berries are hard to miss.
For thousands of years, the Chinese have used this herb to boost the immune system. The demand is growing as more people find out about its amazing benefits.
You can expect to make good money selling it.
In Appalachia, wild ginseng has been harvested for over 200 years. It takes 100-300 roots to make one pound of ginseng, which goes for about $400.
Today, the government restricts ginseng harvesting. That’s why most of the ginseng sold nowadays is grown on private property.
You don’t need a lot of space if you decide to grow it in your backyard.
If you have a half-acre to grow the crop, expect seed production in the third year. Seed production will be small that year—about 20 pounds. The fourth year, you’ll get about 50 pounds of seed.
And in the fifth year, 100 pounds. You can sell ginseng seeds for about $200 a pound, or roots for $500 a pound. A half-acre garden can make you $20,000 a year or more!
Select a slope with lots of shade that drains well. Plant the ginseng in an area where few weeds will grow. Do your planting in the fall, and plant the seeds at a depth of 1 ½ inch. If you’re starting them from roots, plant the roots three inches deep in the spring.You can also grow it in raised beds covered with netting.
Indoors, you can grow it in containers that have drainage reservoirs.
Don’t fertilize them, and only water when conditions are particularly dry. Seeds will start to grow a year after planting. Plants over a year old will start to develop red berries, from which you can extract the seeds.
But the real money-maker is the root.
This part of the plant only reaches maturity after about five to ten years. After this time, it will have developed three or four prongs. When this happens, harvest it.
To preserve the root for sale, dry it using a commercial kiln.
Ginseng is so lucrative, there’s even such a thing as ginseng millionaires who protect their bounty using electric fences to fend off animals and poachers.
Developing Relationships With Restaurants
To be successful at professional foraging, you must develop relationships with vendors. Call up restaurants in your area and offer free samples to chefs. Upscale grocery stores are another outlet for your fresh-picked greens and mushrooms.
If your local grocery stores won’t buy your goods, set up a table at a farmers’ market.
Shoppers go to farmers’ markets to find the foods they can’t get at a grocery store. You can also try food co-ops, who are always looking to buy locally-sourced, healthy food.
Laws Regulating The Practice
Foraging has really taken off. People descend upon the woods now in droves to get a tantalizing taste of food from the wild.
That’s why the National Forest Service is taking steps to prevent over-harvesting. The agency enacted laws regulating the practice and now, in most states, you need a permit.
For foragers harvesting small amounts, the price for one is about the same as a fishing license. For heavy duty commercial pickers, the price is substantially more.
If you find a promising spot to forage, you’ll first have to find out who owns the land. Get their permission and then get a permit.
You can’t forage in most national parks. Some of them make exceptions for plants that are plentiful.
Like cactus pears in Arizona’s Casa Grande National Monument. Or, berries at the Cape Cod National Seashore. But even here, harvested food is for personal use only—not for sale.
Harvesting Wild Plants For Decorative Uses
You can also harvest greenery and flowers for decorative purposes. Pine cones are very much in demand by people who do crafts. They’re used for potpourri, flower arrangements, and wreaths.
The pine cone market is flexible and will allow substitutions if one type isn’t available. You’ll have better luck marketing the larger cones for the floral market. There’s also demand for the smaller cones in the wreath-making industry.
The lodgepole pine is the most popular choice for decorative cones.
Most harvesting of cones is done by hand. Cones like pine and spruce can be gathered under the trees from which they’ve fallen. Be sure to pick them up soon after they’ve fallen, or they’ll turn black.
If they turn black, they’ll have to be cleaned before they’re sold. You can rake small cones from the branches of pine trees or shake the tree and lay a tarp under it to catch the cones.
Beargrass is a kind of lily used in basket-making and flower arrangements. It has long-stemmed, coarse, low-lying leaves. These leaves are very durable and can be dyed quite easily.
There’s also the sword fern. It’s called this because of the long, blade-like appearance of its fronds.
It’s also known as the “Christmas Fern” because it’s a popular choice for wreath-making. Because the fronds are flat, you can press them quite easily. Then dry them, to make them usable as craft materials. Artisans ink them so they can make decorative patterns on paper.
Dried moss is used as a craft material in many projects. Harvest it in the summer when it’s the driest.
An often overlooked wildcrafting resource is the slash material left over from logging. These trimmings are the unwanted parts of the tree removed during logging.
They usually end up burned in piles on the sides of roads. Ask logging crews to let you follow them around so you gather this stuff. Whichever materials you harvest, it’s very important you dry the material. This prevents mildew and rot.
Your best opportunity to make a profit is through direct or bulk marketing. Consider a roadside stand or farmers’ markets too, as well as stores that sell gift baskets.
Harvesting Medicinal Plants
Natural remedies are quite popular these days. You can harvest many of them from the natural world, earning a tidy profit in the process.
Plants with medicinal properties are being sold as alternative healthcare products. The usual buyers are the retail market and mainstream pharmaceutical firms.
The Whole Foods Source Directory lists companies who buy this type of botanical. It also lists sources for warehousing and transportation. To get the word out, send out a bulk mailing containing a sample.
Some wholesalers only buy large quantities, while others will take any amount.
The major users of seed cones are the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. The Forest Service pays well for seed cones. There’s also a market for them with state seed nurseries.
Private companies like Boise Cascade and Louisiana Pacific will also buy them.
Seed cone crops are seasonal. You only have a narrow harvesting window, which is mid-August through September.
So, there you have it.
I’ve given you solid strategies on how to make good money selling wild delicacies. I’ve even thrown in some bonus tips on how to sell greenery for decorative use and projects.
Maybe you’re planning to harvest your product from the great outdoors. Or, want to try to domesticate plants that grow in wood and field. Whatever you do, you should be able to boost your income by following these tips.
Which one of them are you excited to try first? Let me know in the comments!