The pandemic has kindled interest in lots of hobbies, from bread baking to card collecting to puzzle making. But when supply chain shortages started wreaking havoc on what could be found in the grocery store, a surprising one got a boost: food foraging.
A few months into the Covid-19 pandemic, foraging teachers and experts reported increases of anywhere from 25 to 500 percent, when it came to people visiting their websites and signing up for digital classes. Destinations have caught on to the uptick in interest in the hobby, where people set out into forests or other landscapes to find and gather their own food like mushrooms or seaweed, too, with many launching new excursions for guests and visitors.
For a taste, consider trying one of these adventures—not only do you get to forage for your own food, you’ll also get to enjoy a delicious meal made with your bounty.
Dromoland Castle, Ireland
Best Time to Go: Spring to Fall
In County Clare, Dromoland Castle’s 450 acres include country roads, clearings and the beach. Local foraging expert Oonagh O’Dwyer leads guests of the 99-room 1800s Gothic Revival castle, complete with turrets and towers, on an excursion throughout the property, which has been the ancestral home of the O’Brien family since the 1500s. First, head out into old country lanes to dig up roots, flowers, fruits, herbs and nuts, like elderflower, pignuts and St. John’s Wort. This portion of the excursion ends with a picnic of all the wild goodies in a meadow. Next, at the beach, take a seaweed walk alongside seals and sea birds and learn how to traditionally harvest seaweed, rock samphire and pepper dulse. Back at Dromoland Castle, O’Dwyer leads a cooking class that not only prepares all the food gathered (think, blackberry pies and nettle pesto), but also teaches participants how to preserve it (sloe gin, anyone?). Budding foragers return home with recipes and tips for identifying wild foods.
“It’s a very unique, fully immersive, wild food experience,” O’Dwyer told Forbes in 2021. “People love it.”
Best Time to Go: Year-round
Jullian Hamamoto, the on-site nutritionist and doctor at the 13-room UXUA in Trancoso, Brazil, leads guests through the four different biomes in the coastal state of Bahia. On his completely customizable foraging experiences, foragers can look for fruit—like wild pineapple or jenipapo—to turn into juice in a mixing class, or hunt for plants that Hamamoto will then distill into essential oil for a spa treatment. An ice-cream-focused foraging trip has visitors searching for specific roots and ingredients, like sea almonds, to amp up the taste when they go on to concoct their own flavors. Hamamoto relies on his own medical and nutrition knowledge for these excursions, as well as input shared with him from the local indigenous Pataxó.
“In some ways, I see this really as an educational opportunity with the clients, perhaps even more enriching than if they were just the passive recipient of treatment from a therapist,” Hamamoto told Travel Weekly in 2020 about the use of local ingredients in spa treatments.
The Wauwinet, USA
Best Time to Go: Summer
A day in Nantucket just isn’t complete without a trip out onto the bay. At the Wauwinet, a 32-room adults-only inn built in 1860, guests can partake in a foraging trip on water rather than on land. Captain Rob McMullen, a boat captain licensed by the Coast Guard, takes groups onto Nantucket Bay aboard the Wauwinet Lady, a 21-passenger motorboat. The hands-on outing combines sightseeing, hauling in lobster traps, surfcast fishing from the shore, and digging for Retsyo oysters in an oyster bed farm just 900 feet from the hotel. A quick lesson on shucking and eating the oysters is followed by a chef-prepared meal at on-site Topper's restaurant of the day’s fresh catch.
“Oysters are ocean filters, so it’s great for the water,” Topper's executive chef Kyle Zachary told The Toronto Star in 2017. “This is the true terroir of Wauwinet, because oysters will take on the flavor of their surroundings, much like a grape would in a vineyard.”
The oysters are the star, but other dining options include a summer clambake and lobster rolls.
The Fife Arms, Scotland
Best Time to Go: Year-round
At the Fife Arms in Scotland, the foraging experience changes with the seasons. In-house forager Natasha Lloyd leads participants out the front door, through the Highlands village of Braemar, to the River Clunie, and into a community forest, taking breaks to explore the plants and fungi found along the route. The group’s findings are later transformed into tea, condiments, tinctures or cosmetics. Lloyd routinely collects elderflower, plantain leaf, nettle, sweet cicely and valerian, but other finds depend on the time of year. Yarrow, for example, begins to bloom in July. January is best for nuts, and September has abundant berry caches. “The coolest part is seeing people slow down and start to feel the connection to the plants, fungi, and local environment and therefore in turn, they feel a more rooted and grounded connection with themselves,” says Lloyd. “I love being part of an ancient tradition that still resonates in our modern world.”
Casa di Langa and Castello di Casole, Italy
Best Time to Go: September and October
Italian truffles, known for a robust earthy and slightly garlicky taste, are a delicacy, and guests of the Casa di Langa in Piedmont and the Castello di Casole in Tuscany can not only hunt for their own but also feast on their finds. At Casa di Langa, local truffle hunters and their Lagotto dogs—a breed known for the ability to find truffles—lead the way. During the hunt, guests learn about the history of the truffle estate and traditions surrounding truffle hunting. Afterwards, the kitchen staff instructs attendees on how to clean their truffles, and then prepares a three-course tasting meal with the truffles shaved on top. The entire excursion was designed by Casa di Langa’s chef, Manuel Bouchard, who expertly pairs the meal with Alta Langa wines.
“Running a restaurant on its own truffle estate is something chefs dream of,” said Bouchard in a statement, when the hotel launched its truffle hunting and dining program in September. “Sourcing our own truffles here on the hotel property, while immersing guests in the history and tradition, enhances our culinary experience all around.”
At Castello di Casole, guests follow truffle hunter Mauro Nesi and his Lagotto dogs through the countryside of the Tuscan estate to find truffles, which are then used to make a tasting menu of tagliarini pasta, Tosca filet (a locally sourced steak) and black truffle tarts.