Residents of Florida are no stranger to the state’s different fruit seasons, where trees in almost every neighborhood bear loads of fleshy, seed-bearing byproducts—some recognizable like avocados and mangoes, and some not so familiar. But we may not be as aware of the potential of our natural surroundings to provide sustenance, nutrition and even medicinal benefits.
Botanist, Florida native and “Naked and Afraid” survival consultant Roger L. Hammer
released his book, “Foraging Florida: Finding, Identifying and Preparing Edible Foods Wild Foods in Florida”
in September—the latest in his multitude of educational nature guides.
The book opens with a stark disclaimer that unambiguously, and repeatedly, reminds readers that the work is a reference and that there are dangers when it comes to eating collected from the wild. It contains 261 pages of herbs, wild fruits, useful plants that are commonly deemed as weeds, palms, root vegetables and berries that grow in every nook and cranny of the Sunshine State’s unique ecosystem. Some of these edible plants are even common trees or flora you may drive by every day.
Design by Joe Frontel
The Nov. 9, 2023 cover of Creative Loafing Tampa Bay
There’s a ton of “do’s” and what seems like a bajillion “don’ts” when it comes to foraging (seriously, snacking on the wrong herbage can cause mild paralysis at best and death at worst), but Hammer’s slew of guidance can help turn a regular walk through the park into an educational experience. While the book is chock full of useful foraging information, Hammer makes sure his latest work doesn’t come across like a textbook; it’s still a light read filled with little quips and botany jokes.
“Foraging Florida”, which is out now via Falcon Guides, can serve as a guide for any Floridian—Tampeños and St. Petians included—who want a starting point for recreational foraging, and to make sure they go about things legally, ethically, and in a way that honors the generations of Native American land stewards, many of whom discovered these medicines and food preparations several centuries ago.
Tampa resident Noah Peretz started foraging in the greater Bay area about a year ago, after a friend pointed out a few edible plants while the two were on a walk through their neighborhood.
“I’ve always been interested in food and cultivation and whatnot, I grew up with fruit trees in my backyard. But the task of foraging for food was always kind of daunting,” Peretz, 26, tells Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. “There’s a lot of stigma around foraging and the high potentiality to get sick or get exposed to something, which kept me away from it for quite a while.”
After attending a guided wild mushroom tour in Washington state, Peretz decided to explore Florida’s foraging potential. They recommend to any novice foragers to do some preliminary research before heading out to an area, like downloading a plant identification app or using Google maps to look for patches of wildlife that may support the specific plants you’re looking for.
Here are 23 plants in Tampa Bay that you might not have known were edible.