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Foraging With Kids (Part 3)

How to Forage Safely with Kids: The Four Golden Rules

Hello Again Outdoor Mums!

In my last blog post, we talked about what equipment we need to start foraging, as well as when and where to forage for the most success. If you missed it, you can catch-up here. In this (and the next) blog, we'll be exploring the most vital aspect of foraging with kids - keeping them (and us) safe.

Many parents are very reluctant to start foraging with their kids due mostly to the concern that their little angel may eat something they shouldn't! This is a very legitimate fear, but with a few simple precautions you can manage and avoid this quite easily. These Four Golden Rules will help you manage and overcome this fear, along with understanding your other responsibilities when it comes to your child's safety whilst foraging, including being aware of your surroundings at all times, and knowing what to do in the event of an emergency. Let's get to it!

Golden Rule #1: “Never eat, or let your kids eat, something you cannot identify with one hundred percent certainty

This is the biggest foraging rule, which should never, ever be broken. People are often very surprised to learn just how many toxic plants and fungi exist in the UK. From Bluebells and Daffodils, to Yew trees and the aptly named, Death Cap mushroom, there is a multitude of toxic species that at best, could give you a rash, or make you a little queasy, and at worst, make you seriously ill, or even kill you. That being said, death rates from plant toxicity in the UK are extremely low, with the most recent figures from the Office For National Statistics indicating that only 5-6 people die from ingesting toxic plants per year. Out of a population of 68 million, that's pretty good going!

Despite the rarity of death, it's still absolutely essential that we don't take a cavalier attitude to foraging and just eat anything that looks tasty (as many things do), as they could still make you and your loved ones ill! Always ensure you know what you're harvesting and if in doubt, absolutely DO NOT eat it.

Three of the six items pictured below are deadly poisonous - do you know which? Precisely! Never Munch on a Hunch!

Golden Rule #2: “Be responsible for, and manage your child's safety and behaviour at all times”

When I'm out foraging with Arthur and Sybbie, their safety has to be my top priority. It's sometimes really easy to forget that they are only little children, and both will do things that any three to five year old will do, like forget instructions, get distracted, quickly lose interest, be mischievous, wander off, and, Sybbie especially, be tempted to put anything and everything in their mouths, especially if they look delicious, which many things often do (even those that are not meant for gobbling)!

I've found the best approach for managing this, and other risks when out and about foraging (such as roads and rivers), is exactly like you have done with other hazards in and around your home. At some point, you had to allow your little person to climb on the couch, or traverse the stairs, or avoid radiators, small toys, cleaning cupboards, upstairs windows, the washing machine, and the road at the end of your drive. You managed these risks, and the behaviours associated with them, using a combination of explaining, instructing, supervising and intervening where needed – letting them know the risks and setting some boundaries, allowing them some freedom to explore the dangers themselves within those boundaries, but always being present and aware that you may need to intervene. The risks associated with foraging should be treated in exactly the same way!

A handy way of remembering these is with the acronym "EISI-R", which is explained below.


Let them know the risks by explaining them to your child, e.g. "Some plants and mushrooms are poisonous."


Set simple boundaries (rules) that your child must follow to be safe. For example: "You must not put anything in your mouth, unless we say it's okay."


Allow your child some freedom to explore the danger themselves without breaking the boundaries that you've set, but be alert. "Come and sit down and have a look at this poisonous mushroom. Isn't it beautiful? Remember, though, that we can't put these in our mouths."


Step-in and calmly intervene, physically if necessary, if your child breaks the rules.


Start the process again by re-explaining the risks to your child.

You may need to repeat this a few times at first, but eventually, they should start to understand the danger and begin to follow the rules more consistently. You'll always need to maintain that supervision, though, as sometimes they may forget, make an innocent mistake, or deliberately misbehave, as children often do. Arthur has been foraging with us now for a number of years and we always start a forage with a reminder about poisonous plants and the rules about eating anything wild, and reiterate it when needed, as we go along. We also test his knowledge by asking him about any plants and mushrooms we know to be poisonous and seeing what he says. Sybbie, being a couple of years younger was certainly a mouther, but she has now learned not to put anything in her mouth unless I say so.

Golden Rule #3: “Be actively aware of your surroundings at all times”

We've all been there. We've taken our eyes off our little one for twenty seconds, and they've somehow managed to get the lids off the paint pots and redecorated the living room wall! It's so easy to do and extremely commonplace. In the relatively familiar confines of the home, it's not always a problem, but out in the countryside, there are loads of other dangers that we may not be fully aware of, such as waterways, roads, ravines, wildlife, cattle, and, most importantly, wild plants and mushrooms at every step. It's always vital therefore, that we keep an active awareness of our surroundings and a permanent eye on what our kids are doing.

Foraging is an extremely mindful activity, and it's so very easy to become so engrossed in what we're doing that we take our eye off the ball. It's so important to always be aware of where you are and what your little one's are doing at all times. Some helpful tips for achieving this awareness includes:

  1. Scoping out and becoming familiar with a forage location in advance using Google Maps, Trip Advisor or a Local Ordinance Survey Map. These should tell you about any waterways, roads or other terrestrial hazards that might exist in the area. Foraging in areas that are already familiar to you is also a good place to start.

  2. Including your child in everything that you do - if you've found an interesting mushroom, bring your child over to explore and ID it together, rather than letting them explore on their own while you are pre-occupied with your find.

  3. If your child becomes bored of looking at mushrooms (which does happen quite frequently), have some fun together instead - puddlejump, throw leaves, play pooh-sticks, tree climb, or settle down for a picnic or a story under a beautiful old tree - and, as much as it may pain you to do it, put the field guide away and come back to the forage later.

REMEMBER - a forage is nothing more than a light stroll through a beautiful place, and you probably already do this all the time. More importantly, you also manage perfectly well to keep your kids alive and in one piece by the end of your walk through your local woods, so it's very likely that none of the above is new to you. Nonetheless, it's still good to remind ourselves to keep an eye on our surroundings, particularly as foraging brings with it so many distractions!

Golden Rule #4: “Know what to do in an emergency”

Emergencies can take many forms, from slips, trips and falls that lead to serious injury, other health emergencies, such as heart attacks and strokes, and of course, eating something unknown and potentially toxic. In any emergency, we need to know what to do and act fast. Most people will rely on their mobile phone in an emergency, but foraging may take us to places where mobile reception is limited or even non-existent, so it's really important that a little forward thinking goes into our emergency planning.

Generally speaking, emergency situations are very rare, but the following FAQs will help you plan a little more effectively for any serious emergency:


This depends on the nature and severity of the injury. Carrying a mini First Aid Kit is strongly recommended so minor injuries can be adequately disinfected and treated on the go. More serious injuries, such as a broken arm or leg will require professional medical assistance. Call 999 as soon as you can.

Using Apps like Find My Friends (on Apple phones), or What Three Words can be very helpful if you find yourself lost or need to provide your exact location to the emergency services.


Health Emergencies, such as heart attacks, strokes or seizures are medical emergencies that require urgent professional medical assistance. Call 999 as soon as you can. If you or your child have a managed condition, such as epilepsy, ensure you have your medication or other treatments with you before heading out.

Using Apps like Find My Friends (on Apple phones), or What Three Words can be very helpful if you find yourself lost or need to provide your exact location to the emergency services.


It is very important not to panic. Remain calm and collect a sample or take photos of the suspected plant or mushroom if you can, and seek medical help as soon as possible - e.g. go to A&E. Many plants and mushrooms are completely harmless if ingested, but some may lead to gastric upsets, or other, more serious issues, so it's important to seek medical advice if the item that has been ingested is unknown to you.


Always ensure your battery is fully charged before a forage or invest in an emergency battery pack for your brand of phone to keep in your pocket.

It is always much safer to let a friend or loved one know exactly where you are going and what time you are expected to be back. Having a mutual call arrangement with that person is also very helpful. This way, if you don't call them as planned, they'll try to call you, and if you don't answer, they'll know to either come looking for you, or call the emergency services.

The Golden Rules & Child Behaviour

When implementing these rules, it is very important that you take your child's behaviours and personality into account - if they are mouthers, have difficulty following instructions, or are likely to misbehave and take a bite out of a mushroom or plant, then this needs to be managed properly. For example, if a plant or mushroom entering "the gob zone" is an inevitability with your child, then perhaps avoid handling mushrooms and other wild foods until the mouthing phase has passed, and they have a greater control of their compulsions. Ultimately, you know your child better than anyone else, so you'll already be aware of how their personality and character will need to be managed!

Is Foraging a Risky Activity for Me and my Child?

Foraging is not without risks, but the truth however, is that the benefits that foraging responsibly and safely can bring to both you and your children, far outweigh the risks that can present themselves whilst doing it. Provided we diligently follow these Golden Rules, the actual likelihood of falling afoul of a toxic plant or mushroom will be minimised to an extremely low level. The wild food finds detailed on The Grizzly Forager website have been specifically chosen because they are easily identified and have no, or very few, toxic lookalikes. By sticking to these to begin with, your foraging activities with your children will remain, on the whole, very safe, and when combined with the Golden Rules above, the risks become negligible. It is only when we start to ignore our safety responsibilities and/or forage at skill levels beyond our expertise, that foraging becomes dangerous.

Is it Safe for my Child to Handle Mushrooms and Plants?

Handling Mushrooms

Here's some wonderful news, it is perfectly safe for kids (and adults!) to touch and sniff all UK wild mushrooms, even the toxic ones. In fact, this is true of all mushrooms in the world, with one rumoured exception the Fire Coral Mushroom (Podostroma cornu-damae), which is confined to small areas in East Asia and Australia. The toxic components of mushrooms are only dangerous to us when they are ingested, i.e. - eaten.

Touching and sniffing are natural ways that kids learn, so encouraging them to explore the mushrooms they find, under appropriate adult supervision of course, helps to develop their understanding of these amazing organisms. Like we've already established above, it is very important that you take your child's personality into account when doing this, though - if they are mouthers, or are likely to misbehave and take a bite out of a mushroom, then this needs to be managed properly. If you feel that them taking a bite is inevitable however, then handling and sniffing is probably best avoided until the mouthing phase has passed, and/or they are more in control of their impulses.

It obviously helps if you are already familiar with the mushroom you are exploring and know the edibility status, but that doesn't mean you can't explore new and unknown finds together with appropriate supervision and management.

Handling Plants

It may surprise you, but plants and flowers can be far more hazardous for kids than mushrooms - especially when it comes to handling them! Some can cause rashes and stings (like the bane of all little kids - Stinging Nettles); Some have sharp thorns (like Brambles, Roses, and Raspberries); others can cause blisters and burns (such as Giant hogweed); and a very small few can even transfer their toxin via skin contact (such as Wolfsbane or Monkshood). Having some basic knowledge of these is therefore important, and the Things to Avoid section of The Grizzly Forager website details the most common of these plants that it would be a good idea to familiarise yourself with.

Is there anything else I should know, or take into account?

Yes! There are a number of additional general safety considerations that you'll need to take into account, such as roads, cattle, allergies, insects and waterways, but we'll cover these in the next blog post!

Thanks for reading, and see you then!


The Grizzly Forager Website

The Grizzly Forager is a free education resource site designed to encourage and teach parents how to confidently and safely forage with their kids. It's filled with step-by-step instructions, safety notes, activities, and useful hints and tips for engaging children with nature and wild food, accompanied by beautiful and inspirational real-world photographs of the Author's children in nature.

Created by experienced forager-dad, safety expert, and professional photographer, John, the site contains detailed information for over 85 wild foods that are safe, child-friendly, and easy to identify, with separate sections for edible Plants and Flowers, Mushrooms, Fruits, Berries and Nuts, and Tree Sap. There's also an extensive Recipe section, that contains a range of simple dishes, from condiments, pickles and sauces, to starters, mains and desserts, all made with the wild-food finds on the site.

If you want to learn how to safely forage with your kids, immerse them in the beauty of the natural world, help them develop essential transferable skills, and watch them learn and grow into happy, conscientious, nature-loving wildlings, then this is certainly the website for you - a definitive guide to foraging with children unlike any other freely available resource.

📖 A Definitive Guide to Foraging with Children

🆔 Detailed ID Notes for over 85 Wild Foods

🚸 Easy to Follow Child Safety Section

📅 A Foraging Calendar

🍲 Extensive Recipe Section

🎨 Wild Nature Activities for Kids

📷 Beautiful, Real-World Photographs

💸 Completely Free to Access and Use!

👉 If you'd like to 𝗦𝘂𝗽𝗽𝗼𝗿𝘁 𝗨𝘀, you can do so by bookmarking the Grizzly Forager Website ( and following The Grizzly Forager on Instagram and Facebook!

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