About Me

Picking hawthorn berries/Photo by Dylan Harkavy

Photo by Dylan Harkavy

Welcome to First Ways, where you can join in me in unlocking the ancient secrets of wild plants all around us. My goal is to inspire and empower everyone to experience the joyful remembrance of who we really are.

My name is Becky Lerner, and I’m the Portland, Oregon-based blogger behind First Ways. I am that urban forager and herbalist you may have seen on the national TV shows “Brew Dogs” on Esquire Network and “Dark Rye” on Pivot Network; as well as on OPB TV in Oregon, NPR stations in Oregon and Washington, the Los Angeles Timesthe Boston Globe, Portland Monthly magazine, Orion magazine, Utne ReaderOPB TVThe Oregonian, and many other outlets. I’m also the contributor of the Pacific Northwest plants for the e-field guide that is Steve Brill‘s wonderful “Wild Edibles” iPhone/Android app.

And, I’m the author of the book “Dandelion Hunter: Foraging the Urban Wilderness,”  (March 2013, Globe Pequot Press), which Publishers Weekly called “the funniest herbal adventure you’ll ever read.”

First Ways is intended as a free, accurate, accessible wealth of information on the identification and use of edible and medicinal wild plants, especially through the Plant Gallery, where you can explore common plants by photo or common name.

I love sharing my botanical knowledge through presentations and private classes  for groups, individuals, universities, museums, businesses, and much more, with guided nature walks on plant identification and uses, medicine making workshops, herbal smoking blends instruction, and guided meditations for plant spirit work.

Plants are my passion and I enjoy working with them in all ways, especially metaphysically in my practice as a Reiki master healer (please visit me at: Plant Spirit Reiki). I am excited to announce that I’ll be joining the guest faculty of the Oregon-based Hawthorn Institute in 2015.

Making wild blackberry mead

Making wild blackberry mead

FAQ:
How do I contact you?
Write me at RebeccaELerner@gmail.com

Can I write a guest post?
Sorry, I do not accept guest posts nor advertisements.

May I use a photo from your site?
For educational purposes or media (including blogs), yes, and please credit me as Becky Lerner/FirstWays.com in the caption. For commercial purposes, only with permission — email me at RebeccaELerner@gmail.com.

What’s your formal education?
I earned an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Goucher College and a BA in philosophy from Rutgers University. I have five years of experience as a folk herbalist, and currently I am studying professional herbalism under Michael & Lesley Tierra at the East West School of Planetary Herbology, which focuses on Traditional Chinese Medicine but embraces the value of all herbal traditions. I have been primarily self-taught out of books (strongly influenced by Michael Moore and Gregory Tilford especially) and attended classes in primitive wilderness skills, plant identification, and plant spirit meditation at Primitive Pursuits in Ithaca, NY, TrackersEarth in Portland, OR, and the School of Forest Medicine, respectively (among others!). My first mentor was Emily Porter, who taught me plant identification and medicine making.

I initially was drawn to study plants from a survivalist perspective, and viewed wild plants as disaster food, or just-in-case apocalypse insurance. I have since become fascinated with plants in a broader way, particularly the medicinal and metaphysical end of things. I consider myself a perpetual learner in this vast subject and am always discovering more fascinating dimensions!

Picking chickweed / Photo by Blair Ryan (BlairRyan.com)

Picking chickweed / Photo by Blair Ryan (BlairRyan.com)

How did you get into foraging?
I got into foraging when I was learning about wilderness survival skills. I wanted to know how to eat without grocery stores. For the most part, I’m self-taught, having read the truly excellent books by Wildman Steve Brill and Sam Thayer and researched ethnobotany, and then applied to myself to lots of experimentation — what some call “dirt time.”

Why forage?
I do it more than anything to commune with nature. Also largely as a creative endeavor, for the sake of fun and adventure. I see it as a journey of discovery through an incredibly biodiverse planet. I love trying new plants I’ve never tasted before, unlocking the secrets of amazing medicines disguised as common plants, and learning the ancient uses of each new species that catches my fancy. I enjoy adding occasional foraged foods into the mix to make unique dishes, like stinging nettle quiche, chickweed pesto, chestnut flour pancakes, or paw paw ice cream.

Smoking mullein leaves

On my blog I document my adventures, and I cover herbal medicine making, plant crafts, smoking blends and other fun things as much as I talk about food uses. If you’re looking for more of a culinary take on the subject, then check out my fellow wild food colleagues “Butter“, Wild Food GirlHank Shaw, and Langdon Cook.

Other reasons to forage? Wild food is healthy, free, often more nutritious than cultivated foods, and, when done consciously, highly sustainable.

Do you eat wild food all the time?

No, because of the time and difficulty involved — I’m a busy person with many projects going on. But I’ve tried it. See my book, “Dandelion Hunter,” for more info on that. (Interestingly, anthropologist Robert L. Kelly writes in his scholarly book “The Foraging Spectrum,” that today no foragers anywhere in the world eat an entirely wild diet, and that this probably has been the case for hundreds if not thousands of years, because of widespread trade and also the incredible amount of time it takes to gather all your food if you mean to do it exclusively. Whether you are a bushman in the Kalahari or an urbanite in Portland, you probably buy some farmed foods.)

Before I got into the plant world, I used to be a newspaper reporter.
Journalistic Work

 

“Sour Milk: Big Box Dairy Farms Bring Manure & Misery to Some Central NY Communities” The Syracuse New Times
A narrative investigation into disturbing reports of dairy pollution and illness

“Do-it-yourself herbal” The Oregonian
A look at herbal medicine in Portland

“Take It Outside” The Ithaca Times
How does the experience of nature-immersion affect urban children?

“Outlaw Cuisine” Utne Reader
On eating roadkill

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Thanks for visiting! Please tell your friends about this site and come back soon!

49 thoughts on “About Me

  1. Becky,

    Thank you for a wonderful site. I’ve learned a lot about natures food.

    For the last ten years I’ve been hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. In the last two years I’ve passed through your great state of Oregon. For the first time I was able to eat berries along the trail. Mainly Huckleberries and some wild Blueberries.

    Next month I’m back on the trail where I left off in southern Washington State for 288 more miles. I’m looking to study the wild berries and other edible plants that I’ll see on the trail. I’ve seen a lot of other berries but don’t know what’s edible or in season.

    I’m on the trail starting August 13th through the end of the month. Please recommend a book (yours?) website or resource I can study.

    See you on the trail,
    Dana Law
    San Diego

    • Dana,

      What an excellent adventure! I have a list of books I recommend on my Resources page on this website. FirstWays.com/Resources/ in particular, I suggest you get the Pojar MacKinnon “Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast” and Nancy Turner’s “Food Plants of Coastal First Peoples”. Bon voyage!

  2. Thanks, Becky. I’ve watched your site change over the years and it is really coming together nicely. I wish you every success. Even out here in Indiana there are common plants we’re after. Let me know if you know of anyone like you closer to us. I know about Sam Thayer up in the lake country north Midwest. There must be someone at least in Chicago-land area. Keep up the good work. Eumaeus in Indiana

  3. Hi Becky, what was the name of the berry you spoke about on NPR and had many antibacterial qualities (you specifically mentioned Staph in the interview).

  4. Hello!
    I like your site and I think it is really great from you to share your experiences. Also it is interesting for me to see some new plants you use.
    Regards,
    Saša

  5. i received my two copies of Dandelion Hunter on Friday. Finished the book on Saturday, gave one to a friend. Today I am purchasing two more, one for my brother and one for my daughter, Wow! Just lovely Becky! Do you ever have classes in the actual making of medicine? Would like to start with creams and salves…. Thank You!

    • Jana, thank you sooo much!! I am thrilled to hear that. I would love it if you wanted to leave a review on Amazon.com too! RE your question, yes I do offer medicine making classes. I just did one in early March and I am sure I will offer another sometime in the summer as they seem quite popular. I also have plans to create an online version for folks who are not in the area.

  6. Hello, I am not sure how to go about start eating wild plants? I heard so many good things about it and I really want to change my life style and start eating good and doing good for my body. It’s just a hard step to take. Where do I find a good source of wild plants and how do I know that what I picked is ok to eat? Can u help me and get me going? I’m 27 and from Albuquerque New Mexico where not as much vegetation grows.. I was hoping you can help me out, Thank you look forward to hear back from.you.

  7. September 29th is the one year anniversary of my blog. To celebrate I would like to honor the folks I look to, for guidance; with a series featuring quest authors. Please consider writing a quest post. Your words, your way, would be best, although I did considering asking for interviews, I’m not that good a journalist! Certainly photos are, also, welcome. I ask only that the subject matter be related to foraging or nature; in some way.
    Hope to see you here, soon!
    Many Blessings,
    Linda “Inky” Redbird

    • Dear Linda,
      Thank you. :) This is a lovely request. I am not sure what you mean by a “quest post.” Can you explain? You might want to email me at RebeccaELerner(at)gmail(dot)com

  8. This is an exquisite page. I’d love to learn about the plants that can be foraged throughout the year in Portland. Surely there is a lot in September, but what about in the winter? This page makes me want to go out there and start finding wildcrafted treasures soon! Thanks so much for your hard work.
    Zest Regards,
    Kent O>

    • Dear Kent,

      If you subscribe to this blog by e-mail or follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll get updates on food items as they become available, with info on how to ID them. You also can look through the archives.

      Thanks so much for your support!

  9. I found an interesting looking fruity-thing while on a walk with my children and I would like to send a pic to see if you know what it is. What would be the best way to do it.

    • Hi Candis,

      Just saw your comment. Best thing would be to e-mail me, please, at RebeccaELerner(at)gmail(dot)com.

      Rebecca

  10. I enjoy your website! I really appreciated coming across it. I am very much interested in foraging and learning as much as I can through my African and Cherokee heritage and from the various First Nation peoples who lived (and currently live, though sparingly) in the deep south. I write a lot about urban foraging and wildcrafting as the Charlotte Nature Examiner and I occasionally talk about foraging on my blog Animal Visions. I look forward to continuing your blog.

  11. I’ve a growing interest in wildeness survival skills. I intend to head out into the wilds for a year with only what i can carry on my back. Anyone else’s experiences along these lines would be appreciated.

  12. You’re cute. As far as “survival” situations are concerned, I think you would be an excellent ally, both for advice and as a morale booster.

  13. so happy to have found your blog! i have just recently begun a series on my blog called “wild in the city: foraging fridays”…featuring a different edible/medicinal plant each week that can be found in SF or surrounding areas. so exciting to find other gals doing this! what a pleasure…i look forward to your further adventures. best, mary

  14. I hadn’t visited one of my usual haunts, Reality Sandwich, in a while. Guess I’ve been focusing more on my “homesteading” skill set work these days and seemed to have taken a break form my consciousness work. But something drew me there today, maybe curiosity, maybe a nudge from the creator, who knows. But I am thrilled that I felt and followed the nudge because I got to find your article and now your site.

    This spring, I am really focusing on my suburban foraging skills and your site will come in both handy and motivational.

    Thanks for taking the time to document your travels,

    jed

  15. Hi Becky!

    Nice pictures! ;) I’m glad you got in touch with Blair.

    The video should be up by Tuesday afternoon (fingers crossed)!

  16. Pingback: Sample Press Release: Wild Food Week « Rebecca Lerner

  17. hey- great job bringing the notions of basic human skills to the masses via writing. keep it up. stay in touch- us types should stick together. i practice survivalism- actively and for the sake of spending time in the most beautiful (and coincidentally? harshest) alpine territories. been doing it my whole life, with a mountain-loving family, boy scouts, and the company of friends (indigenous and otherwise) who wouldn’t be restrained by civilization or hindered by luxury. i am a strong advocate of primitive ways, individually and as a society. i have some writings you might appreciate.
    oh, and to add to a point i read here, i am a vegetarian and fare just fine in the alpine of the rockies. winter requires more discipline if you want to remain at altitude, but it’s doable. field grains become a staple- which means work.

  18. Rebecca,
    I found your stories through Culture Change.
    Thank you so much for what you are doing to show us that there are other ways to sustain oneself. To help show that we can subvert the dominant paradigms.
    What struck me most about the KOIN news video footage linked on your home page; was how you come across so absolutely beautiful in demeanor, in contrast to the (I hesitate to disparage) superficial news-women.
    Very simply: you are beautiful.
    Sincerely.

  19. As a caution: You may want to test plants taken in urban environments for heavy metals as well as other sources of unban pollution. Some plants are great at removing nasty things from the environment, but by storing them in their structures. Plants that are not harvested and removed, will dump the metals, etc. back into the local soils to be recycled year after year. Systematic removal each year can reduce the toxins, but the plants may not be edible or useful.

    Perhaps a study of urban pollution and plant recyling and removal might make a great project? Or a study on which plants resist uptake of toxins and which do… and what toxins? Anyway would be useful for unban foragers.

  20. it is amazing to know that you are doing this foraging thing this could really be the next extension if we keep active unaffluent and real about it, though pinapple sweet tea i have yet to beat

  21. Greetings Becky Lerner, “Wild Gal”. I have followed your reports in Culture Change and admire your dedication to survival through plant foraging. It appears that, although wild plant edibles can be found almost anywhere, there would be “preferred” areas for this activity.

    I would imagine that along rivers near coastal areas would be optimum for vegetarians. Do you agree? It seems like the higher mountain regions would offer less opportunities for vegetable sustenance. To live higher one would have to eat meat and poultry. (Deer, Rabbit, Squirrel, Turkey, Quail, etc.) But these creatures can be found lower near the rivers and sea coast too. I think the Coastal Range Mountains along the Northwest Coast would be optimum for food variety and there are “semi-wild pockets” where one can avoid communities, if one were so minded.

    Protein is very important. Can you do some articles that would teach which plants equal beans in nutritional value? Particularly ones found in the Pacific Coastal regions of North America?

    I value your work very much and appreciate your sharing of your sacred and pragmatic knowledge. I hope you succeed in gathering dependable tribe around you. Would it be Matriarchal in structure?

    Respectfully, DAN 1 “The Tribeless” 64 year old bald white male, who has long dreamed of being part of a good tribal people.

    • Dan 1, That is a fabulous idea. I put the idea out to my herbalist friends…so far no one I talked to knew of wild beans in the Pacific NW. Maybe this is why the indigenous people of this region were not vegetarian. They ate a lot of salmon and deer. In fact, I’m not sure it really is possible to be vegetarian without using agriculture.

  22. Congrats to you! I have been wondering about foraging in the woods out here in the Northeast–often I’ve felt that my leafy greens from the store is quite limited. How did the Indians live here, I’ve asked. So glad to see your blog! I’ve tried purslane with sauteed with olive oil, it’s delicious!! Also I have tried a burdock tea with fenugreek, dried licorice, and some other ingredients I don’t remember at present. Also, burdock root is great sauteed with mushrooms, carrots, in olive oil. Olive oil has got to be good with a lot of dark leafy greens.

    But watch out for wild carrot; it could be confused with the poisonous hemlock.

  23. A few years back I was onto the peak oil situation and took comfort in keeping my garden. Then somehow the energy drained away and I found myself looking with delight at the dandelions that were now populating my beds. I was thrilled when friends knowing my love of nettle tea began bringing me my own nettle plants. The first one gifted I kept inside for a while so I could just admire it’s beauty. I live on a floathome and I had got into the habit of feeding the chickweed that filled my planters to the ducks now I am eying it up for salads.

    Thank you for taking on this adventure with wild plants I look forward to learning from you and being inspired to go more wild myself.

    I believe it is wise wild women like us who will lead us out of this domesticated nightmare where connection with our Mother was lost. Now more than ever we must reclaim it..

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