Foraging for Booze


A story about foraging on “CBS Sunday Morning” caught my eye. It’s called “In Denmark, a Quest for New Spirits.”

We’re told that Lars Williams of Empirical Spirits in Denmark is “trying to totally reimagine alcohol,” asking “if agave can become tequila and juniper berries can flavor gin, what other spirits are yet to be discovered?”

He said, “We’re also trying to show that alcohol can be more than a gin and tonic at the end of a hard work-day, because it’s such an amazing vehicle for capturing and preserving flavor, that it has a lot of potential that we’re just sort of scraping the surface on.”

Well, if that’s what floats your boat, go for it. Back when I was a drinker I was no connoisseur, though; the cheapest bourbons and vodkas worked just as well as the fancy stuff.

And as a GardenRanter I have to ask – did Amy Stewart start all this? 

There was also mention in the story of “a full-time forager for clients, including Noma.” (I had to Google to find out that’s a restaurant.)

The very notion of “full-time foragers” got my attention. Who, besides the occasional extremely expensive restaurant, pays for foraging? So I asked Ellen Zachos, author of Backyard Foraging, who responded that:

We’re generally a freelance bunch with multiple side hustles. I was very fortunate to work for The Botanist gin for several years, teaching foraged mixology across the country. It was a wonderful gig and I learned as much about cocktails as the mixologists learned about foraged ingredients. Jobs like that are few and far between…mostly we foragers either have to scramble or explore the aforementioned side hustles.

Which made me ask – there’s a gin called The Botanist? I am SO out of it.


  1. The foodie/locally-sourced food movement has really upped the foraging game. In my area, that means restaurants are paying for wild huckleberries, truffles, mushrooms, fiddlehead fern tips and more. I think foraging involves more than food though; think greenery and pine cones for Xmas wreaths and so on. The problem is that I don’t know how much regulation (or enforcement) is happening. Permits are required for huckleberry gathering, for example, so that stocks aren’t depleted for wildlife who depend on them as a food source, but it’s not easy to enforce.

  2. Marie Viljoen forages in New York City, and elsewhere. She’s not a distiller, but infuses alcohol with her finds and blends them into vermouths. Her blog, 66squarefeet, records her experiments and the walks she takes to show what she finds to others. Her book, Forage, Harvest, Feast, also records her experiences with recipes.

  3. To Susan R., thank you for mentioning the fabulous Marie V & saving me the time. She also has s very active account on Instagram, using the 66 square feet as her nick there. I see that another poster has mentioned a serious lack of regulation & she is quite right. Everything that Marie forages, within the boundaries of New York City is technically illegal

  4. But clearly the City is not enforcing their own regs. I don’t know what the rules are in the NYC suburbs or the upstate parks where she forages but as a former Nassau County girl whose folks had a rustic cabin upstate as well, I’m not real pleased.
    Other than that, Marie is a gem & well worth following. Best regards to all with a big heartfelt thank you to the prolific Susan Harris & Elizabeth Licata for all their work for, and dedication to, the wonderful Garden Rant.


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