Foraging for food that grows in the wild is a great way to extend your grocery dollars. To help you get started, we’ve researched 10 popular foraged foods from around the country. While there are many delicious wild foods, do exercise precautions — visit your local library for books offering tips and advice for identifying and harvesting foods for foraging in your area.
Bamboo shoots can be harvested in spring through summer from any of 200 varieties of edible bamboo, most often from the temperate “runner” (rather than clumping) species Phyllostachys. Many varieties contain toxic cyanogenic compounds, so need to be boiled and the water discarded before eating. To harvest tender bamboo shoots with the best flavor, harvest when the shoots are 6 to 12 inches tall. Partly slit the stalks before boiling. When cool, peel and discard the outer layers to find the tender, smooth core. Add cooked, sliced bamboo shoots to salads, soups and stir fries; they can also be frozen. Here are some bamboo preparation tips and recipes from NPR.
Berries, especially blackberries, blueberries, chokecherries, cranberries, elderberries, huckleberries, salmon berries, service berries, Saskatoon and fresh currants, are found in forests and woodlands from late summer through fall. Eat them fresh, or preserve them by drying, canning or freezing. They’re great for breakfast with cereal or yogurt, added to baked goods, spooned over ice cream or pound cake, or eaten plain as a snack. Mother Earth News offers this useful Field Guide to Wild Berries.
Crabapples are available throughout fall and winter. Crabapple trees are often found in pear and apple orchards. Use these tart fruits to make jam, jelly or wine, or combine a small amount with apples to add interest when making apple cider or applesauce. Find crabapple information and recipes from University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Fennel (also known as sweet fennel or anise) is native to the Mediterranean region, but is naturalized over most of temperate North America (except the upper Midwest). Find fennel spring through fall along rocky shores, hillsides and fields, or anywhere soil is dry or rocky, including empty city lots and along roadsides. Unlike fennel that you buy at a grocery store, wild fennel does not produce a large white bulb, but has flavorful green, leafy fronds and seeds. Use the leaves raw in salads, or toss them into pasta dishes, stir fries, sautés and soups, especially those containing pork sausage or seafood. It’s also nice when paired with orange. You should be aware that wild fennel is a distant relative to poisonous hemlock. Mature leaves of poison hemlock tend to resemble carrot leaves, although younger hemlock leaves can be feathery like fennel and dill weed. However, wild fennel has a very strong licorice aroma; poison hemlock does not. Fennel seeds make a soothing tea with pleasant licorice flavor or can be added to baked goods. Here are the top five ways to use fennel stalks from The Kitchn.
Greens, including dandelion, sorrel, miner’s lettuce, watercress, fiddlehead fern, mint, lamb quarters, purslane and chickweed can be found primarily in spring and fall or where winters are mild in forests, pastures and orchards. Like commercial salad green mixes, wild greens are a healthy addition to salads, sandwiches, soups, and quiches. Here are a few wild greens recipes from the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Mushrooms are found in cool, moist locations such as forests and grassy meadows primarily in spring and fall, but also in mild areas during winter. Many poisonous varieties look like safe ones; you may want to take a class in identification or use a good, illustrated guide, such as Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America. Stick to common, more easily identifiable mushrooms and if in doubt, throw it out (without tasting). To harvest, cut mushrooms at the base, rather than pull them out of the ground, to prevent damage to the roots (mycelium) that allow them to regenerate. Transport your ’shrooms in a paper bag or a natural basket — don’t use plastic, which makes mushrooms sweat and spoil rather quickly.
Nuts, including beechnuts, edible (not horse) chestnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts and walnuts can be found in fall. Freeze nuts, or dry them in the oven at fairly cool temperatures (95°F to 105°F) and store up to three months. Use nuts in baked goods, salads, pasta dishes and stir-fries. For more information, read Foraging for Nuts from Mother Earth News, or Harvesting, Handling and Storing Nuts from Oregon State University.
Quince is an old-fashioned fruit that is often overlooked. Said to be the original apple, it’s available in fall and through the first frost. Quince trees are often found in pear and apple orchards. Use quince to make thick jam or jelly, wine or combine a few quince with apples to add interest when making apple cider or applesauce. Read about quince basics on Martha Stewart’s site.
Sea vegetables, including seaweed and sea beans (aka sea asparagus) can be sautéed, boiled or steamed in everything from vegetable side dishes to rice pilaf, dry bean or pasta dishes, and soup. For best results, collect seaweed in colder months on a coastline at which rocks are exposed at low tide. To avoid overharvesting, leave some roots and fronds intact that will allow them to regenerate. Check out these seaweed kelp recipes from BC Kelp and several sea asparagus recipes from West Coast Seaweed.
Wild rose hips, also called species roses, are found along lakes, thickets and wet areas in the fall until the first frost. There are many varieties; depending on the area of the country in which you live, varieties can include Rosa blanda (prairie rose), R. californica, R. carolina, R. multiflora, R. nutkana, R. palustris (swamp rose), R. rugosa, R. woodsii. Most people use rose hips to make jam, jelly or tea. Find rose hip recipes at Mother Earth Living.
Before you head out, remember to check the area in which you plan to go foraging for food — don’t trespass on private land without permission or on protected land (such as national parks) where harvesting may be forbidden. Harvest carefully to allow for re-growth. Finally, don’t take more than you can use, and be sure to leave some behind for the animals who live there and like foraging for some of the same foods we do.