One of the frustrating things about foraging is how dependent it is on timing. You might notice blackberry blossoms (Rubus fruticosus) in May but then find the berries bug-eaten in August. The shorter the harvest period, the more likely you are to miss the window. Black locust blossoms (Robinia pseudoacacia) are at their peak for just about a week; a heavy rainfall at the wrong time can shorten that window by half. Then there's the heartache of happening upon a huge crop of mushrooms just a little too late. (Left: Chicken Mushroom (Laetiporus sulphureus) by wide eyed lib. They're more common in Fall, but I found this one yesterday.)
Some foraging successes are dumb luck, but others are the product of months or even years of careful observation. Once you've identified a particular plant, the waiting begins. Every bit of color on an unripe fruit whets my appetite for the harvest to come. Join me for a peek at 10 fruits that will be ripening in the coming months.
Pictured: redbud, mulberry, juneberry, raspberry, cherry, cornelian cherry, apple, peach, hackberry & mayapple
(As always, if you're new to foraging and want to give it a try, please read the first diary in the series as well as the linked diary to the fuller discussion of each plant. For a complete list of all plants covered in the series, click here.)
One fruit (and it is a fruit, even if we don't think of it that way) that's ready for harvest right now is the pod of the redbud tree (Cercis canadensis). The pods quickly grow tough, so it's best to pick them young and use them in the same ways you might use snow peas. They taste somewhat similar, but redbud pods have a touch of sourness. Learn more about redbud trees here.
The mulberries (Morus nigra, in this case) are so close to being ripe that I can almost taste their sweet juiciness. I suspect they'll be ready for harvest in my area in about 2 weeks. I covered mulberries in full here.
Close behind the mulberries will be the juneberries (Amelanchier species). Though they look like blueberries, the oval, toothed leaves and smooth grey bark of the shrubs they grow on makes it easy to distinguish them even without tasting. Learn more about juneberries here.
Around the time juneberries ripen, black raspberries (Rubus occidentalis) will become sweet and juicy. I found several new berry patches in some nearby woods by keeping my eyes peeled for their white flowers in early May. Raspberries were covered here.
Every year it's a race between me and the birds to get to the wild sweet cherries (Prunus avium). I've tried to convince them that they can have all the ones at the top of the trees if they'll leave me the ones on the bottom, but they remain unpersuaded. I covered sweet cherries in full here.
Despite its name and general appearance, the cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is not related to any other cherry species. In fact, it's in the same genus as dogwood trees. These small drupes generally ripen off the tree, and at their best they're sweet and juicy and just a touch sour. Read more about cornelian cherries here.
Botanists make no distinction between apples and crabapples (Malus species), but Euell Gibbons believed everything over 2" in diameter was an apple. While crabapples might not be as rewarding to eat out of hand, they make wonderful applesauce, apple butter and apple jelly. I covered apples in full here.
I've never covered peach trees (Prunus persica) before because I hadn't found a wild specimen in my area. So imagine my surprise when I found one in a park not 3 blocks away. Unfortunately, my excited cry and exuberant picture taking attracted a family gathered around a nearby swing set, and they continued to admire the peach tree as I walked away. (I briefly entertained the idea of telling them that those weren't peaches but some poisonous lookalike, but the better angels of my nature won out.) Is it too mean to hope they'll come down with amnesia between now and August? Stay tuned for full coverage of this delicious fruit later this Summer.
This Autumn's hackberry (Celtis species) crop is shaping up to be spectacular. I accidentially left a few ripe ones in the pocket of a raincoat last Fall and discovered two weeks back that they retain most of their flavor when dried. I've never done much cooking with them, but this may be the year I change that. I covered hackberries in full here.
Mayapple plants are notoriously fickle. First, only the plants with 2 leaves will flower, which eliminates about half of them. Then of the ones that flower, only the plants that get sufficient sun will form fruit. Since this is mostly a shade-loving plant, that's at least another half gone. Finally, a certain percentage of fruits will shrivel up instead of ripening. The result is that some years 1 or 2 mayapples is a good yield. However, once in a blue moon a mayapple patch will go crazy, nearly every plant will bear fruit, and foragers will walk away with bags of fragrant yellow deliciousness. Last year's crop was so dismal that I couldn't find a single ripe one to photograph, so I never covered them. Here's to hoping this year will be a banner year.
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If you look around the next time you're outside, you might find some of these plants in your area. Foraging is sometimes about waiting, but identifying the plants around you could start right now.
See you next week!
If you'd like to learn more about foraging but missed the earlier diaries in the series, you can click here for the previous 44 installments, and here for RonV's 4 part mini-series on medicinal plants and how to use them. As always, please feel free to post photos in the comments and I'll do my best to help identify what you've found. (And if you find any errors, let me know.)
Here are some helpful foraging resources:
"Wildman" Steve Brill's site covers many edibles and includes nice drawings.
"Green" Deane Jordan's site is quite comprehensive and has color photos and stories about many plants.
Green Deane's foraging how-to clips on youtube each cover a single plant in reassuring detail.
Linda Runyon's site features only a few plants but has great deals on her dvd, wild cards and books (check out the package deals in particular).
Steve Brill's book, Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places is my primary foraging guide. (Read reviews here, but if you're feeling generous, please buy from Steve's website.)
Linda Runyon's book The Essential Wild Food Survival Guide contains especially detailed information about nutritional content and how to store and preserve wild foods.
Samuel Thayer’s book The Forager's Harvest is perhaps the finest resource out there for the 32 plants covered. The color photos and detailed harvest and preparation information are top-notch. His second book, Nature's Garden, is just as good. For an autographed copy of either book, order from Sam's website.
Steve Brill also offers guided foraging tours in NYC-area parks. Details and contact info are on his website.
Don Wiss’s website is a treasure trove featuring hundreds of photos of common northeastern edibles.
For well-sourced info on the medicinal uses of plants, Plants for a Future is a site I turn to time and time again.
Finally, the USDA plants database is a great place to look up info on all sorts of plants.
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This diary series is proud to be part of eKos. For other environmental and ecologically related diaries, check out the most recent eKos Earthship.