I found them on a bush in an overgrown field. They were plump and shiny. As I picked one, tiny hairs on its surface tickled my hand. I popped it in my mouth quickly. It was sweet at first, then just a little sour. The seeds stuck in my teeth, but that did not deter me from collecting a whole bowl-full to put on top of ice cream later that day.
Have you ever had the experience of picking wild wineberries? If you haven’t, try it out! Wild foraging is a treat for the senses and the taste buds, and there is a special satisfaction from the feeling that you know exactly where your food is coming from. No plastic wrap, no price tag, just mother nature’s best offerings.
Looking for wild edibles can be an exciting process, but there is learning involved, such as knowing which plants are safe and enjoyable to eat. Here are three local wild edibles that are easy to recognize and rewarding to eat.
- Ramps (Wild Leeks): You can find these delicious plants emerging every spring in moist woodland areas. In the summer, look for the flower or seed cluster on the top of a thin green stalk. When you pull the plant, you will discover the edible bulb. The most delicious part of this plant is the bulb, but the leaves in spring are also edible. This plant is distinguishable by its distinct leek/onion smell and taste. They are great sautéed in a little olive oil, or in a stir-fry.
- Wineberry or Raspberry: Wineberries are basically interchangeable with raspberries. The only difference is that the wineberry plant is a non-native raspberry relative, originally coming from Asia. Look for a thorny bush with red stems and bright red berries that ripen in mid-summer. You can find wineberry bushes in disturbed areas, such as roadsides or forest edges, and also in sunny fields and thickets. My favorite thing to do with wineberries is to add them to my pancakes on a lazy Sunday morning.
- Garlic Mustard: This is another non-native plant, coming originally from Europe. You will find this small herbaceous plant in disturbed areas such as roadsides and backyards, and also in open forests. It is considered an invasive plant, which means that it spreads quickly and ‘takes over’ space and resources which blocks out other native plants. It is easy to find a whole area taken over by garlic mustard. To identify this plant look for the heart-shaped, scalloped-edge leaves. When you crush the leaf, you will notice a distinct smell of mustard and garlic. Garlic mustard leaves make a great pesto on their own, or mixed with basil or parsley to temper the garlic flavor.
Foraging for your own food can be incredibly rewarding, but it is important to take some things into consideration before you chow down. The wise person thoroughly researches a wild edible, which includes asking other people for confirmation of the plants identity or taking a course. There are many non-edible or poisonous wild plants that look similar to our edible favorites. And when you do find the right plant, take into consideration the environmental hazards that may be involved, including possible pesticide or herbicide spraying and residue from roadways. Remember that when you forage, you are becoming a part of the local ecosystem. Preserve these plants for other animals, and for the future, by leaving two stalks/berries/ leaves for every four that you pick.