Free foraged food is fantastic. It’s often high quality, with a great taste, and an enjoyable “shopping” experience. Maybe it was Covid inspired, maybe it was memories of gathering black raspberries as a kid, maybe it was my new subscription to Mother Earth News, but whatever the reason, I got into foraging this summer. This post describes three foraging experiences–for purple fruits that can be found all over the northeast.
Blackberries: The parking lot of a local hiking trail boasts an expansive blackberry bramble. In late July, I ran to the trail with a backpack and some containers, picked a ton of berries, got some mosquito bites, and ran home. Next time I’ll take bug spray and the car. The berries got a bit smushed on the run home! The kids and I enjoyed them anyway.
Elderberries: This berry’s immune-boosting powers have support from many peer-reviewed studies. (Check out summaries here, here, and here.) I’ve seen how expensive elderberry syrup is to purchase, and I also noticed many native elderberries growing near me. High cost and widespread availability is the perfect forage formula!
But before proceeding, here’s an important note: be careful about elderberry identification. (It has some lookalikes.) I checked out bark, leaves, and flowers over the growing season to identify some bushes. And when you’ve found the right bush, continue to be cautious: all parts of the elderberry are toxic, including the berries before they’re cooked (because of glycosides in the seeds). I carefully stripped the ripe berries off the stems and made sure to boil the crap out of them when making syrup.
I loosely followed this recipe (subbing out ginger and subbing in cloves). My first batch of syrup turned out a bit more “juicy” than I intended (probably because the juice needed to cool more before adding honey). The syrup has been great in yogurt, taken by the spoonful or mixed into my new recipe for immune-boosting “Covid Moscow Mules.”
Wild grapes: This last foraged food was so much fun. I love the smell of wild grapes in the fall. This year I found some wild grapes while on a run, went back to harvest them, and made some fragrant jelly.
Jelly is a new process for me. I used a recipe from a preserving book that says to boil the grapes with a lemon (including seeds, for natural pectin), mash it all, strain out the juice overnight (using cheesecloth), and boil the juice with sugar (using equivalent cups of sugar to match the quantity of juice). I didn’t think my jelly would set, but it did. I love it on toast.
Ending Advice: Foraging this summer encouraged me to slow down and pay attention to the world around me. I found all of these wild plants while running or hiking. Keep an eye out for these plants early in the season. Elderberries, for example, are easier to identify when they have abundant umbrella clusters of white flowers (which can also be used to make a cordial or other goodies).
Once you’ve identified good foraging spots, a journal can help remind you of locations and best times to harvest. I was a little late on both the blackberries and the wild grapes. Next year, I’ll check my journal and get out in time to harvest more than once–always leaving at least half the ripe fruit for other hungry humans and animals.