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Foraging in the Pacific Northwest, season by season

by Timber Press on June 18, 2014

in Gardening, Popular

Black huckleberries are among the most popular berries in the Northwest, traditionally picked by Native Americans in firemanaged settings in the high mountains and now quite popular with harvesters from all backgrounds.

Black huckleberries (Gaylussacia baccata) are among the most popular berries in the Northwest, traditionally picked by Native Americans in firemanaged settings in the high mountains. Image: Nancy and Robert Turner

Pacific Northwest Foraging author Douglas Deur outlines a year of foraging

Each year, the natural landscape and the plants within it go through cycles of awakening and dormancy that inevitably guide the food harvest. The exact timing of these cycles varies between elevations and latitudes, with most seasonal changes occurring later, and in more compressed timeframes, as one moves upslope or northward within the region. The timing of these cycles also changes along with our climate, so that winters are generally becoming shorter and spring arrives earlier than was the case a generation or two ago. Still, it is possible to outline general seasonal patterns that characterize the entire Northwestern region.

Harvesters should turn their attention to where the plant is turning its attention at each stage in this annual process. In spring, as plants awaken from their winter slumber and direct sugars and nutrients to their new leaves, flowers, and stems, you should also focus on these parts of the plants. At this time of the year, these parts will commonly be fresh, soft, sweet, pliable, and nutrient rich. These same processes continue into summer, but during this season plants turn their attention more directly to matters of reproduction. Summer is an excellent time to harvest berries, seeds, and nuts, as well as to continue the harvest of those leaves, flowers, and shoots that still appear and grow on many edible species. In the periods when the plant is directing its sugars and nutrients to underground parts of the plant, especially in autumn, roots will be sweeter and more nutrient rich, even as the rest of the plant withers in preparation for the dormancy period. In winter, edible plants of the Pacific Northwest are largely dormant, leaving harvesters looking for late-season berries such as evergreen huckleberry or greens such as Siberian miner’s lettuce that seem to continue undeterred by winter’s chill.


Plant cycle: Plants rebounding to life
General trends: Plants direct nutrients and sugars to newly sprouting shoots, buds, and leaves.

Harvesting opportunities

  • Harvest edible berry shoots, such as those of blackberry, salmonberry, wild raspberry, and thimbleberry, while they are still new and springy.
  • Harvest other edible shoots, such as those of knotweed, cattail, thistle, devil’s club, and tule, as they appear and grow.
  • Harvest the new leaves and leaf buds that appear in great abundance on such species as wild mint, nettle, dock, fireweed, violets, stonecrop, plantain, lamb’s quarters, miner’s lettuce, oxalis, dandelion, and watercress.
  • Gather bulbs of edible lilies and camas before new leaves become large and firm, while the bulbs are still sweet.
  • Pick flowers for food or teas as they first appear, such as those of violet, chamomile, wild rose, elderberry, and yarrow.
  • Pick early-season berries, especially in late spring at lower elevations and latitudes, such as salmonberry and thimbleberry.
  • Plant any seeds retained through winter in the ground so that they may propagate in the year ahead.
Siberian miner’s lettuce.

Siberian miner’s lettuce (Claytona sibirica).


Plant cycle: Plants fruiting and growing
General trends: Plant foods are abundant, with fruits, berries, and nuts.

Harvesting opportunities

  • Pick the tremendously abundant and diverse summer berries as they appear through the season, such as huckleberries, blackberries, salal, most currants, thimbleberries, wild raspberries, late-season salmonberries, elderberries, Indian plums, Oregon grape, wild strawberries, chokecherries, and soapberries.
  • Gather the edible greens that continue to appear and grow through the season, such as nettle, wild mint, miner’s lettuce, sheep sorrel, chickweed, dandelion, cattail, and plantain.
  • Harvest flowers for use in foods or teas, such as violet, elderberry, chamomile, and wild rose.
  • Harvest edible shoots and stalks as they appear, such as cattail and horsetail.
  • Gather leaves of suitable plants for teas, such as wild rose, wild mint, chamomile, salmonberry, blackberry, and thimbleberry.
  • Harvest bulbs of lilies, camas, and wild onion, though palatability may improve into autumn.
Bog huckleberry.

Bog huckleberry (Vaccinium uliginosum).


Plant cycle: Plants becoming dormant
General trends: Plants prepare for dormancy by directing nutrients and sugars to roots and other interior storage.

Harvesting opportunities

  • Harvest the abundance of edible roots that become sweeter in autumn, such as those of silverweed, springbank clover, lilies, wild onion, cattail, and dandelion.
  • Pick berries at higher elevations or latitudes, where many currants and huckleberries remain and are often sweet and numerous. Pick late-season berries at lower elevations
  • and latitudes, such as blackberry, currants, huckleberries, Oregon grape, and salal.
  • Gather late-season greens, such as miner’s lettuce, watercress, sheep sorrel, violets, mint, and fireweed. If you wish to harvest roots in winter, mark areas where edible roots are growing, as the stems and leaves of these plants may be absent or scarcely visible by winter.
  • Stored seeds may be planted in the ground so that they propagate in the following spring.

Oak (Quercus).


Plant cycle: Plants lying dormant
General trends: Plant use is limited to roots and other interior parts, as well as the few greens and berries that remain on the plant well into this dormant season.

Harvesting opportunities

  • Gather remaining berries from the few species with long-lasting berries, such as evergreen huckleberry, wild lily-of-the-valley, high-bush cranberry, and kinnikinnick, as well as rose hips that are still firm to the touch.
  • Seeds can also be harvested from ripe rose hips and sometimes from the standing dead stems of herbaceous plants such as dock and lamb’s quarters.
  • Gather what greens are available (usually at lower elevations) such as miner’s lettuce, evergreen violets, oxalis, chickweed, and sheep sorrel.
  • Roots can be gathered in winter, such as those of wild onion, camas, wapato, and cattail.
  • If you are truly starving, the juicy inner cambium bark of many conifer trees can be gathered at this time, but it does not peel readily from the tree in this season.
  • Enjoy the jams, preserves, dried berries, frozen foods, and other proceeds from the wild harvest that you have stored from more productive times of the year.
Wild lily-of-the-valley berries.

Wild lily-of-the-valley (Maianthemum dilatatum) berries.


1st.Deur_MayaDooley THUMBNAILBased on the Oregon coast, Douglas Deur is a lifelong native plant user devoted to sharing information about the rich biological and cultural heritage of the Pacific Northwest. A research professor at Portland State University, he serves as cultural ecologist for American tribes and Canadian First Nations, and for the National Park Service and other agencies. With Nancy Turner, he coedited Keeping It Living, the first book-length treatment of Native American plant cultivation traditions in the Pacific Northwest.


Click image for a look inside this book:

“Pacific Northwest Foraging may change the way you see the world.”—Valerie Easton, Pacific Northwest Magazine

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Michael J December 4, 2014 at 2:02 am

Readers should note that Lily of the valley, Convallaria majalis, is highly toxic.

False lily-of-the-valley, Maianthemum dilatatum, is not.

2 Brian Ridder December 4, 2014 at 11:30 am

Thanks for the comment, Michael. I’ve updated the captions with the botanical names of the plants pictured in this post. Douglas’ book does not include an entry for lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis), but readers who want to know more about that plant can go here: http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/53/.

3 Bryan November 21, 2016 at 11:50 am

Readers should be advised that the Gaylussacia bachata is an eastern variety of Huckleberry, and the western is called Vaccinium ovatum http://www.efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=1&taxon_id=250065720

4 myumcn58 March 28, 2017 at 10:15 am

I don’t agree. Look at
Best regards, Myung

5 Perry Potash June 18, 2018 at 12:47 am

How come the captions under the pictures do not tell what the plant or berry is? For instance, the pic of oak nuts?

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