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Regional foraging: The taste of summer

by Timber Press on May 9, 2017

in Food, Natural History

California blackberries are juicy and delicious, fresh or in baked goods. Photo by Peter G. Smith and Judith Larner Lowry.

Scroll to your region to discover the tasty summer flavors blooming in your area! For more foraging insights, check out our Timber Press Foraging Guides, perfect for newbies and experts who want to enjoy the abundance of wild foods in their region.

California Foraging: California blackberry

Rubus ursinus
native blackberry, California dewberry, Pacific dewberry, trailing blackberry

The California blackberry is less invasive than the Himalayan blackberry, has a sweeter, tangier, sometimes smaller berry, has less painful thorns, ripens earlier, and is altogether a more well-mannered supplier of summer fruit.

Where and when to gather
California blackberry can be found throughout the California Floristic Province. It blooms from April to July, with flowers on the bush at the same time that fruit is ripening, from June to August.

How to identify
The main stems are round, usually slender, and clamber close to the ground rather than rising straight up and arching over. The leaflets are green above and below, while the Himalayan blackberry leaves are white underneath. There are male and female plants, so some plants don’t bear fruit. The female flower has long, narrow petals, unlike the Himalayan berry, which has wider oval flowers. The berry is 1/2 to 1 inch long, black to purple, and oblong. The berries are red until they ripen into their characteristic black color.

How to use
Few people need to be told how to use the native blackberries that make it back to the kitchen. Many aficionados create blackberry pies, tarts, crisps, muffins, pancakes, jams, jellies, juice, and wine. Some fans just like to stand in one place and gorge on the freshly picked flavorful berries. Add peeled, chopped sprouts to soups and stews.

Lowry_auphoto-WEBJudith Larner Lowry has been the proprietor of Larner Seeds, specialists in California native plants and seeds, for the last 35 years. Lowry is a longtime contributor to Orion magazine, BayNature magazine, and numerous other journals.





Mountain States Foraging: smooth sumac

Rhus glabra

Smooth sumac berries starting to ripen and turn a deep shade of red. Photo by Max Licher.

Spired clusters of red berries are fun for the kids to pick apart and make pink lemonade, especially in our not-so-tropical region.

Where and when to gather
You’ll probably have better luck finding this species around the neighborhood; in the wild, look for it at lower elevations in the foothills. Gather the clusters in summer and fall when the berries are still sticky; as time goes on and rain showers rev up, the oils get washed away, leaving the fruit not as flavorful.

How to identify
Smooth sumac is far less common in the wild than its sibling skunkbush (Rhus trilobata); it is more often found as a tree-like ornamental shrub in western towns, forming thickets, with plants averaging 7 to 9 feet in height. Its berries and twigs have a waxy coating, whereas those of staghorn sumac (R. typhina), another close relative, are covered with velvet-like hairs. The flowers of smooth sumac are cream- or green-colored, packed tightly in a spire that turns into maroon, semi-flat berries (technically drupes, as each berry has only one seed). Leaves are pinnate with nine or more leaflets. Each leaflet is serrated around the margin.

How to use
Berries yield a juice that tastes like pink lemonade; reductions and syrups can be made for a tangy addition to dishes and drinks. Cooking the berries can release a little more flavor, but you lose some of the health benefits, such as all the vitamin C. When making juice, pour cold water over the clusters and work all the berries off the stem with your fingers. Crushing and mashing them brings out more flavor. Let the berries infuse for a few hours and strain them out. After your infusion is strained, you could add sweetener, mint, or a citrus wedge.

If you have a known allergy to poison ivy, mangos, or cashews, then you may want to avoid this plant, as it is in the same family, Anacardiaceae. Poison sumac has white berries, not red.

Briana Wiles is a herbalist, wild plants expert, and own the owner of Rose of Wellness, a small line of body care products made with wild plants. She resides in the central Rockies of Colorado with her husband, baby boy, and Alaskan malamute. Briana leads plant walks, sells her herbal body care products at local farmers markets, and teaches classes on how to use plants as medicine.




Midwest Foraging: wild carrot

Daucus carota
Queen Anne’s lace

The flower of wild carrot is easily identified by the bract beneath the umbel, its hairy stem, and carroty smell. Photo by Lisa M. Rose.

Wild carrot decorates the summer grasslands alongside the wild and edible chicories. It brings the scent of carrot to dishes through its roots, leaves, and seeds.

Where and when to gather
Wild carrot is widespread across the Midwest and is prolific in disturbed areas, along roads, and in open grassy fields. The seeds will begin to develop and ripen in late summer.

How to identify
A petite biennial plant, wild carrot is a wispy member of the family Apiaceae, which includes the poisonous look-alike poison hemlock—Conium maculatum. However, there are several chief identifiers of the wild carrot. The first-year leaves of the wild carrot are feathery, and true leaves are pinnately divided and deeply cut into narrow segments. There will be small vertical hairs on the leaf stems. The second-year plant sends up a thin but stately and hairy stem of up to 4 feet in height. The hairy stem is green and devoid of the purple markings that might be prevalent on poison hemlock.

Wild carrot blooms in late July and into August with an umbel made up of flat and wide white, small, and terminal flowers. Take care to notice the branched bracts that fringe the bottom of the umbel of the wild carrot (another chief identifier). Sometimes (but not always) there is a dark purple flower in the center of the umbel. The umbel begins to close and seeds begin to develop in early fall.

How to Eat
The roots of wild carrot are significantly smaller than those of the cultivated carrot, but have a nuttier flavor similar to the parsnip. Eating the fresh roots raw is a bit difficult as they are tough. Boil and mash the young roots, but you will need more than just a handful to make a substantial meal. You can combine the boiled wild carrot root with the prepared root of Solomon’s seal for a complex and flavorful starch dish. Chop and toss fresh young wild carrot leaves into a salad of wild greens to give it the herbed flavor of carrot. Enjoy the umbels in a wild greens fritter, using other foraged finds like purslane and even chicories for density and substance. The seeds can be used to flavor any variety of dishes, including soups and stews, with an aromatic carrot flavor. Crush them first in a mortar and pestle instead of adding whole, as the seed is slightly hairy and can pose an issue to those sensitive to texture.

rose_lLisa M. Rose is an herbalist, forager, urban farmer, and writer. With a background in anthropology and a professional focus on community health, she has gathered her food, farming, and wild plant knowledge from many people and places. Lisa’s interest in ethnobotany and herbal medicine has taken her across the United States and into the Yucatan, mainland Mexico, Nicaragua, and Brazil.




Northeast Foraging: pawpaw

Asimina triloba

Pawpaw’s lumpy but delicious fruits. Photo by Dan Dhanji Farella.

Pawpaw is one of my favorite fruits—not just wild fruits, but fruits, period. I won’t try to bluff my way through by describing its taste as a cross between bananas and papaya, or any other comparison. Pawpaw tastes like pawpaw, and you really want to try some!

Where and when to gather
Pawpaws ripen in late summer (in the southernmost states of the Northeast) through fall. Not every year produces a good harvest; in fact, there may be years when a pawpaw tree doesn’t fruit at all. If it’s a good pawpaw year, don’t hold back! Harvest as many as you can and preserve some of the bounty in your freezer.

How to identify
Pawpaws are small trees or shrubs growing no more than 40 feet tall, usually much
shorter. They have brown-gray bark that’s often bumpy from numerous lenticels (raised pores). Pawpaw’s alternate leaves are oblong, broadest just past the middle, with smooth edges and pointed tips. They have prominent veins coming off the midrib that curve toward the tips. The leaves are large, 6 to 12 inches long and half as wide. When crushed, they have a not entirely pleasant smell that has been compared to motor oil. The unusual flowers are reddish brown, bell-shaped, with six petals that create the effect of a triangle within a triangle. They appear singly in the leaf axils before the tree or shrub fully leafs out.

How to eat
Cut the fruit in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds, which are not edible, and enjoy the pawpaw pulp raw. It is also wonderful in ice cream, custard, quick breads, tarts, and smoothies.

Some people have an adverse reaction to pawpaw and get nauseous if they eat any. As with all new foods, it’s best to sample a small bite and wait to see if it agrees with you before chowing down on a larger portion.

meredith_lLeda Meredith is a lifelong forager and a certified ethnobotanist. She is an instructor at the New York Botanical Garden and at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, specializing in edible and medicinal plants. Leda writes a foraging column for the James Beard Award-nominated group blog, NonaBrooklyn. She is the guide to food preservation for About.com.



Pacific Northwest Foraging: salmonberry

Rubus spectabilis

Salmonberry also appears in a variety of other colors, including brilliant red. Photo by Douglas Deur.

The flavors are similarly diverse, from bright, fruity, and citrusy to deep and earthy with spicy notes. The texture of this berry tends toward watery softness, but with considerable variety depending on its ripeness and abundant seeds.

Where and when to gather
Salmonberry is happiest in moist places with moderate sunlight, along waterways, on damp and sun-dappled forest floors, and along roadsides and other clearings. In certain years and in the right setting—with ample springtime moisture and afternoon sun—certain patches will grow berries of unusually large size and sweetness. From early to mid-spring, the flexible green shoots prove that life is stirring beneath the surface of last year’s brown canes. Berries present themselves in late spring and early summer, with some variation between locations and patches.

How to identify
Deciduous erect or leaning shrub, up to 12 feet tall, with weakly prickled stems. Compound leaves are composed of three sharply toothed leaflets that are broadly oval, pointed at the tip, and rounded at the base, with dense, fine white hairs on the undersides. Pink to magenta flowers, about 1 inch across, are borne in open clusters and develop into yellowish orange or red berries. With its light green leaves, the shrub resembles raspberry and can produce extensive thickets.

How to eat
These berries are best eaten straight from the bush. Eaten fresh, they can also be a good addition to salads and desserts. They are too juicy to preserve in some of the fruit leathers and cakes used for other berries. Some harvesters mix salmonberries in pies, pancakes, or other baked goods, but take their dampness into consideration and adjust recipes accordingly. When used alone, salmonberries can produce a jam with complex but delicate flavor; a food mill can be used to remove seeds. They also can be added to jams with more conventional berries like huckleberry or strawberry.

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.




Southeast Foraging: black mustard

Brassica nigra

These unopened flower buds and leaves of black mustard are at the perfect stage for gathering. Photo by Chris Bennett.

Black mustard is cultivated in huge fields for the seeds, which are used to make yellow mustard. It also self-seeds prolifically in gardens and is often considered an invasive weed.

Where and when to gather
Black mustard loves gardens, fields, and disturbed soil. It starts appearing in September and grows until late May. You can gather black mustard at any time. Once established, it self-seeds prolifically.

How to identify
Black mustard grows a stem up to 3 feet tall from a basal rosette. The smooth, green, pointed leaves that clasp the stem are up to 20 inches long. The leaves at the base of the stem are deeply lobed, and farther up the stem they are teardrop-shaped. Mustard flowers have four yellow petals in a distinctive cross pattern typical of the genus Brassica. They grow in clusters, and before the flowers open, the clusters of green flower buds look like broccoli florets. Mustard’s slender seedpods have a narrow, pointed tip.

How to eat
I love to eat the flowers and flower buds. They have a sharp, spicy flavor. The flavor of black mustard greens is similar to that of cultivated mustard greens. The flowers are excellent raw as part of a salad or as a garnish. The buds are great pickled, sautéed, or stir-fried. The greens and buds are also excellent in kimchi.

Bennett.auphoto2_CaryNorton THUMBNAILChris Bennett is a forager, writer, teacher, and trained chef. He is the cheesemonger for Whole Foods in Birmingham, Alabama, and enjoys working with top chefs in the area to provide wild edibles for their restaurants. He has been featured in Birmingham magazine, Cooking Light, and The Hot and Hot Fish Club Cookbook.




Southwest Foraging: oreganillo

Aloysia wrightii
beebush, mintbush, Mexican oregano, vara dulce

Oreganillo in Sonoran Desert habitat.

Sweet, piquant oreganillo can grace your burger, salmon fillet, or pizza. Known for spicing up dishes.

Where and when to gather
Found across the southern tier of our range, this delightfully scented native shrub is often difficult to spot even when one is standing before a hillside covered with dozens of the plants. Oreganillo is often found covering north-facing sides of ravines, replete in desert camouflage. However, the sweet scent of its blossoms will draw the forager to its location. Whenever ample rains fall, oreganillo leafs out with tender foliage and blossoms that beckon the culinary minded. Whitebrush (Aloysia gratissima), with white flowers, and Rio Grande beebrush (Aloysia macrostachya), with pink flowers, are found in South Texas and can be used similarly.

How to identify
Oreganillo is almost completely unnoticeable once all its leaves have fallen in response to drought or freezing temperatures. It takes a practiced eye to notice the wispy beige-white puffs lining the south-facing wall of a canyon or dotting a desert hillside. Oreganillo responds to winter or summer rains, bringing canyons and hillsides alive with its fragrant white blossoms. You’re likely to smell it before you see it when it is in bloom. If you catch a whiff of the sweetly intoxicating blossoms, look up and scan the hillside for the vague, feathery grayish-green shrubs. Leaves are opposite each other along the stem, and the tiny white flowers emerge at a 45-degree angle from the leaf axils (base of leaf stem).

How to use
The robust flavor of oreganillo stems and leaves combines sweet pungency with a mild bitterness, which diminishes upon drying. Combine the fresh herb with apple cider vinegar and store on the shelf to dress salads and season meats. Or combine the herb vinegar with wild honey for a delicious elixir known as an oxymel. Used fresh, oreganillo lends itself to the variety of culinary roles played by its not-too-distant mint family cousins oregano, marjoram, and thyme. Add the dried herb to pasta sauces, pizza, salsas, meat seasonings, salad dressings, soups and stews. When a cold strikes or joints become achy during the cold and damp season, add a pinch of oreganillo to your favorite herbal blend. Native peoples use oreganillo internally for headaches, rheumatism, and infections, and recent scientific studies have pointed to its antidepressant-like effects.

John Slattery is a clinical herbalist who founded Desert Tortoise Botanicals in 2005 to provide quality herbal remedies to the people of the Southwest. He has been invited to speak about the edible and medicinal flora of the Southwest at numerous venues throughout the region, offering experiential courses in the field and lectures on a wide variety of subjects.



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