Fall is a fantastic time to forage. With the end of the summer growing season, after everything has been blasted with sunshine, there are lots of exciting options for good eats to be found without us having to cultivate a thing. We just need to get better at responsibly taking advantage of what nature has to offer.
Foraging requires both a knowledge of what can be found, as well as the drive to go out and find it. For enthusiasts, there are books upon books of edible wild plants, but for novices, these can be absolutely overwhelming. The trick for getting started with foraging (and fall is an awesome time to do it) is to tackle only a couple of plants at a time. Before long, both forests and fields will seem like smorgasbords.
For now, get together a basket or something to carry the bounty in, a sharp knife or scissors for harvesting, and some decent shoes for clambering about. Here are some great fall finds for getting started with foraging.
Mushrooms are probably the most terrifying thing to forage because we all know that there are poisonous ones out there. While this is something we definitely shouldn’t forget, that isn’t to say that we shouldn’t — even as beginners — go out in search of wild mushrooms. We just need to use caution, some common sense, and readily available information.
There are some great websites to help identify mushrooms, as well as become aware of what’s on the go in your area at any time of year. These can be used to spur the hunt for particular types of mushrooms, choosing ones that are easy to find and identify.
Though all of those lovely summer berries will have come and gone, lots of fruits produce their bounty in the fall, and depending on where we are, there is every bit of a possibility of stumbling upon wild varieties of these fruits. We just have to learn to harvest a bushel or two and make the most of the season.
Apples are probably the number one fall time harvest, and these are often in neighborhoods or areas where people have left a mark. Crab apples tend to be the wilder option. Persimmons and prickly pears are both reaching readiness in the autumn. In some areas, wild grapes will be producing tasty bunches, either for snacking or making jelly. Elderberries are also a possibility in early fall.
Nuts are a great find on a forage because we can usually identify them without much trouble, and they are fairly common in the wild. Unlike any other foraged food, these will bring a good helping of calories and healthy fats to the bounty, which is a welcome thing for a plant-based, foraged feast. Autumn is the best time to find nuts.
There are lots of options to keep an eye out for, and some of these will definitely depend on location. Walnuts start in late summer and can be found into the middle of fall, at which time chestnuts are coming on in abundance. Acorns are usually present around October, and they’ll require some processing. Pecans are late fall additions, and gingko nuts are available throughout the autumn.
Foraging wild greens is amazing because they are crazy abundant and can be used in just about every meal. No surprise, the springtime is usually more revered for foraging greens, but that isn’t to say that autumn doesn’t have any to offer. In fact, as the summer heat dissipates, there are some herbs that are ready to leaf out again.
Greens, like mushrooms, do require a bit of caution, as there are some toxic possibilities that are better left unexplored. Part of playing it safe is not harvesting from polluted areas, such as alongside highways or dumping sites. The other part is researching a little and double-checking once a potentially tasty leaf has been found. Again, go for the easy-to-identify stuff first.
With just a few of these, it’s possible to forage a lot of food for free. Wild foods tend to have stronger flavors and be packed with nutrients. Foraging is a fun thing to do, another reason to get outdoors, enjoy nature, see the fall foliage, and make the most of what’s around us. In other words, fall is here, and it’s time to get started.
Lead Image Source: eekim/Flickr