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During the summer months, supermarket shelves and farmer’s markets are heaving with boxes of berries—blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries. Berries of all shapes and sizes bring us amazing flavors and incredible nutrients.

While it is fun to bring home a punnet of berries from the market, imagine how much more fun would it be to actually pick your own.  Yes, many lucky people have a garden that hosts running strawberry plants, heaving blueberry bushes, and brambles full of blackberries and raspberries.  But, there is another way to get your hands on these tasty natural gems.

Foraging for berries can be a wonderful way to get out into nature, to learn about your local area, and to fill your belly and pantry with these perfect gifts from the wild. How much more rewarding would it be to spread blackberry jam on your toast knowing that you picked those very berries yourself?

If foraging sounds fun to you, here are some very important things to think about before you set out the door.

What Berries Can I Forage and How Do I ID Them?

  • Know what berries you are looking for before you set out, that way you will know what kinds of places to head for and when.  Different berries will appear at different times, and not all berries are native to all areas.
  • Research how to ID different berries.  This is vitally important.  Learn where the berry you are looking for grows. Research the whole plant—the leaf patterns, stems, colors, location, growing formation of the berries.
  • Check with local experts who can help you to ID local wild berries.  You can also join foraging forums on various social media.
  • Read foraging guides aimed at your area specifically.
  • Learn about poisonous lookalikes and how ID them, too. That way, you can cross-reference.
  • Really know what you are picking.  IF IN DOUBT THROW IT OUT.  Never eat a berry that you have foraged unless you have an unequivocal 100% identification.

Where Can I Pick Berries?

  • Contact your local parks about foraging rules.  Many allow foraging with some restrictions, but it is best to check before you head out.
  • Different berries grow in different places.  You might have to look for hedgerows or forest openings, head deep into the forest, or search along roadsides, etc.  You might have to look up into the trees, along the ground on vines, or into brambly thickets.  Know what you are looking for, that way, you will know where to go.
  • Make sure that it is legal to pick where you are picking.  Be aware that you have not stumbled onto private property.

What Should I Take with Me?

  • Really, take with you anything you would normally take on any hike or walk—water, bug repellant, etc.
  • Additionally, you are going to need something to carry your treasure home in.  Nothing too big!  Though you may have dreams of bringing home gallons of berries, containers that are too big will only result in you having a big mushy mess of berries at the bottom.
  • Bring a container that you can loop over your wrist.  Sometimes berry picking requires two hands, especially those from the bramble family.
  • Wear long Pants and long sleeves.  There are all kinds of thorns and itchy plants that you might end up rubbing up against when reaching to grab your prize.  Covering your skin will help to an extent.
  • Bring an ID book with you.  That way, you can double-check that you have the correct plant and berry before you set to work.
  • Bring a friend.  It is fairly standard advice to hike and walk in pairs, and this holds true for foraging.  The other reason a foraging friend is a great thing to have is for when you get entirely caught up in a blackberry bush after an over-enthusiastic lean-in to grab the motherload.  Friends can help you untangle!

What Else Do I Need to Remember?

  • Know your surroundings.  Even if there is a huge swath of berries along a roadside, be mindful of chemical spraying and heavily trafficked roads.  These two things make for polluted berries. Never pick berries near railroads or industrial areas.
  • Be aware of your immediate surroundings.  When the very thing you have been looking for is there before you in all its glory, it is understandable that you want to dive in.  Before you do, take a moment to check for poison ivy or poison oak.  Also, educate yourself on venomous snakes in your areas and where and when they like to hide.
  • Don’t take everything.  Other animals rely on these berries, too.  Be sure to share.
  • Pick your berries as you would your fruits at the market.  Leave behind any berries that are blemished, rotten, or bug-infested.

With a few simple guidelines and some research of your own, you can start a pretty fun foraging career that will get you outdoors and learning about the wilderness around you.  If you only remember one thing, remember IF IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT. Never eat a berry that you are unsure of. Happy foraging.

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