The morning air was cool and crisp as I hiked out to do maintenance on a trail. There was a lot of trimming to do. It had totally grown over and logs were crossing the way. Grapes were on the vines despite the persistent drought. Even persimmons grew and were falling on the trail. Red and purple hued berries colored bushes along the hillsides too. I didn’t know what the berries were and wondered what animals, if any, ate them. They looked tasty, but I wasn’t about to try them to find out. It was a pleasure to be doing what I enjoy, and after a long day, I headed back to the cabin to rest my feet.
While the sunshine outside was heating the afternoon air, I took up a book from the fireplace mantle. I don’t know who put the book there in the cabin, but I bet they, like me, once wondered about some wild food they saw. The title was Wild Harvest: An Outdoorsman’s Guide to Edible Wild Plants in North America.
Wild Harvest is a compelling introduction to finding and eating wild foods. There’s a large number of foods that can be collected from nature so it begins by limiting the scope of the book to plant types that are common across most of North America. The author then tells a rarely known history of how foraging can go bad. The American Ginseng trade brought the highly valuable wild edible to near extinction. It has not yet recovered from widespread over harvesting that occurred mostly between the late 1700’s and early 1900’s.
Most plants described within are ones that you may already be familiar with, but what can we do with them once we have them? Wild Harvest offers a delicious-sounding recipe for how to prepare various wild foods, along with simple descriptions for how to find choice wild edibles and when to harvest these delicious natural foods.
The book is organized into six chapters. Salads from Nature talks about raw leafy greens like mustard, watercress, and dandelion. Potherbs of the Wilds takes a look into the volume of flavors that add spice to staples like carrots, beans, and potatoes. Nature’s Starches outlines some wild alternatives to monotonous staples like potatoes and rice. The next chapter is Fruits of the Wilds which highlights some familiar trailside edibles like blueberries, raspberry, blackberries, and currents. Nature’s Nutty Snacks introduced me to beech tree nuts which are abundant in the woods nearby. And lastly, Plants to Stay Away From which delves into the toxic side of foraging for wild edibles, which the average haverster shouldn’t have any problems avoiding. All of the plant descriptions are accompanied by an illustration for easy identification.
Harvesting healthy and delicious wild foods doesn’t require much. All a harvester needs is a knife and a basket to get started. What each of us prefers to eat comes with a little knowledge of the plant kingdom and exposure and experience. If you are hesitant to try wild foods, then a good way to begin foraging is on a guided hike with people who have experience. Wild edibles can be new and interesting tastes to enjoy on your next outdoor adventure–or bring them home to prepare like a chef.
These wild grapes, apples, and persimmons were delicious!
Here’s my new favorite recipe from Nature’s Nutty Snacks: “Everyone likes brownies, and they are made even better with wild beechnuts added. Melt 2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate with 1/4 cup of butter. remove from the heat and stir in one cup sugar, 2 unbeaten eggs, a dash of salt, 1/2 cup flour, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 3/4 cup chopped beechnuts, and 1/4 cup of dried currants. Spread this mixture into a greased, non-stick baking pan, and bake in a moderate open for about 1/2 hour. Be careful not to over bake. Cool and cut into squares.”
Wild Harvest: An Outdoorsman’s Guide to Edible Wild Plants in North America by Alyson Hart Knap, ISBN 0-919364-97-7