Recently, I find myself fascinated with the art of foraging for food. If you’re not sure what I’m referring to, it’s harvesting food that’s growing in the wild. There was a time when people were aware of what sources of food grew around them; foraging for food was a way of life. Unfortunately, our lives have gotten so busy that we no longer take advantage of what God continues to provide for us in nature. Although it’s obviously easier to run to the store for what we need, there’s so much more satisfaction in foraging for food instead. Besides being free, plants growing in the wild taste way better! They are not genetically modified, and pesticide-free. My goal isn’t necessarily to get you out hiking the hills, looking for your next meal. Instead, it’s to educate you about the food sources growing all around us.
Safety First, Please!
Before you start foraging for food, I strongly caution you to do your research first. Be aware of your surroundings. When foraging, you will most likely come across neat animals like rabbits, birds, and squirrels. However, there are also some dangers to be aware of. In San Diego, rattlesnakes are commonly found on trails and in the wilderness. You may also encounter mountain lions if you’re in a remote location. Please pay attention to where you’re stepping, and stay on the trails. In Montana, you might encounter bears, mountain lions, moose, and wolves. Find out what the dangers are in your neck of the woods before heading out!
Besides being aware of your surroundings, you also have to make sure you identify the plants correctly. The last thing I want is for one of my readers to ingest something poisonous. I’ve recently downloaded an app that I’m really enjoying. The app, “Picture This,” allows you to identify plants in a matter of seconds by simply taking a picture of the plant with your phone. We are lucky to live in a time when we have a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips. All that it takes is a little research to see what’s worth foraging in your area. You can do this online, or pick up a book on the subject. I also plan on purchasing Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide to Over 200 Natural Foods to learn more on the subject.
What Food Is Edible in the Wild?
There is so much food growing all around us; I get excited just thinking about it! What’s available to you depends on where you live. In San Diego, some of the available plants include wild Artichokes, Jerusalem Artichokes, Purslane, Nasturtium seeds, leaves, and flowers. Just this morning, I came across the following on my walk: Wild Sage, Rosemary, Mulberries, Prickly Pear Cactus, and elderberries. In Montana, however, you can forage Morel mushrooms, Spruce tips, various berries including Saskatoon Berries (also called June Berries and Serviceberries), Oregon Grape Holly, elderberries, and my personal favorite, huckleberries!
Foraging For Food in San Diego
Sunchokes | Jerusalem Artichokes
Jerusalem Artichokes are the edible tubers of the Sunchoke plant. These versatile roots can be cooked in a multitude of ways! From roasting or mashing (similar to potatoes) to use in soups or salads. I suppose you can also eat them raw, although they’re known to cause stomach upset in some people. Jerusalem Artichokes have a crunchy nutty flavor that is a cross between an apple and a potato. The thin peel can either be eaten (scrub it good) or peeled. My mom grew Sunchokes simply to harvest the tubers in Fall. Once cleaned, mom would place the tubers in salted water that she changed every few days. Eventually, mom would pickle the Jerusalem Artichokes along with other vegetables.
Delicious Wild Artichokes grow all over the hills that surround our house in San Diego. The spiky plants come to life in Spring with large green-grayish leaves covered in spikey thorns. By early Summer the artichokes pop up through the center of the plants and are ready to forage. However, if you wait too long like I did this year, the artichokes will bloom with gorgeous purple flowers that smell heavenly! Don’t despair, you can still eat the delicious artichoke hearts. To prepare, thoroughly wash the artichokes then steam them for approximately 45 minutes. Using tongs, pull on the flower, which will come off easily, exposing the artichoke heart. Chop and use the artichoke hearts as gourmet pizza toppings or add to salads and pasta.
Purslane (the edible weed)
Purslane is an annual succulent and is also known as Pigweed. It grows all over the United States and in many countries, including the Middle East and Europe. This hard to control weed grows profusely in the Summertime. The lemony leaves have high water content (93% in fact) and have a slight crunch to them. In the kitchen, purslane can be used in a variety of ways. Purslane is great in soups, (for example the Assyrian yogurt soup knows as Booshala). It’s also a perfect replacement for spinach and is used in my Purslane Dip. Mexicans use Purslane in their cooking, including Chili Verde. Purslane is not only packed with flavor but also nutrition, so be sure to give this tasty weed a try!
Prickly Pear Cactus
Mulberry trees can be found out in the wild here in San Diego and elsewhere. Birds and other animals love mulberries and will pick the trees clean if you don’t get to the mulberries before they do. They are currently in season here in San Diego (July). Mulberries also grow in cold climates. I happen to know because we had a beautiful mulberry tree in Chicago. Some Mulberry trees have branches that resemble the Weeping Willows (see picture below). Other Mulberry trees are enormous, like the one I found on my favorite walking trail. Mulberries are delicious to eat fresh. They can also be used to make jam and baked goods, including Mulberry Pie. Be ready to have purple hands when picking them. Mulberries will stain your teeth and clothes as well, but they’re so worth it!
Foraging For Food in Montana
True Morel Mushroom grow all over the United State and are distinguished by their honeycomb appearance. Morels fruit in higher elevations (especially forested areas) beginning in early Spring and into June. Morels can be found under Ash, Sycamore trees, and under patches of moss. They also grow in places where there have been recent forest fires. Although Morels are considered a delicacy, and quite expensive to purchase, you can pick them to your heart’s delight…for free! You just have to find them first. A simple way to prepare them is to saute them in butter. False Morels, on the other hand, are poisonous and should never be consumed. One of the best ways to distinguish between the two is the stem. True Morels have a hollow stem, while False Morels have a meaty stem. This makes False Morels heavier as well.
If you live in an area where Spruce trees grow, keep your eyes peeled in early Spring. The tree’s branch ends will be loaded with light green new growth. These “Spruce Tips” can be foraged and used to make syrup, jelly, pesto, eaten fresh in salads, or pickled. The tips have a citrusy flavor, with a slight resiny aftertaste. Spruce Tips can also be dried and seeped to make Spruce Tip Tea, which has many health benefits. I also hear you can make Spruce Tips Beer with them. I’m definitely going to look into that some more! Considering the number of Spruce trees we have in Montana, I’m hoping to enjoy many years to experiment with different recipes.
Oregon Grape Holly
Oregon Grape, or Oregon grape Holly, is another plant that grows all over our Montana property. This plant grows in Oregon (surprise!) and throughout the Pacific Northwest. Even though they are called “Oregon Grape Holly” they are neither grapes nor holly. They are, in fact, berries. Although I haven’t tried them yet, I’m excited to sample them when I go back there later this month (if the deer left me some). Oregon Grape
Serviceberries are known by a few names. My friends from Canada call them “Saskatoon Berries,” while our Montana friends refer to them as “Serviceberries” (pronounced “
I saved the best for last. Huckleberries are similar in appearance to blueberries and are found in the Pacific Northwest and the mountains of Montana and Idaho. Most people who forage for huckleberries have favorite spots, and take the secret location to their graves. Bears love huckleberries too, so be sure to pack your guns/bear spray. Black Vaccinium Huckleberries and Blue Cascade Huckleberries grow at elevations between 4000— 11,500 feet. We first fell in love with huckleberries when we were looking for land to purchase in Montana in the late 1990s. Since then, we make it a point to get our fill of huckleberry-anything when we’re in Montana. Although we’ve yet to go huckleberry picking, it’s definitely on our bucket list!
I hope you’ve found this foraging for food post enjoyable. It’s the longest post I’ve posted yet, but there’s still so much I had to leave out. Who knows, maybe I’ll post a Foraging for food part two someday. Until then, thanks for stopping by!
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