Wild Foraging Through All Four Seasons

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If you have ever taken a walk in the woods and made an effort to identify the plants around you, you probably noticed the bounty of edible, medicinal and just-plain-pretty plants that surround you.

Wild Foraging is one small step removed from this initial adoration and curiosity. Perhaps you are an herbalist, or you are a person who loves eating fresh berries! Maybe you appreciate the beauty of delicate wild flowers, or you can’t get enough of the plethora of medicinal mushrooms that pop up overnight after a generous rain.

Each season comes with it’s own bounty.

Spring is, of course, the time of year when the plants are budding, sprouting and waking up from their winter slumber. This is the best time of the year to collect the leaves of medicinal plants before they have gone to seed. The list of medicinal plants to be found here is endless. Some common weeds, including dandelion greens, stinging nettle, salsify flower buds, mullein leaves, yarrow leaves can offer impressive harvests. This is a good time to gather some leaves and dehydrate them for herbal teas.  It’s important to keep in mind that spring is not a good time to harvest the whole plant because the plant needs a chance to grow and mature.

Summer brings a whole new harvesting landscape. Wild Flowers are prevalent, and most plants are flowering at this time. Along with being beautiful, this is a great time to learn how to identify new plants. The flowers of plants are in many cases the most unique part, and open up the door for learning what each plant looks like. This is especially important when learning what the differences are between herbal plants and poisonous look alikes. Harvest flowers and leaves during the summer, but be sure to leave enough flowers so that the plants can seed in the fall.

In my opinion, fall is when the harvesting magic happens. Most plants have reached maturity and are beginning to seed. While this is generally not a time to gather fresh leaves, it’s a great time to harvest roots, berries, mushrooms, nuts and seeds. That’s a lot of harvesting! Roots have reached maturity and since the plant is less focused on flowering and growing bigger, much the nutrition has retreated back into the root. Berries are fruiting at this time, and this is a great time to can them and make jams. Mushrooms are in general more prevalent at this time as well. Right after a big fall rain, go outside to see what new fungi have emerged, and harvest them before the bugs do. This is also a great time for nuts and seeds – pine nuts, acorns, juniper, mustard seeds, buckwheat seeds – these are all available for harvest in the fall.

By the end of fall, you might be spending more time indoors. But surprisingly, there are a few plants that can be still be harvested throughout the snowy winter months. The most obvious ones are evergreen needles, pine needles being one of my favorite. These can make great survival teas because evergreen needles are usually high in vitamin C as well as other nutrients. Near water, watercress and cattails can usually be found in the winter, and both are edible. If there are Aspen trees around, then the inner bark can also provide a winter harvest. Aspen bark contains salicin, the natural version of the synthesized main ingredient in Aspirin, and can be used as a pain reliever, or as an emergency sunblock.

Nature can provide sustenance for us humans all year long. It’s just a matter of knowing what to harvest and when.