Four Seasons of Foraging

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

When it comes to nature's buffet, there are no guarantees. Wild edibles are tied to climate and weather and do not grow according to schedule. However, if all conditions are aligned, you can expect them to appear in certain seasons. Here are some wild foods in the mid-Atlantic region, and when you can hope to see them in a forest, field or back yard near you.

SPRING: asparagus (through summer), chicory leaves, sassafras root, dandelion greens (early spring), fiddleheads, lamb's quarters (through first frost), land cress (into fall), milkweed buds, garlic mustard greens (through late fall), poke shoots and leaves (after seven inches, they become toxic, so be careful), sorrel (until fall), stinging nettles, watercress, wild onions and garlic, morels, oyster mushrooms (through fall), Jerusalem artichokes.

SUMMER: milkweed blossoms, chanterelles, chicken of the woods, field mushrooms (also early fall), blackberries, raspberries, huckleberries, blueberries, strawberries, wild cherries, elderberries, figs, wineberries, wild grapes (also early autumn), pears (to early fall), mint, cattail root, elder blossoms, burdock (peeled stems).

FALL: chicory roots, puffballs, boletus (a.k.a. porcini), plums, quince, rose hips, beechnuts, black walnuts, sumac berries, wild apples.

WINTER: not great pickings, but look for Jerusalem artichoke tubers after the first frost, as well as wild onions, wild garlic, land cress and watercress; they are all hardy.

SOURCES: "The Complete Guide to Edible Wild Plants, Mushrooms, Fruits, and Nuts," by Katie Letcher Lyle; field guide author Bill Russell.

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