Fruit continues to take center stage in the foraging world as summer progresses. Here are some of the fruitful edibles to find in the central Maryland area in late July.
Japanese wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius): If you blinked, you missed the wineberry harvest. This photo was taken a few weeks ago when they were starting to turn ripe. Wineberries all ripen around the same time, usually within approximately two weeks.
As you can see in the photo, wineberries do have “leaves of three” like poison ivy, but the edges of the leaves are toothed, while poison ivy has smooth leaf edges. Additionally, wineberry stems are prickly like other members of the Rubus family. Wineberry fruit is especially soft, so use a rigid container when collecting them to make sure they don’t get squished. Assuming you don’t eat them all straight off the cane!
Blackberries (Rubus spp.): Unlike wineberries, blackberries ripen over multiple weeks, providing a longer harvest. Unfortunately, the recent dry weather has taken a toll on the fruit, which is undersized and unpleasant to eat because there is less flesh compared to the size of the seed. Pick only the plumpest berries, and watch out for the thorns!
Rain is predicted for most of this week, which could be good or bad. The fruit may be larger; however, the berries could end up with a thin, weak flavor, depending on how mature they were when the rain hit.
Grapes (Vitus spp.): Grape vines cover everything wild around here. (You can see their cameo in the wineberry photo if you look at the lower right.) Which would be great if I wanted to make stuffed grape leaves – but I have struggled to find actual fruit. Maybe the erratic spring weather contributed to the problem, or perhaps wild grapes are always this scarce. Or non-human critter might enjoy them best at this sour stage. They are still too small to use even for verjuice, so I need to keep checking back as the weeks and months pass.
Rosehips (Rosa spp): Rosehips are the fruit of roses. By now they have set, but (like grapes) aren’t yet ready for harvest. They won’t be ripe until they turn red, much later this year. But now is a fine time to start locating them. Since wild roses grow in similar environments as blackberries, you may find them without any extra effort.
The local crop of rosehips may be small because Japanese beetles love, love, love eating the flowers which prevents the fertilization necessary for the fruit to set.
Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina): Sumac berries – called drupes – only appear on female plants. The drupes are covered with a sour coating which makes a lemonade-like drink once soaked in water. For weeks I have seen staghorn sumac along heavily traveled interstates, but failed to find any in a safer location for foraging. I finally found one, which was even short enough that I could reach a few clusters of berries. I harvested them just as the rain drops started to fall yesterday. Rain washes away the coating, reducing the sour flavor.
The drupes can also be dried to make the Middle Eastern seasoning known as sumac, although Rhus coriaria is usually the plant used rather than Rhus typhina. Also note that despite the similar name, this is NOT the same as poison sumac, Toxicodendron vernix. If it has white berries, it is NOT staghorn sumac; do NOT eat it.
Mystery Fruit: I don’t really know what this is! It could be a variety of cherry, or maybe a crabapple. (I am mildly embarrassed that I don’t know for sure!) Later this year, once the fruit is more fully developed, I should be able to tell for sure. Am I going to eat the fruit before I figure it out? Of course not! Rule number of foraging: if you don’t know ONE HUNDRED PERCENT what it is, don’t eat it!
Bonus edible! The curious shapes hanging from this shrub caught my eye on a recent trip into the woods. Apparently, this is American bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia). Trifolia means three leaved – again, like poison ivy – so I was very careful leaning in for this photo…just in case!
You can see why it is called “bladdernut”. “Bladder” is the only term I can think of to describe the seedpods. The seeds inside are edible when ripe, so I will be visiting again later this fall to try for myself.
Despite the bounty surrounding us, remember to take care of yourself while foraging, especially during the hot, humid summer weather. Stay hydrated, watch out for poison ivy, and always check for ticks!