As 2018 draws to a close, I reflected on the past year of foraging in central Maryland. I mean, a “year in review” is a thing people do, right?
The most notable theme for 2018 was “learning” – both learning what plants grew in this area, where they were (or weren’t) to be found, when and how to harvest them, and how much I still have to learn about, well, everything!
2018 provided some unexpected surprises, finding plants I’d never even known existed (like the flying dragon citrus), and amazing successes (like the local proliferation of pawpaws). But even these successes were hampered by learning curves: how do best make use of this abundance, now that I’ve found it? For example, I still have the Mason jar of pawpaw liqueur from early October steeping on my counter top, because I’m not sure what else to do with it! Other wild edibles I found but didn’t know how to actually take advantage of included:
- acorns (which got its own separate post)
- amaranth (mentioned last week – and I STILL haven’t managed to get enough of the chaff out to count as edible in my opinion)
- pokeweed shoots
- black walnuts and hickory nuts, both of which are so difficult to shell that I have only made a token attempt to use what I harvested
Another recurring theme from this year was my inability to find and harvest enough of a given wild plant to actually use. Wild grapes, chinkapins, ground cherries, and spring beauties come to mind. This particular challenge closely relates to another theme of the year: accessibility issues. For instance, my two local American persimmon trees had plenty of fruit, but I couldn’t get to them easily enough for a bountiful harvest due to the overgrowth that prevented me from gathering fruit that had already fallen to the ground.
Accessibility was also a challenge for cattails, sumac berries, and evening primrose, all of which seemed to grow best along roadsides. Particularly busy highways!
Additionally, my timing still needs a lot of work! Since this was my first year foraging year round, this comes as no surprise. Everything in nature has a rhythm, and matures in its own season. For example, I think my recent failure to harvest nutsedge tubers was mostly an issue of timing. I also missed the mayapples due to my inexperience. To complicate matters, the excessively wet year and late frost probably impacted the timing of harvests in ways I can’t yet understand, given how new I am to this field.
Last but not least, 2018 saw me reaching out to the local foraging community (and the overlapping tribes of permaculture and sustainability). Through visiting the Mother Earth News Fair, taking a class at the Fox Haven Learning Center, and attending the Third Annual Pawpaw Festival at Long Creek Homestead (which I apparently forgot to blog about!).
I debated whether to continue my weekly foraging post into the new year. Particularly as it is winter, and cold, and what is there left to say? Then I realized as I was writing this post, that I still have SO much to learn about nature and its bounty, and how humans can live more healthily and sustainably through foraging, and the best way for me to learn is to share my learning process with you, my readers. (All three of you… yes, I am up to three! *waves*) I hope you will continue reading and learning with me in 2019!
Also, if you are interested in more “real time” updates from my world of permaculture, gardening, foraging, and lower-energy-living, you can follow me on Instagram as @lean6life.
If you trimmed back your persimmon trees to make it easier to get to the fruit, would you cross the line between foraging and gardening? Or are they local to you, but not actually on your property?
Happy New Year! Your second question hits the point – the trees grow neglected along a quiet country road several miles from my house. No one seemed to mind me gathering a few fruit, but if I start weed eating the thorns and poison ivy around them, that might draw too much attention!
as you already mentioned, there’s so much to learn apart from actually finding the plant you are looking for. We have owned our property here in the mountains of Virginia for over 15 yrs now and I am still finding new plants that I had never noticed before. I also started to plant more “wild” foods in my garden so I have easier access and can harvest them at the right time (e.g. nettles, pawpaw, honeysuckle, and a lot of medicinals).
Luckily, I love learning new things – glad to hear it doesn’t end even after 15 years!
I’ve come to think that learning about plants takes longer than a life time even! 🙂