A Walk in the Woods

Recently a break in the summer heat gave me to opportunity to slip into the nearby woods for a walk. Many of the wild edibles I found were waiting patiently for later in the year to be harvest-ready.

Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata)

The earliest berries of this invasive wild edible are starting to ripen. They will be at their peak in another month or so. It would be amazing if we could harvest every possible fruit to help slow the spread of autumn olive through the landscape, but unfortunately there are just too many. Additionally, birds also enjoy the fruit and will eat many of them before we even realize they’re ripe!

Autumn olive berries starting to ripen
Autumn olive berries starting to ripen

Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)

Somehow, the local black cherries trees still flaunt fruit. I briefly reconsidered my earlier decision to skip the black cherries this year. Luckily for everything else on my to-do list, I thought better of it! Although I have enjoyed a few black cherry mojitos in recent weeks.

This black cherry tree still has ripe fruit
This black cherry tree still has ripe fruit

Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)

Now is the perfect time to scope out the future black walnut harvest. The nuts won’t be ready until they fall from the trees in a few months, but their round, light green shapes stand out conspicuously among the darker green leaves.

Black walnut in its hull
Black walnut in its hull

Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis)

Evening primrose flowers are at the perfect stage for an edible garnish… assuming you can actually reach the plants. Months ago, you could eat the new leaves of this biennial plant, and later in the year the root provides food as well. And whatever flowers are left until winter will produce further wild edibles in the form of the seeds which can be sprinkled on baked goods in a similar fashion to poppy seeds or other crunchy toppings.

Evening primrose in flower
Evening primrose in flower

Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)

Pawpaw season is drawing closer, and a few precocious trees may already have ripe fruit in late August. The fruit seems to be much smaller this year, perhaps due to the erratic weather patterns and long dry spells.

Very small pawpaw fruit
Very small pawpaw fruit

Like black walnut, pawpaw fruit are not truly ripe until they fall from the tree. A hard shove on the trunk will bring them tumbling to the ground. Hopefully enough undergrowth carpets the forest floor that the pawpaws aren’t too bruised by the experience.

Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora)

The multiflora rose is another invasive species (like Autumn olive) with red berries. Unfortunately, their sharp thorns—prickles, technically—make foraging them much more challenging! The rose hips are high in vitamin C and can provide a much-needed nutrition boost in the dead of winter.

Unripe rosehips
Unripe rosehips

Unlike the autumn olive, however, the rosehips don’t appear to be nearly as productive this year as in previous seasons. As with the pawpaws, the weather may be to blame.

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)

Spicebush fruit is likewise still green. The shrubs I found appear laden with fruit, unlike so many of the other wild edibles I encountered in the woods.

Spicebush laden with fruit
Spicebush laden with fruit

Remember if you find what appears to be a spicebush (crush the leaves to check the scent) without fruit, it may be a male plant. Keep looking for a lady shrub of this dioecious species somewhere close by! Alternatively, if you cannot find the berries, you can still use the leaves or twigs for tea. Just remember to harvest in a way that doesn’t hurt the plant.

Stinging Nettle (Urticia dioica)

Stinging nettle plants are sending up new shoots in the fall. If you missed them in spring (or don’t have any preserved nettles left from months ago), now is a good time for a fresh harvest. Look for the new shoots around the base of plants which have already flowered and have started to set seed.

Fall stinging nettle shoots
Fall stinging nettle shoots

Remember to wear gloves! Fall stinging nettle is every bit as painful to touch as the spring shoots.

Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor)

Turkey tail is one of the handful of mushrooms I can safely identify and feel comfortable foraging. I primarily use turkey tail to create a double extraction for its medicinal properties. I take a dropperful each day—when I remember, anyway—as an immune system booster.

Turkey tail growing on dead wood
Turkey tail growing on dead wood

Turkey tail is comparatively easy to recognize. It grows only on dead wood. If you check the underside of the fungus, the bottom is white and covered with fine pores as shown in this photo.

The white, pored underside of turkey tail
The white, pored underside of turkey tail

If the underside of the fungus has gills or appears toothed, you have found a lookalike and should leave it be.

Wild Grape (Vitis spp.)

Like every other year, most of the wild grapes dangle tantalizingly out of reach. I only found one cluster I could get to. I still haven’t sampled the fruits of my grape-processing labor from last year. I ended up blending the grape with elderberry juice and fermenting them, but the resulting wine won’t be ready for another month or so. (My other recent wine attempts have been awful, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this batch will be better.)

Wild grapes
Wild grapes

Note that wild grape does have a toxic lookalike, Canadian moonseed (Menispermum canadense). The berries are poisonous, so it is critical to distinguish correctly between moonseed and wild grape. They often grow in the same habitat, as you see in the photo below.

Wild grape versus Canadian moonseed
Wild grape versus Canadian moonseed

The moonseed leaves sport the lighter green color around the edges of the photo; the wild grape is the darker green in the center left. You can see the difference in the stems, with the light green (example lower left) stem for moonseed and woody brown (starting at the lower left and moving towards the center) for the grape.

Also note: the above photo does NOT provide sufficient detail to positively identify grape versus moonseed. Please consult with additional resources or a trained foraging mentor to be 100% sure you do not confuse the two.

What are you finding in the late August woods, edible or otherwise?

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