MIDSUMMER PROVIDES A FORAGING BOUNTY
MIDSUMMER PROVIDES A FORAGING BOUNTY

MIDSUMMER PROVIDES A FORAGING BOUNTY

As the northeastern U.S. enters midsummer, a bounty of foods to be foraged are coming into full ripeness. Early arrivals such as ramps (Allium tricoccum) dandelion greens (Taraxacum officinale), wild strawberries (Fragaria spp.), and milkweed pods (Asclepias spp.) have come and gone. More and more edibles are available to be foraged, even though the almost overwhelming variety of autumn foraging still lies ahead.

Midsummer, for example, is a good time to harvest mint leaves (Mentha spp.) for using fresh and for drying to use throughout the year. Basic uses of mint leave include making herbal teas, chopping a small quantity for a salad component, or using other chopped pieces to add flavor to a meat marinade. Mint leaves can also be combined with water and sugar to create a simple syrup. This syrup can be used as a sweetener in beverages like iced tea or lemonade and can even be used as a component in summer cocktails. The wide varieties of mint lend themselves to many different uses and it often seems that mint does not get the same attention as other foraged foods.

Mentha spp. in the wild.

Turning to another plant, wild gooseberries (Ribes spp.) are an important food source for birds and small mammals. So if you want to harvest some, you need to do it before the berries become fully ripe. Otherwise, you will gather only a very few. Like cultivated blueberries, gooseberries will fully ripen indoors after being picked. Their tart aspect is similar to that of cranberries and they are high in pectin, making an excellent addition to jams and jellies. Due to a high vitamin C content, they can be mashed into a tea (or use the leaves) which is refreshing and was a traditional treatment for colds and sore throats. When dried, gooseberries were one option for inclusion in Native pemmican as well as being preserved for use later in the year.

Another food source that is not always considered when discussing “foraging” is fish. Most of the time, fishing is paired with hunting. Many people who forage concentrate so much on wild plants, nuts, fruits, and tubers that they forget what is usually the easiest protein source to gather. Fish taken from clean waters are almost always edible and are usually available for less physical exertion than hunting. Also, unlike a number of foraged plants, there are no poisonous lookalikes (i.e. Queen Anne’s lace {Daucus carota} vs. Poison Hemlock {Conium maculatum} as one example). Admittedly, fishing requires the purchase of a license and some specialized gear so it is more of a commitment than other foraging. However, the payoffs are similar; fresh food that is sustainably harvested yourself from wild sources.

There is an amazing variety of wild foods that become available in the middle of the summer. The more you get into studying the references (or take a class with a local foraging expert in your area) the more you will notice wild food sources. It’s a great way to supplement your diet and to learn more about the natural world around you.