Urban Foraging and Wild Edibles
Foraging for food is an aspect of the human condition but to most urban american dwellers it is a concept and a skill long lost to history in the industrial world. Many view foraging as a “primitive” way of living. But there is wide variety of edible plants, nuts, and fruit out there just waiting for us.
Edible wild food are available everywhere, including urban and suburban environments. Urban parks are one of the better places to begin urban foraging. Park grounds are rarely sprayed with pesticides or chemicals but if they have been signs are clearly marked to inform the users. You should avoid plant locations prone to hazardous contaminants such as industrial areas, busy roadsides, and pristinely manicured lawns with signs advertizing herbicides.
Again, city parks are generally a safe location for foraging with the added benefit that they contain a wide variety of edibles and many of these tend to be non-native species so any collection of these foods will not adversely affect the local environment or sensitive plant communities. One such example of a very common edible plant is the dandelion.
Urban trees can also be another great source of foraging potential. Shade trees along sidewalks or parking lots often have edible fruit; these include mulberry trees, black walnuts, crabapples, plumbs, and even apple trees.
If you happen to find a residential fruit tree overburdened with fruit don’t be afraid to ask permission from the owner to harvest; oftentimes these fruit trees are seen as a burden and many owners may be happy to have someone else harvest the fruit rather than clean the fallen fruit from the sidewalk.
The key to eating wild foods and urban foraging is proper identification; many plants have poisonous cousins so when starting out it is best to stick to those plants without lookalikes. It is always best to be sure of what you are eating and be confident in plant identification. Common urban edibles include morel mushrooms, choke cherries, sumac, raspberries, wild parsnips, watercress, clover, dandelion, blueberries, black walnut, wild grapes, wild onion, garlic mustard, blackberries, and hazelnuts.
Foraging can be a sustainable if practices responsibly.
Harvest only items that are in abundance; if only a few specimens of a particular edible are available move on to another patch and allow the small patch to grow and expand. Leave the biggest and healthiest of the species to continue to propagate.
When gathering greens from a plant, ensure enough of the leaves (75%) remain to keep it alive. Ensure that threatened and endangered species of plants are not harvested.
Foraging for wild food can be a fun if you have adventurous spirit.
Other great resources for foraging…
Neighborhood Fruit is here to help you find and share fruit locally: both backyard bounty and abundance on public lands.
Here my wild plum jam recipe…my neighbors have a tree that they never do anything with, so we get to enjoy the spoils!
Wild Plum Jam
4 pounds pitted wild plums
1⁄2 cup water
7 1⁄2 cups sugar
1 package liquid pectin
If you don’t want to pull large hunks of plum skin out of your jam, you can either finely chop the plums in the beginning or blitz the mix with a handheld immersion blender when they’re cooked.
In large, heavy-bottomed cooking pan, combine pitted plums and water.
Bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer for at least 5 minutes, stirring and crushing plums. Hit them with the immersion blender if you haven’t previously chopped them.
Add sugar and mix thoroughly.
Bring mixture to full boil over high heat, to the point where it cannot be stirred down.
Quickly add liquid pectin. Continue stirring and boiling hard for 1 minute. (Use the timer; don’t guess.)
Remove from heat and skim off foam, if necessary.
Fill sterilized and prepared canning jars, and process in water bath for 10 minutes (adjusting for altitude as necessary).
NOTE: This recipe produced 7 half-pint jars, with nearly a full extra pint that I just put in the refrigerator for our immediate use instead of processing in the water bath. The bonus jam is a good way to test it to make sure it’s perfect before giving it out as gifts!