Midwest Foraging- Nature, Food, & Fun
I will be the first to tell you foraging is not for everyone. In addition, you should never eat anything you are not 100% sure of what it is. There are some poisonous things out there after all. However, with a little effort and study, it can be a rewarding experience.
Foraging, of course, is the act of searching and gathering food from the wild. I believe it helps us connect with the natural world and can teach us about the importance of local knowledge, should a survival situation ever arise. Foraging not only provides nourishment, it also deepens our connection to the land, and it gives us appreciation for our local ecosystems and what they provide. In our fast-paced world, foraging offers a way to reconnect with our roots and embrace the truly abundant natural world.
This weekend my wife and our boy (with boundless energy) took a hike through Whitewater Canyon just outside of Bernard, Iowa. We often go there and recently finished up "shrooming" season with a huge haul of Golden Oyster mushrooms (though we missed out on any morels). It's impotent to understand everything that I've found foraging you can to in Wisconsin and Illinois; with a little research, you may even find edibles that are unique to your area.
This time around we were out for a sweeter kick as berry picking season is officially here. There were several to choose from during our short 2-hour hike. Our main target was black raspberries and we found loads. New this year to our foraging adventure were gooseberries, which I had never actually tried before.
One thing to remember is that certain areas have rules when it comes to foraging. For example, it's only legal to forage for berries, mushrooms, and nuts at State Parks, but to be honest, that's about all you would want. For the most part it is perfectly legal, unless specified, to forage on public lands.
Other great finds in the area, that I'm aware of, include mulberries, walnuts, acorns, morels, oyster mushrooms, and wild grapes. You can even eat some leafy greens and plants, like dandelions, plantain, chickweed, nettles, and violets. With a little more research, and practice, there are loads of other edibles to find in your local parks and public areas. Just remember these rules when foraging:
- Know what you're looking for. Go with a plan in place.
- Never eat anything without properly identifying it. Seriously, there are plenty of delicious looking berries out there that could make you very sick.
- Clean up after yourself. Never leave your litter.
- Bring some water. Time can get away from you while foraging. A one-hour hike, can become 3 in the sun when you're stopping to pick berries.
- Respect the nature around you. Try to leave things as close to how they were when you got there (minus the berries).
Last time we got this many black raspberries we made a huge pan of raspberry cobbler and topped it with vanilla ice-cream. This time around we're going to try a nice raspberry jam. I think we'll even cook in the odd gooseberries we found into the jam.
It seems the animals have been very keen to eat them, or someone in our local area REALLY likes gooseberries (they seemed rarer, although there were loads of bushes).
And so goes another wilderness excursion with the family. I encourage you to get out and do the same. Explore. Teach. Educate. And, most importantly, have fun. You may walk away with a delicious treat and some high-quality family time.