Food is free. That is, it can be if you’re willing to forage through the woods for it.
Foraging is a lot like going to the grocery store and walking out right past the checkout line — without paying. Not only are foraged goods free; picking foods from straight from their natural habitat means you’re often getting way more nutrients packed into your meal. It’s also a great way to get outside and reconnect with nature. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it?
If you’re new to the world of foraging, you’ll be surprised to find out how many plants around you are great to eat. Of course there’s some basic guidelines to follow when getting back to your hunter and gatherer roots. First, educate yourself on what edible plants are in your area. Next, and most importantly, make sure not to poison yourself! But once you’ve got the basics down, eating truly off the land — all year round — is a lot easier than you may think.
Here are four seasonally-inspired dishes to forage for this year:
Spring: Morels and Asparagus Pasta
Springtime is high time for morels, one of the most elusive and sought after mushrooms out there. Known for their distinct, nutty flavor and honeycomb-like appearance, morels are found in all 50 states, generally around the beginning of springtime. That can be as early as February in southern states and as late as June in Western states at higher elevations.
Once the first morels pop up — when soil temperatures hit 50 degrees — they only have a one to two week growing season. You can get information on soil temperatures online , or look for other tell-tale signs of spring like when the dandelions first show up. (Dandelions are another great foragable food.)
Morels are found, usually, near specific trees (elm, ash, cottonwoods, apple orchards, sycamores) or in burn sites affect by a wildfires the previous year. For more information on finding morels, read Morel Maniac shares beginner shrooming tips .
Morel hunting season also overlaps with when wild asparagus crops begin to show up. Asparagus can also be found in every state, so this simple spring pasta dish can be made in kitchens nationwide. Wild asparagus growth is fairly spotty, though, as many states have fairly black and white “asparagus zones” and “asparagus-free zones.” You can see if you land in an asparagus zone on this map .
While morels are found in wooded forests, asparagus like to hang out in moist, alkaline or saline soil near marshes or swamps that still get plenty of sunlight. The asparagus stalks grow right out the ground, and looks just like the asparagus you buy in the store.
- Foraged morels
- Foraged asparagus
- Pasta of your choosing
- Lemon rind
- Clean and trim your morels and asparagus thoroughly
- Sauté shallots, morels, salt and thyme in a skillet using oil or butter
- Shave asparagus using a vegetable peeler and add it to the skillet
- All the while, cook your pasta accordingly
- Combine pasta and vegetables in another bowl
- Add lemon rind on top, and enjoy
Recipe inspired by MyRecipes.com .
Summer: Wild Berries and Honeysuckle Syrup
A variety of berries grow across the US, including the common berries you see in the grocery store (often all year round now) like blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries. Foraging can open you up to a whole new world of berries: huckleberries, dewberries, elderberries, pawpaws, saskatoons, cloudberries, buffaloeberries — no, we’re not making any of these up — can be found more commonly than you’d think.
If you can manage to resist the temptation of eating every berry you pick straight from the bush, summertime is the perfect time to make a make a healthy dessert out of wild berries and foraged honeysuckle syrup.
Honeysuckle is a tell-tale sign of summer. But there’s a lot of different variations of honeysuckle out there — some are the honeysuckles of your childhood, others are lethal, so just be careful.
- Foraged berries
- 1 cup foraged honeysuckle
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup sugar
- Add water and honeysuckle to a saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Once boiling, turn the heat down to low and allow it to gently simmer until the water is reduced by half.
- Strain the honeysuckles from the water and dispose of them.
- Combine the infused-water with sugar and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved with the heat on low or simmer.
- Place a drizzle of honey over a bowl of foraged berries.
Recipe inspired by TheHerbalAcademy.com .
Fall: Wild Mushroom Medley
While morels are a typical springtime mushroom, lots of other edible mushrooms have their time to shine during the fall. The best time to look for mushrooms is after a good, hard rain fall. Like morels, most other mushrooms will be found near trees in forested areas.
Mushrooms are another foraged good to be especially wary of. You don’t want to end up sick, dead, or on some spiritual journey through the woods unannounced. If you’re interested in shrooming in your area, look into joining a local mycology club, finding an experienced guide or mentor, or buying a local field guide.
When it comes to preparing your mushrooms, save creamy soups that mask the fungi’s natural flavors for the store-bought stuff. This recipe puts mushrooms at the forefront, with a little extract shallot and garlic to help bring the flavors together.
- Foraged chanterelles, chicken of the woods mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, hen of the woods, shaggy mane, or any other edible mushrooms found near you, chopped
- Shallots, finely chopped
- Garlic, finely chopped
- Saute the ingredients in a large skillet with butter.
- Add thyme on top to garnish.
- Serve warm.
Winter: Crabapple Jelly
Our ancestors didn’t take off hunting and gathering in the winter, and neither do you. There’s a surprising number of fruits, nuts and veggies that survive all year round, even in colder climates. One of the most common are crabapples. Their name kind of sounds like how they taste: a bit tarte. But when made into a sweet jelly, crabapples can be the perfect accompaniment for roasted meats or sweet breads.
Crabapples grow on large shrubs or small trees that have scaly, vertically cracking grey, brown or reddish bark. Because the trees are often planted ornamentally, so you’ll find them in more places than you’d think: outside of schools, in the front of businesses, as well as “in the wild,” on the edges of forests or in thickets.
- 3 pounds of crabapples
- 3 cups of water
- 3 cups of cane sugar
- Cinnamon (optional)
- Wash the crabapples, remove stems and cut in half.
- Extract the cranberry juice by putting the fruit into a large pan with water that just barely covers them
- Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, and cook until the skins are soft (about 15 minutes).
- Strain the cooked fruit through a cheesecloth. Discard the pulp and pour the juice back into the pan, bring to a simmer and let cook for 10 minutes.
- Skim off any foam that comes to the top,
- Stir in sugar and cinnamon.
- Continue cooking at a low boil until the temperature reaches 220 degrees.
- Pour jellies into mason jars and process in a water bath to seal them.
Recipe inspired by AllRecipes.com.