Here’s how to find the best edible berries and mushrooms during the fall.
It’s September, and the coming of fall equals an abundance of autumnal harvest…in the woods. Foraging is currently all the rage at top restaurants (chefs are foraging everything from dandelions to fiddleheads), so get into the trend while getting some exercise in the outdoors. Yes, you’ll feel the satisfaction of self-sufficiency as you wander through the wilderness, and when you bring your harvest home, you’ll be a hero. It’s always good to know how to live off the land (as well as which plants and berries to avoid), right?
So, come along on a virtual hike and enjoy fall foraging. Our adventure takes place in the Northwest, but you can apply all of the foraging rules you learn here to wherever you live. I promise that when you give foraging a try, the thrill of the hunt will entertain you, whether you end up with a hearty supply of berries, mushrooms, nuts, and fruit…or don’t have much luck.
Note: Many wild edibles have toxic and even deadly look-alikes and you could eat the wrong thing. It takes a good amount of research and actual field work to know your mycology and herbology before you can just start picking wild edibles and eating them. Always do your research before setting out.
Elderberries: Elderberry harvest season is fairly short, from mid-August to mid-September, depending upon your region (this is certainly the season near my home in Southern Oregon). These tiny berries grow in clusters that are a bear to pick, but they are well worth the effort!
Best used for: make an elderberry jam to spread on toast all winter long.
Blackberries: Depending on where you live in the Northwest, some blackberry harvests will be at the very end of August, but at higher elevations, the season can extend into fall. Look for thorny blackberry bushes near streams, or climbing up the sides of remote fences (be sure to ask permission before foraging on private property). Bring sturdy hiking boots and protective clothing, as scratches are a guarantee if your skin is exposed while picking.
Best used for: freezing to use in smoothies and in muffins.
Quick Tip: September is the start of hunting seasons in most states. Check your local Game Department for exact season dates and make sure everyone in your foraging party wears a hunter orange hat and vest to unsure their safety.
Wild apples: Sometimes called crabapples, wild apples grow in abundance in Washington State, but you can find them in many other states as well. You never quite know what you’re going to get with wild apples, which can range from sweet to barely editable. The key is to get to them before the wild birds do.
Best used for: pie baking and apple cobbler making.
GREAT FORAGING RESOURCES:
The following are my favorite resources for foraging outside of my home region.
If you live in the Northeast read: Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries
If you live in the Midwest read: Midwest Foraging: 115 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Burdock to Wild Peach
For Backyard Foraging read: Backyard Foraging: 65 Familiar Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat
If you live in the South read: Stalking the South’s Wild Edibles
Juniper Berries: aren’t actually berries at all, but rather a type of pine cone found east of the Cascade range, for the most part. I’ve found them in Central Oregon, and I know that some Oregon distilleries use local juniper berries in their wares.
Best used for: tea and…you guessed it…gin! Make your own infused winter gin! Find juniper berries east of the Cascades range. I’ve found them in central Oregon.
Quick Tip: Not sure where to start? Check out an urban foraging park, such as Seattle’s Beacon Food Forest, located inside Jefferson Park. Here, you’ll be educated on what you can forage and eat…then take the knowledge into the wild.
Mountain Huckleberries: Found in the northern part of the Pacific Northwest, huckleberries are in abundance in mid-summer. In early fall, you’ll still see their close cousin, the Mountain Huckleberry, at higher elevation in Northern Idaho, Washington State, and British Columbia (among other locales). Look for them along hiking trails near the treeline.
Best used for: huckleberries make a great addition to a vanilla ice cream shake, or on top of pancakes. Fold huckleberries into just about any baked goods, actually.
Quick Tip: Go farther north to Alaska, and you can add salmonberries to the list, along with blueberries and thimbleberries.
Dulse – This red-hued seaweed is common throughout the Pacific Northwest shorelines and is among the tastiest. If you live near a coast, harvest Dulse by removing only parts of the clump, for conservation’s sake, and always wash three times or more in cold water before using. You can also harvest kelp (particularly forest kelp), throughout coastal Pacific Northwest.
Best used for: add to soups or atop salads.
Oyster mushrooms: In western Washington, oyster mushrooms are often found growing on dead or dying alders. On the east side of the Cascade Range, you will more often see oyster mushrooms on dead or dying cottonwood trees. The key to finding them: look on downed logs.
Best used for: sautée in garlic and butter, or make a risotto.
Golden chanterelle mushrooms: Chanterelles grow in conifer and oak forests (think lower elevations). You’ll need to look in an area with mossy growth under your boots. They’ll be growing through October, so they’re great to forage after the spring morel season is over. Look for mushrooms with a funnel shape, that have a solid stem. They’ll grow in groups and near trees. Note: Jack-o-Lantern mushrooms are toxic, and grow where there might not be trees.
Best used for: soups and stews.
The California King Bolete mushroom: this mushroom grows in the woods in California and Oregon. You won’t find them near trees, and they are distinct by their sponge-like tubed surface on the underside of their cap. These bad boys can get very large, and can be foraged in September, October and November.
Best used for: any recipe that calls for a ‘meaty’ mushroom; grill them like steaks!
Quick Tip: Get into foraging this fall, then return to it in the spring, after the snow melts. In the Pacific Northwest, spring is the season for many wild greens, morel mushrooms, and for clamming on the coastline.
Live outside the Northwest? I’ve picked early fall blueberries galore in Maine, and have heard tell of wild ramps in West Virginia, wild ginger in Tennessee, and maple for syrup-making in all parts of New England. No matter where you live, a great resource for foraging in any state is the Cooperative Extension. Local garden shops and master gardener programs are also great starting points. Let us know what kinds of things you forage for by adding your tips to the comments section below.
Remember, never, ever forage and eat anything without being 100-percent certain of its identity as a safe plant to consume.
Add your foraging resource suggestions to the comments section below.
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About the Author: Amy Whitley specializes in outdoor travel writing for families with children. She is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids, a family travel site dedicated to resort, attraction, and outdoor activity reviews for kids. Amy writes regularly for U.S. News Travel and Southern Oregon Magazine as is an editor for OutdoorsNW Magazine and Twist Travel Magazine.