Despite the plummeting mercury, there are still many wild edible fruits and berries that an enterprising forager can take home in the late fall season. Don’t let winter get its grip on your area without collecting some of these choice edibles first.
The versatile, common, and tasty wild rose hip grows on the upward branching clusters of thorn covered bushes. Every wild member of the genus Rosa will provide safe, edible fruit; even a few cultivated roses can produce an edible rose hip. The insides of the hips contain a lot of indigestible seeds, but the skin and pulp contain a significant amount of vitamin C and have a sweet flavor. These hips can be eaten out of hand, and convey a flavor that reminds me of fruit leather and apples. They can also be broken up and steeped as tea, or cooked into jams and jellies. One cup of these fruits contains 162 calories, and seven times your daily allowance of Vitamin C. They’re also a good source of vitamin E (alpha-Tocopherol), vitamin K, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin A.
Another upward branching cluster of red fall color is the sumac bush. Numerous species exist across the US and around the globe, but the best choice stateside is the staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina). This species has very fuzzy red seeds, which are used to make a pleasantly sour/sweet drink. Just pick the red seeds off the twig clusters, soak them in hot water for 15 to 20 minutes, and filter out the indigestible seeds. The resulting pink drink can be chilled, or drunk hot as a tea. One cup of the sumac beverage has almost twice the amount of vitamin C as a cup of orange juice. Just steer clear of the related poison sumac, which has greenish white berries and will deliver a powerful rash if touched.
A fall favorite of mine is the persimmon. These fruits taste better as the temperature drops; if you eat them too early, you’re in for a case of cottonmouth. Prior to the fruit’s ripening, the astringent quality they possess is intense. Persimmons have 127 calories and a full day’s vitamin C per cup of pulp. Look for the very wrinkled fruits in October, November, and December. The more wrinkled they look, the sweeter they will be.
In late fall, hawthorn berries (Crateagus oxycanthus) are worth the fight through formidable thorns to get to them. The fruits of this small, spiny tree have been eaten since ancient times as a cardiovascular tonic. Hawthorn is not recommended for pregnant women or anyone on heart medication, but for everybody else, they are a source of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, B12, and C.
Before you go out foraging for this free food, make sure you take a respected field guide with you, and use it. My top recommendation is Lee Allen Peterson’s Edible Wild Plants field guide. Although it is advertised as an eastern plant book, it works well on the west coast, too. In fact, many of the plants in that book are not native to America, and are found scattered around the world.
Tell us about your favorite wild fall berry or fruit in the comments. Good luck and safe foraging.