Guest Author - Jane Bouey
Just imagine, delicious, natural, local produce that you don't have to travel the supermarket aisles for, absolutely free. No, you're not dreaming, that really is your neighbor's unpicked apple tree! And didn't all that fruit just fall to the ground and make a rotten mess last year?
In addition to all the food that is begging to be harvested on private property in our cities and towns, there's also an abundance in public areas and government-owned natural spaces.
There's a lot of produce that goes wasted because it is unfamiliar to us or we are not sure how to use it without extensive pitting or other processes. There are thousands of foods out there that we don't see on the grocery shelf. Mostly this is because these foods have a poor shelf life or are uneconomic to grow for sale. Some are delicacies that the ordinary person cannot afford. So keep your eyes open for things that look edible. Then do your research.
Identifying these foods is where your internet connection can pay for itself. Do searches on local wild foods and how to best use them. Find someone who is knowledgeable and willing to help you identify edibles (especially important for mushrooms).
Here are a few types of foods you can find growing wild:
Herbs and salad greens
Shoots and new growth (ie: fiddleheads)
Roots and tubers
Seeds and nuts
Once you've figured out what to add to your basket, you need follow the three basic rules of wildcrafting:
1)If it is private property, ask permission to harvest. The property owner might be relieved to not have to clean up the mess or they might want a share of the picked fruit.
2)If it is public property, go ahead. Be aware of any toxins that might be on the site. Natural, unmanicured parks are safest.
3)Don't take every last piece for yourself. Leave some for the birds and other wildcrafters.
Once you have returned from harvesting it's time to decide what to do with your catch. Some items can only be refrigerated for a few days before they must be eaten. For example, wild mushrooms are prone to maggot infiltration – discovered by experience, yuck!
Any excess should be preserved as soon as possible. This can be done by freezing, dehydrating, canning, or other methods. There are many internet resources on how-to save your harvest and best preservation methods for each type of produce.
Lastly, enjoy your hard work! Express gratitude to those who enabled your new abundance.
Happy reaching, digging, and picking...